Ralph Moore traveled from Fort Miles to Battle of the Bulge
It may be 2017, but Ralph Moore remembers 1927 like it was yesterday.
“I was three years old and I was throwing corn cobs at a horse. The horse got tired of it and bit off the bottom of my ear lobe,” he said, pointing at his left ear.
Moore was born on Redden Road in Bridgeville to Henry and Dolly Moore. His father was a farmer of corn and soybeans and sold eggs. Moore grew up in Sussex County during the Great Depression, but he doesn’t remember anything depressing about it.
“We just thought it was a way of life,” he said. “The farmers all got together and had contests sawing logs, the women had quilting parties, apple peeling parties, us kids played hide and seek. We had food because we grew it and raised it ourselves. If someone was having a hard time everyone would pitch in and help.”
Moore attended school through the fifth grade at what is now the Lincoln Community Center. It did not have indoor plumbing. In 1931, the Evelyn I. Morris School was constructed.
“We thought we were uptown then,” Moore said. “It had bathrooms inside.”
Moore was 9 years old when his father died of stomach cancer. He and his mother moved to Bridgeville, where his grandparents owned several houses. Later on, his mother remarried and they moved to Greenwood.
When Moore graduated from Greenwood High School in 1940 he immediately enlisted in the army. Originally, he was stationed at Fort DuPont in Delaware City, where they had brand new barracks. He was a cook, but after cracking open an egg with a dead chick inside, Moore asked to be reassigned.
“I joined the army to see the world,” he said dryly. “They sent me to Lewes.”
Fort Miles was being built. There were no barracks when Moore arrived; the soldiers stayed in tents with cots and wood stoves. Moore’s new job was in the motor pool, chauffeuring officers. He recalled carrying gear up and down the observation towers and patrolling the beach at night.
“If you came upon another soldier while you were walking the beach, you were quick to ask for that password,” he said.
In the evenings, Moore and a few other men took to running 16mm movies for the soldiers.
“I don’t ever want to see Clark Gable again,” he said. “We ran ‘Gone With The Wind’ for a week and that thing was four hours long.”
The movies were good for morale, and by December 1941, Fort Miles had a small movie theater. The theater ran 35mm film, so on the morning of Dec. 7, Moore and another soldier were sent to Fort DuPont to learn how to run it. As they hitchhiked their way there, Pearl Harbor was bombed. Upon their arrival, they were suited up as if Delaware was going to be under attack at any moment.
“They loaded us down with new uniforms, rifles, live ammunition, hand grenades, gas masks. We were scared to death,” Moore said. “We learned to run the movies and got back to Fort Miles.”
It was around this time that Moore met his future wife, Elizabeth “Betty” O’Bier, and his involvement with the movies tapered off.
“Fortunately my commanding officer was a Greenwood boy,” he said. “And he went home just about every night. He had a convertible and was tickled to death to take me. I’d say, ‘Lieutenant, I’m supposed to be there in the morning for roll call,’ and he’d say, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re with me.’”
One Tuesday night, Moore and Betty decided to get married. They were on their way to the church when Moore got word there was a telegram for him, calling for him to report back to Fort Miles immediately. They went and got married anyway, and afterward, he took Betty home to her parents, who were none the wiser. Her siblings ratted her out the next day. On Wednesday night, the newlyweds got a hotel room in Milford, where they were required to show proof that they were married.
Moore returned to Fort Miles Thursday morning, where he was told he was going to be shipping out in a few days. He was allowed to return to his bride for the weekend, but was waving goodbye to her from a train Monday morning.
At Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., Moore received field artillery training and made first class machine gunner. He rode in the command car with the captain and a driver, manning a machine gun mounted on the car.
“That damn seat was so hot it scalded my butt,” Moore recalled, without humor. “I went to the medics and they said the best thing I could do was get my helmet full of the hottest water I could stand and sit in it. I told them they were crazy, but man, did it feel good.”
In the spring of 1944 Moore and his fellow soldiers were on a train to Staten Island. From there, the RMS Queen Elizabeth took them to Scotland, zigzagging the whole way in order to avoid German submarines. To avoid seasickness, Moore stayed topside during the journey.
“I stood anti-aircraft watch,” he said. “If anyone came up to relieve me I just told them to get me a cup of coffee and some bread and I’d take their two hours. I slept for 15 or 20 minutes at a time for six days and six nights.”
Moore’s company made its way to England and waited for orders. Eventually, they boarded another ship, to France and the front lines. They landed at Normandy, just days after D-Day.
“It was a terrible sight,” Moore said.
Quickly he and his company fell into the ways of war. There was no hot food. They dug up sugar beets to mix with their meals for flavor. They walked mile after mile after mile. Moore once went three months without a bath or even a shave. That winter, he found himself in the historically brutal Battle of Bulge.
“The Germans were screaming and hollering and it was coming so thick,” he said. “That was a gritty battle. We mostly slept during the day in trenches in the ground and then went at it all night. We fought it out, killed most of ‘em. It was a dead, bloody place. It was awful.”
Just as awful as the battle was the cold.
“Sometimes we were walking in snow up past our belts,” Moore said. “I got frostbite on my feet and they started to turn purple. I thought they were gonna have to take ‘em off.”
It was after the frostbite incident that Moore was promoted.
“They made me Captain of the Tiger Patrol, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. I had 14 men under me,” Moore said. “We’d bring back prisoners; one night we brought back a major. My lieutenant, he could talk a little German, and that major spit in his face. Lieutenant shot him dead for that.”
Moore pushed on, through the war and toward the front lines, until eventually, he found himself near the Rhine River in Germany. One night, he got orders to take supplies up to soldiers at the front lines, and he and several others did so unarmed.
“So we get up to the company at the front line and the sergeant wants us to go to another company and get some information. I said, ‘We didn’t come prepared for patrol, we got nothing to protect ourselves,’ but we went and got the info anyway. On the way back, I heard a noise,” Moore said, shaking his head, “And they got us. Two of ‘em came out and took us back to their headquarters.”
Moore and several other soldiers were taken prisoner by the Germans.
“They took us back to their headquarters and one of them went in and the other sat us down. I told the boys to keep their eyes on me,” he said. “I was watching this guy start to fall asleep. As soon as his eyes shut, I got outta there and they were right behind me. It’s a wonder they didn’t kill us all.”
The Germans fired machine guns and mortars at them as they ran.
“I had on my belt with my canteen and medicine pack, and I had it around me twice ‘cause they made them all for the biggest soldier,” Moore said. “And a piece of mortar shell, it cut through my belt and got me in my side.”
He kept running and eventually blacked out. He woke up on a train that took him to a beautiful, five-story hospital in Paris, but he wasn’t happy about it.
“You could only stay at the hospital 60 days. You either went back to the front lines or you went home, and I wanted to get back because my name had been put in for second lieutenant,” Moore said. “But they said I wasn’t ready to go. If I had been, I’d probably have made a career of the army.”
On his 60th day in Paris, Moore got on a plane to Wales. A few days later, Germany surrendered, and Moore rode topside on a ship back to the United States.
“After five days at sea we started looking for the Statue of Liberty,” he said. “And by God, we saw it, and what a happy time.”
He cried as he recalled his first phone call to his wife from New York.
Upon his return to Greenwood, Moore began a job at Firestone, where Betty had secured him work. True to his loyal and dependable form, he remained at Firestone, first in sales and then managing a store, for 38 years before retiring. He and Betty had one child, a daughter, Katherine.
Moore would go on to found Greenwood VFW Post 7478. He is 94 years old, and a piece of the mortar shell that struck him as he escaped German soldiers in 1945 is still embedded in his hip.