‘Red, there are two ways to die. To die for nothing at all, or to die for life—for thousands of lives’
"It is now the 26th of the month and I still have received no word,” Lt. Don W. Moore wrote to his wife Doris in August 1943 from England. “I am kind of beginning to wonder a little bit.” The newly married couple was expecting a child, and the 25-year-old B-17 pilot from Toledo, Ohio, could hardly wait.
“I am thinking of you and the Baby almost all the time. I am glad that it won’t be much longer until I shall know. At least they have been keeping us pretty busy lately and that helps a little… Well darling I guess that is about all for today. Here is hoping I get that Cable tomorrow. I am really getting anxious to know whether I am a father of a boy or girl or both. I love you very much. I am hoping to be seeing you again very soon.”
Don’s son, Douglas, was born almost two weeks later on September 7, 1943—the same day Doris received a message from the War Department informing her that Don was missing in action. Now she was the one nervously waiting for news. A former copilot of Don’s wrote Doris a few encouraging words:
Congratulations and bless you. Was happy to hear of the healthy arrival of Douglas Gary. Its wonderful and I feel sure that he is quite a comfort to you at this time.
Often I thought of you and searched old records but was unable to get your address.
I am very glad to tell you that Don’s ship went down under the most ideal conditions I have ever seen one go down.
In the first place it was not violently out of control or afire. Ten chutes were counted as having bailed out, which is very good!
Secondly, it was over France not Germany. I cannot discuss relative advantages of this, but believe me that is good.
In the third place, within 5 to 15 minutes after they would have reached the ground darkness would have set in adding to possibilities of escape. Then too it was not cold.
I was there that evening and can say with certainty that these were the conditions.
We have heard nothing, but we never do…. [T]here is always the probability that he may have eluded capture….
So Doris, don’t worry! I think you have no cause for great alarm. Be brave, take good care of Douglas Gary and perhaps before you realize it Don will be there with you…. Ray
Sadly, he would not. Soon after Doris received the letter, in late September, she learned that her husband had been killed—on August 27, 1943, the day of their first wedding anniversary. One by one, letters from his surviving crew started to arrive, each testifying to Don’s heroism. Lt. Robert Coffman, the copilot on Don’s plane, sent the following after returning to the States:
After reading all your letters to Mother and knowing Don I really feel that I know you too well to write Mrs. Moore. Hope you don’t mind.
I’m afraid I can tell you very little more about our last mission than you already know. As soon as Don decided for us to go out, Warren gave both of us our chutes and then went out. I held the ship while Don put on his chute and then as I snapped mine on he beckoned me out. We were the only ones left in the front and after I went out I saw no-one until I was captured 4 days later and reached Dulay. There I met Jim Meade, Dave Smith, Warren, and Falkner. It was there that they told us Don and Joe Kosmicky were found in the plane. After that Dave Jim and I were sent to Stalag Luft III and our enlisted men went to 17-B. That was the last we saw of them.
It was not until long after that we heard that Harold Graham was lost and still later that King had returned home safely though pretty worn out. The others, I heard nothing about until I returned home two days ago….
Doris, there is nothing much I can say about Don except that he was a grand officer and a grand ship commander on our last flight.
Most Sincerely Yours
P.S. I have seen Douglas’s picture and he already looks like Don.
The most vivid and poignant letter came from Staff Sgt. Warren Seyfried, an engineer on Don’s plane. Seyfried was recuperating from wounds when he wrote it.
Dear Mrs. Moore,
Just received your second very fine letter here at the hospital. The only reason that I can give for not answering the first letter is that I thought I would see you soon to tell you the details. Have had a short furlough since then and turned it into a honeymoon.
To write what happened to “Pappy Moore” is a great deal harder than it would be to tell about it in person, but if you will bear with me, I shall do my best for the present. As you know, it all happened on August 27, 1943. The time was 1927 or 7:27 P.M. We will go back to the raid briefing to begin the story.
For three consecutive raids, our ship was badly shot up, and we were forced to leave the formation. Persons not in such planes can’t quite understand it, so the Group Operations officer talked to Don on this particular morning, and gave him orders to stay in formation.
We were scheduled to lead an element that day. It was the first step to making Lt. Moore a Captain. At the last moment before take off, the deal was changed, and we were moved to our regular position of “tail end Charlie.” We all felt bad about that, ’cause that was the hot spot of a formation at that time.
Everything went along just fine that day until we were on the actual bomb run. It seemed that the flack was centered on our ship. The ordinary thing to do would be to pull up or out just a little, but because of the orders that morning, “Pappy” decided to stay in and ride it out.
First we were hit near the ball turret, wounding Kosmicky. The next burst took the left wing tip off. Then came the bad one. It went into the bottom of the left inboard engine and burst before it came out of the top. By some miracle, none of us in the cockpit were wounded.
Naturally, the wing caught fire from the last burst. We tried to put the fire out, but it was impossible. Lt. Moore rang the bail out bell for the crew, then gave me orders to get his chute. When I came back with his chute and watched him put it on, I was told to bail out. After waiting till he set the automatic pilot, I left.
Fellows that I talked to, from the crew, later told me that he was still talking to the crew members and giving orders when they left. I believe that you know by now that all the crew did get out. That is the reason that your Husband is gone. He would never have left until everyone else had gone. In other words he died so that the crew could live.
I did not believe that he was dead, but the Germans showed me his watch and ring when I was in for interrogation. There were three of them in the remains of the plane. The wing had burnt off before they had time to get out.
Something that I would like to tell you about happened later in the prison camp.
As you know, we were all pretty close to each other on that crew, and it was sort of a family with Don as Pappy. I felt pretty bad about him going out and was telling a fellow about it. The fellow answered like this—
“Red, there are two ways to die. To die for nothing at all, or to die for life—for thousands of lives.” That is the way he went. He was [that] way. Not just on the outside, but all the way through. He proved that. The only thing that we can do is pray that he didn’t go in vain, to hope that the people back home keep his reason just the same.
Not much else to say now Mrs. Moore except God Bless both you and Douglas, and when he grows up just a little more, tell him for me that he can well be proud of the way that his Daddy died.
Andrew Carroll’s Legacy Project (online at warletters.com) is dedicated to preserving and collecting correspondence from all of America’s wars. If you have a World War II letter you would like to share, please send a copy (not originals) to the Legacy Project, PO Box 53250, Washington, DC 20009, or e-mail WarLettersUS@aol.com.