Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local News

November 10, 2010

Herbert Moon relives D-Day

AMERICUS — In Herbert Moon’s 92 years, nothing compares to his experience as an Army Air Force medic during the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day.

Moon, a life-long Americus resident, was drafted into the military in June 1942 at the age of 23. He completed his basic training at Fort Benning in Columbus as an Army Air Force medic. He was then transferred to an air base hospital in New Orleans until he was sent to England in July 1943. During the next six months, Moon helped set up Army hospitals around bomber bases in northern England.

Just before Christmas of 1943, Moon and other military medical personnel received a notice calling for medical volunteers for combat duty. Moon volunteered and explains that “the unit was only going to be in existence for a few weeks, just for Normandy.”

Moon and the other members of the medical unit reported to Tidworth, outside of London, for combat training on Jan. 1, 1944.  He and his fellow volunteers understood that “this wasn’t going to be in a hospital; it was all in the field.” Moon also said, “We had to learn how to work (on injured soldiers) under fire.”

On June 1, 1944, after completing combat training, Moon and the newly formed 2nd Medical Combat Unit joined the 29th Infantry Division that they would be working with during the invasion.

There were two medical units of 50 men each that were assigned to accompany the first wave of troops on the Normandy beaches. Moon was the staff sergeant in charge of his medical unit. Also the oldest of his group at the age of 25, the other men in the unit called him “Grandpa.”

On June 6, 1944, British, American and Canadian troops prepared to land on five beaches on the Normandy coast. Moon, assigned to troops on Omaha beach, and other medical personnel were divided into groups of three, each group on a boat with other troops.

Before landing, Moon remembers climbing up on deck to look back towards the English coast. He was amazed at the number of boats crammed into the small area of the English Channel.

Moon said, “It looked like you could walk from England to France without even getting your feet wet.”

As the troops neared the coast, Moon describes how the boat occupied by the staff sergeant of the other 50-man medical unit sank before reaching the beach, possibly due to a mine. Moon was then left as the solitary leader of the remaining 96 medical personnel on the beach.

When describing the scene of the 160,000 Allied troops and personnel on the beaches that day, the only word Moon can use is “terrible.” He describes how German troops were firing down at them from the cliffs above, and how later, after taking the beach, he and others climbed up ropes from those very cliffs, with 100-pound field packs on their backs.

Although their time on the beaches only lasted a few days, it was an experience that Moon would carry in his memory his entire life. The two medical units that were only in existence for two weeks lost 92 out of the initial 100 men who volunteered. Moon and the other seven men remaining chose to stay on as soldiers and were permitted to remain together as a squad within the 29th Infantry. By the end of the war, only three or four of those eight men would not be wounded in battle.

Following D-Day, Moon and his squad were stationed in various European countries including France, Belgium and Germany. He jokes about how he walked through half of Europe during those months.

Moon explains that he was in Belgium about to board a boat for the Pacific, when they heard that Japanese Emperor Michinomiya Hirohito had announced his surrender, making it official on Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier “Missouri.”

Moon was officially discharged from the Army Air Force on Dec. 16, 1945, at Camp Gordon (presently Fort Gordon) in Augusta and returned home to Americus.

However, Moon’s return home was a difficult experience in itself. Married in 1940 before being drafted, Moon’s wife Frances was expecting their first child before Moon was sent to New Orleans for duty. Moon took an emergency leave in June 1943 to return home for the birth of his daughter. After only spending five days with his first-born, Moon had to return to New Orleans. He would not see his daughter again until December 1945, when she was nearly three years old. Upon his return, Moon painfully remembers kissing his daughter as she wiped it away and said, “Don’t be kissin’ me; I’m saving my kisses for my daddy.”

Despite the initial difficulty of normal life after the trauma of battle, Moon was happy to return to his hometown and raise a family. He and Frances have two daughters and a son and are proud to be celebrating 70 years of marriage.

Moon’s former employer was required to hold his job at the railroad for him upon his return from active duty. He was back at work in January 1946, and was employed with the railroad until retiring in November 1984.

However, Moon wasn’t ready to sit lazily at home during retirement. He has held several part-time positions throughout his retirement. Moon’s jobs include paper carrier for the Americus Times-Recorder, court bailiff at the Sumter County Courthouse and his current position at Reeves Construction Co. as a dispatcher.

When offering his thoughts on today’s military, Moon says, “If you go into the military with the right attitude, I think it’s a sensible move for any boy.” He clarifies that he does not mean this comment in a sexist way. He is completely confident that women are capable of being on the front lines of battle. However, Moon considers himself old-fashioned and believes women should be put on a pedestal and not subjected to such experiences.

Throughout the years since D-Day, Moon has been reluctant to speak to anyone, even his children, about his experience on the Normandy beaches. However, he eventually decided to create an autobiography of sorts in order for his children to know the details of his experiences. He has also spoken to several church youth groups about his life.

 

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