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A Soldier Once ... And Always
By Mike Guardia
CasemateCopyright © 2013 Mike Guardia
All rights reserved.
The story of Harold Gregory Moore, Jr. begins in the foothills of southern Appalachia. Born on February 13, 1922 in Bardstown, Kentucky, "Hal" was the eldest of four children born to Harold Sr. and Mary Moore (neé Crume). At the time of Moore's birth, Bardstown was a small wisp of a community with a population of less than 4,000. Nestled deep in the highlands of the Ohio River Valley, the rural Bardstown was a perfect place for Moore to feed his adventurous spirit. Like most boys growing up in smalltown Kentucky, he immersed himself in the local variety of team sports—football, basketball, and baseball. His true childhood passion, however, was always the great outdoors. From an early age, he had a near-insatiable appetite for camping, hunting, and fishing. Very often, he would disappear into the woods behind his house, pitch a tent by his favorite fishing hole, and remain out there for days before returning home to show off his latest catch.
Life in the Moore household revolved around three tenets: hard work, loyalty to the family, and devotion to the Catholic faith. The elder Moore was a strict, yet very loving father—Victorian in his principles, yet simple in his tastes. Every morning, he would rise early to attend the 6:00 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of St. Joseph. And although he never finished high school, Harold Sr. was one among the most respected insurance agents in western Kentucky. Mary was a homemaker and, by all accounts, the emotional bedrock of the family. She was a Methodist, but agreed to raise the children Catholic. Yet Harold and Mary's denominational differences never bothered them once. In fact, as Hal recalled, his mother "was more Catholic in some of her ways, as she would go to church and light candles for our family all of her life."
Throughout the Great Depression, the Moores fared better than most. For even during the hardest of economic times, Hal remembered that "my father had good work and we always had plenty to eat." Hal and his siblings also took part-time jobs within the community. "I cut grass for a number of people, I caddied at the local golf course, and I worked Saturdays as a clerk at the local grocery store." And, from an early age, the young Moore possessed a remarkable fascination with all things military. Indeed, when he wasn't riding his bicycle, casting lines at the local fishing hole, or taking care of his younger siblings (Betty, Bill, and Ballard), Moore could be found at the Bardstown Public Library, devouring any book he could find on military history. He particularly enjoyed reading about the great battlefield commanders of the American Revolution and the Civil War. From George Washington to Winfield Scott, these men embodied the same values which Moore sought to maintain in his own life. And by the dawn of his teenage years, Hal knew that he had found his calling.
Aware of his son's enthusiasm for the military, Harold Sr. approached him with a suggestion that he apply to the United States Military Academy at West Point. It was 1937 and Hal was then a sophomore at St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Bardstown. The younger Moore was fascinated by West Point's legacy of leadership. Its graduates included many of the heroic leaders whom he had read about at the local library—including Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and John J. Pershing. Since its founding in 1802, West Point had been the nation's premier military academy and the primary source of commissioned officers for the US Army. A rockbound citadel ensconced on the banks of the Hudson River, West Point lay some fifty miles north of New York City. The school was renowned for its uncompromising standards of honor and discipline—and the gothic architecture of the campus complemented its reputation as one of the most rigorous schools in America.
Gaining admission to West Point, however, was no easy task. The applicant files read like a virtual "Who's Who" of America's best young scholars. Valedictorians, National Merit Scholars, and Eagle Scouts were among the many who sought to join the Long Gray Line. Admission to the Academy was further restricted by a Congressional nomination process. A prospective cadet first had to obtain a nomination from his Congressman or Senator to be considered for admission. Moore certainly had the academic credentials, but he knew that his chances of receiving a nomination from the "backwoods of Kentucky" were slim to none.
Opportunity knocked, however, on the afternoon of February 12, 1940. A seventeen-year-old Hal Moore was lying bed-ridden with pneumonia when his father came home with exciting news. Coming into the bedroom where Mary was tending to her ill son, the elder Moore wasted no time. Hal recalled that "the local representative of U.S. Senator A.B. 'Happy' Chandler had informed Dad that the senator had a patronage job opening in the Senate Book Warehouse in Washington—and it was mine if I wanted it." The pay was a mere $30 per week, ($485.71 in 2012 dollars) but to a seventeen-year-old in 1940, it was an enviable sum. His father needed an answer immediately and, if Hal accepted the job, he would be on the next train to Washington DC.
Hal realized that this may have been his only chance to gain an appointment. However, he still needed to finish high school. He was currently in his last semester at St. Joseph's and only a few credits shy of graduation. But Moore's father, always one step ahead, had already spoken to the school's principal. It turned out that the principal agreed to let Hal graduate in June if he could finish the remaining credits at another school in Washington. The following morning, on Hal's eighteenth birthday, he and his father left Bardstown on the 5:00 a.m. train. "We spent the night in West Virginia and reached Washington DC on February 14 in the afternoon," Moore said.
Arriving in Washington, Moore rented a room from an elderly couple, enrolled at a local night school, and made an appointment with the nearest doctor to treat his lingering pneumonia. The following day, he reported to the Senate Book Warehouse. His job consisted mostly of clerical tasks—inventorying, stocking, and shipping various titles. Mundane and repetitive as it was, Moore still embraced his job with a delightful enthusiasm. Every day, he rose from his bed in the hopes that he would find a congressman or senator with an unfilled appointment to his dream school. "Every month I pored over the list from the War Department of unfilled West Point appointments, and went knocking on the doors of senators and congressmen on Capitol Hill trying to persuade one of them to give me that appointment," Moore said. "I had no luck in the beginning, but I kept studying that list and walking the halls of Congress."
Trolling the halls of Congress by day, Moore finished his high school credits for Algebra and English by night. That June, he returned to Bardstown to walk across the stage with his graduating class at St. Joseph's. Although he had not yet received an appointment to the Academy, Moore vowed to remain in Washington until he did. In the meantime, he continued to work at the Senate Book Warehouse and enrolled at George Washington University. Moving out of his rented room, he pledged his membership to the Kappa Sigma fraternity and became their house manager in the fall of 1940.
All the while, Moore continued his quest for a nomination to West Point. Ironically, his fortunes changed on December 7, 1941. Early that morning, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. "I was shocked, like everyone else in America," Moore said. Prior to the attack, nearly everyone had considered Japan's military an inferior force. No one had anticipated a first strike against Hawaii, much less from the Japanese. The following day, the US declared war on the Axis Powers, and "President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation granting every senator and representative an additional appointment to both the Military and Naval academies."
Sensing an opportunity, Hal went to Senator Chandler's office, brimming with hope that the new manpower needs would secure his nomination. Unfortunately, the senator had already given his last slot to another young man. Undeterred, Moore went to see his local congressman, Rep. Ed Creal (4th District, Kentucky). Creal sheepishly told him that he, too, had just given away his last slot. Creal did, however, have an open appointment to the US Naval Academy, and offered it to Moore.
Although Moore had no desire to go to Annapolis, he thanked Creal for the appointment. But suddenly, Moore had an idea: "What if I can find another Congressman who would appoint me to West Point in exchange for Representative Creal's Naval Academy appointment?" Creal was surprised by the young Moore's proposal, but agreed to it if Hal could find a congressman willing to make the swap. Hal soon found his way into the office of Congressman Eugene E. Cox, representing the 2nd District of Georgia. "I walked into his office and I was greeted by his secretary, a Mrs. J.C. Robinson." Moore recalled. "She showed me into his office and I asked the Congressman if he would swap my Naval Academy appointment." Impressed by the young man's tenacity, Moore left that day with an appointment from the 2nd District of Georgia.
In the summer of 1942, the new cadets arrived at West Point in two waves. The first contingent arrived on July 1, the second on July 15, making Moore's class the largest in West Point's young history. The cadets' first day was called Reception Day, or "R-Day." It marked the beginning of a strenuous indoctrination known as Cadet Basic Training, or "Beast Barracks," as it was commonly known. Although exclusively for West Point cadets, Beast Barracks largely resembled the Basic Training program of the Regular Army.
Most West Point graduates remember their R-Day as a blur of savage putdowns, dreadful stares, close calls with heat exhaustion, and the constant reminder that "I wanted to come to West Point." For Hal Moore, R-Day certainly lived up to its chaotic reputation.
He arrived at the Academy with the second wave of incoming cadets on July 15, 1942. Scurrying off the train at the West Point depot, Moore disembarked with nearly 500 other new cadets, all eager to begin their journey into officership. His classmates came from all over the country, most of them from small towns which he had never heard of: Maxwell, Texas; Copley, Ohio; and Florence, Alabama, among others. They represented nearly every walk of life. Some were fresh out of high school while others, like Moore, had a few years of college under their belts. Some had given up trade careers in carpentry, machinery, and electrical work to try their hand at soldiering. Others had been enlisted men who traded their chevrons for cadet gray. Whatever their background, they all came with the aspiration to become officers and fight the Axis Powers.
Hal never forgot the first noncommissioned officer he met on R-Day. "When my group of soon-to-be cadets pulled into the train station we were met by a stone-faced, spit-shined sergeant with a pencil-thin mustache resplendent in Cavalry hat, Cavalry riding boots, and bloused riding breeches. His look implied that he had measured us, just as he had measured thousands like us before, and we did not for an instant impress him. His name fit him as well as those gleaming Cavalry riding boots: Master Sergeant Bonebrake. We fell into something like a formation and Bonebrake marched us up the hill and into the complex of imposing gray granite buildings brooding on the slopes and plain high above the Hudson River. There was a sense of ageless permanence, a majesty if you will, about that place, and a cold, powerful, unbending, relentless, no-nonsense authority. Master Sergeant Bonebrake fit in perfectly with the place and the weight of its history and those thick gray granite walls."
Every summer during Beast Barracks, the junior and senior-year cadets assumed the role of drill sergeants, instructing the new cadets in military matters. When Bonebrake handed off Moore to his cadet instructors, the strenuous journey of Beast Barracks began. All at once, Hal's new name was "Mister."
"Get those shoulders back, Mister!"
"Hey Mister, quit looking around!"
"What do you think you're doing, Mister?!"
Then came the seemingly endless drill and marching commands: "Attention! Left Face! Right Face! Forward March! At Ease!"—and very little of the latter. Soon thereafter, Moore would learn the sacred "Four Responses" which every new cadet had to use whenever he was addressed by an upperclassman. A new cadet's responses were limited to: "Yes sir," "No sir," "No excuse, sir," and "Sir, I do not understand."
After the crash course in military honorifics and close-order drill, Moore and his comrades were hoarded into the Mess Hall. Seated ten to a table, Moore and the other new arrivals had to sit at a rigid posture of attention. Except for giving or receiving food, they were not allowed to look anywhere except for their plate. They could lift their utensils to their mouths only at a ninety-degree angle and were limited to three chews per bite. At the head of the table sat a senior-year cadet known as the Table Commandant. His job, as far as Moore was concerned, was to make the meal miserable for every new cadet at his table. The table commandants were notorious for scrutinizing their younger cadets' every move—anxiously awaiting the chance to correct any breech of table etiquette.
Moore soon discovered that the cadets were not referred to as freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Instead, they were referred to, respectively, as Fourth Class, Third Class, Second Class, and First Class cadets. Traditionally, the Fourth Classmen were known as "Plebes," a derivative of the word Plebian—referring to the lowest class of Roman society. Third Classmen were called "Yearlings"—a term used to describe a year-old farm animal. The Second Classmen were "Cows," but the origin of that term remains in obscurity. The most likely explanation was that, in years past, the cadets had no leave until after Yearling year. Thus, when the rising Second Classmen returned from their summer furlough, it was heralded as "the cows coming home." The First Classmen's nickname was merely an abbreviation: "Firstie."
Throughout Beast Barracks, Moore learned the fundamentals of soldiering: rifle marksmanship, patrolling, hand grenades, and the proper technique of shining shoes. "By August, we had been to the firing range, run the obstacle course, taken the physical efficiency tests, learned to prepare a 40-pound pack with bedroll, and demonstrated skill in hand-to-hand combat." Moore remembered that the high point for him during Beast Barracks "was firing EXPERT on the M-1 rifle with the top score in the company and being given a pint of vanilla ice cream by my Squad Leader.
"Also, early on in Beast Barracks, I discovered a safe haven—the CatholicRectory.... I was a frequent visitor there and attended Mass often." Hal often said that his religious beliefs were his greatest source of strength during those tough times. He formed a close friendship with the Rector, Monsignor George Murdock, and the two often prayed together. Whenever his schedule permitted, Hal would slip away to the sanctuary for Daily Mass.
Beast Barracks culminated with the so-called "Plebe Maneuvers" at Pine Camp (present-day Fort Drum) near Watertown, New York. It was a weeklong field exercise which introduced Plebes to the art of bivouacking and how to maneuver at the squad and platoon level. Upon their return to West Point, "we regrouped into new companies formed as the Corps grew from one to two regiments to accommodate our large class." Moore found himself assigned to Company C-1 (C Company, First Regiment). "Beast Barracks had come to an end. It was time to start the academic year."
Although Moore excelled in English and History, he admitted that "I was so dumb in mathematics—particularly algebra, differential equations, and solid geometry ... but I managed through." By October, he recalled that "my name was on the list of cadets severely 'deficient' in grades in solid geometry and advanced algebra"—meaning that he was in danger of flunking out if his grades did not improve. Fearful of losing what he had worked so hard to achieve, Hal said that "I was glued to my advanced math textbooks every night from 7:30 p.m. until lights out at 11:00 p.m.—and after lights out I moved to the nearby restroom down the hall from my room," where Moore sat on a toilet studying by the dim light of a 40-watt bulb. Plowing through his textbooks until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, Hal knew that even if "I didn't understand the advanced, arcane math and bewildering engineering, physics, and chemistry, I could at least memorize the procedures."
Excerpted from Hal Moore by Mike Guardia. Copyright © 2013 Mike Guardia. Excerpted by permission of Casemate.
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