Posted on September 20, 2022
by Tom Clavin
78 years in the past Joe Moser was shot down throughout his 44th mission. Joe is the primary character in my most up-to-date solo guide, Lightning Down: A World Warfare II Story of Survival. It was printed in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press in November 2021, and the paperback version hits cabinets at present (9/20/22).
The coaching to be a pilot was rigorous however all the trouble would enable
Joe Moser to appreciate his dream of flying a P-38 Lightning. (Courtesy of
the Moser household.)
The query that has been most incessantly requested of me for the reason that guide’s publication is: How did I discover this story? It will be satisfying to assert that I used all my investigative abilities to ferret it out, and I used to be so on high of my recreation as an skilled journalist . . .however the reality is, I stumbled throughout it.
In early December 2015, I used to be doing a little last-minute fact-checking for Fortunate 666, a guide written with Bob Drury a few heroic B-17 crew within the Pacific Theater throughout World Warfare II. A random keystroke brought about the looks on my display of an obituary simply printed in The Bellingham Herald, a each day newspaper in Washington State. The headline was “Ferndale WWII Hero Joe Moser Dies at 94.” Like most writers, I’ve a wholesome dose of curiosity and couldn’t assist taking a look. What jumped out at me was a point out that Moser was one among 168 Allied flyers imprisoned on the Buchenwald focus camp through the conflict.
To a lot of you—and this could be very true of members of the “Biggest Technology” who’re nonetheless with us—this data needed to be a mistake. The official place of the U.S. navy for many years had been no People had been held in Nazi focus camps. Perhaps there was a mix-up. Fortunately, this “error” saved bothering me. I used to be capable of finding different articles about Joe Moser in The Bellingham Herald and I known as one of many each day’s staffers who had met him. I contacted members of Moser’s household and was the beneficiary of their courtesy in addition to that of Gerald Baron, a buddy of Moser’s who had collaborated with him on a regionally printed memoir of his experiences.
I noticed that there was rather more to be explored and written about, not simply Joe Moser’s story however that of all 168 Allied flyers, most of whom had survived hell on earth and suffered in silence for many years afterward. Thankfully, there have been just a few different written accounts, which I cite within the Bibliography, in addition to the Gerald Baron and Michael Dorsey documentary, Misplaced Airmen of Buchenwald, which had originated as an investigation the latter did into his grandfather’s experiences as a type of prisoners.
In different phrases, I acquired fortunate—taking place upon an obituary printed 3000 miles away after which the tumblers fell into place.
When I’ve given talks about Lightning Down, one other query at all times requested is, “What stunned you probably the most about this story?” I need to beg your indulgence right here as a result of at any given second the reply is completely different. Definitely, one response is that any of those Allied airmen survived, not to mention most of them. And never simply the nightmare of Buchenwald—the story features a “dying march” in probably the most brutal winter circumstances, going through hunger within the POW camp because the conflict waned and the Nazi guards hoarded meals for themselves, and different daunting, death-defying challenges.
What additionally stunned me was the numerous roles performed by two colonels, Phillip Lamason and Hannes Trautloft. The previous was a fearless New Zealand pilot who insisted that self-discipline and brotherhood would hold his command alive, and he was proper. Colonel Trautloft was a Luftwaffe hero who valued honor and couldn’t abide different airmen, no matter uniform they wore, being brutalized and starved, or worse. Joe Moser is clearly the primary character in Lightning Down however the story is far enriched by their highly effective presence of those two officers.
One different shock—that Moser survived after the conflict. Sure, we’ve all heard about how the troopers of World Warfare II got here residence, discovered jobs, acquired married, and acquired on with it. Joe was no completely different in that respect. However take into consideration the additional burdens he carried, particularly having endured the sadistic cruelty of a Nazi focus camp after which to be unable to share these excruciating recollections with anybody, together with his spouse and youngsters. No surprise the previous pilot had nightmares. But because the final pages of Lightning Down report, Joe and his spouse, Jean, raised their kids, had been energetic locally, attended church companies, and he had a seemingly satisfying profession as an oil burner repairman. The resiliency of such a person is astonishing.
One other query typically requested: “Was this guide onerous to jot down?” Sure and no. Sure, as a result of through the time I used to be engaged on Lightning Down—from encountering that obituary in December 2015 to publication in November 2021—the story was full of horrible occasions and horrible folks. Spend years researching and writing about Nazi depravities and see how cheerful your world view is. I considered the road by the poet John Donne, “Any man’s dying diminishes me,” and right here I used to be immersed in a narrative through which tens of millions die. So, in that respect, Lightning Down was onerous labor.
Nonetheless, it might have been the best of the solo initiatives I’ve written as a result of it’s—to me, at the least—very uplifting. The guide is extra about peace than about conflict. Joe Moser and different troopers are doing their responsibility to not earn bragging rights or as a result of they like violence however to finish the conflict with tyranny having been defeated. It’s no coincidence that the final phrase in Lightning Down is “peace.”
And the guide is about residence. All through this story, Joe Moser yearns to have accomplished his greatest after which return to his mom and siblings. Of all of the scenes within the guide that had tears plopping on my keyboard, taking the cake is the one the place Joe is on the practice station and his mom arrives to select him up. Now he knew for positive he was residence. It was at that second the younger man who had endured and witnessed the worst of human habits lastly broke down: Joe “cried in her arms like a child,” as he put it.
In the end, Lightning Down is about love. Voltaire’s Candide was an inspiration to me when scripting this guide. It’s a few light younger man who travels far and vast, experiencing one travail after one other, and comes to appreciate that house is the place for him. In case the connection will not be clear sufficient, I give it means with the Epilogue’s opening epigram from Candide: “It’s love, the consolation of the human species, the preserver of the universe, the soul of all sentient beings, love, tender love.”
Okay, overlook Voltaire, perhaps Joe Moser mentioned it greatest, reflecting on his return to Buchenwald 55 years after he left the camp of nightmares: “Life is value residing. I’m glad I went via all this, however I wouldn’t want it on anybody else.”
If in case you have not learn Lightning Down already, please hold a watch out for the paperback version wherever you want to purchase books.
Initially printed on Tom Clavin’s The Overlook.
Picture Credit score: Gordon M. Grant
Tom Clavin is a #1 New York Occasions bestselling writer and has labored as a newspaper editor, journal author, TV and radio commentator, and a reporter for The New York Occasions. He has obtained awards from the Society of Skilled Journalists, Marine Corps Heritage Basis, and Nationwide Newspaper Affiliation. His books embrace the bestselling Frontier Lawmen trilogy—Wild Invoice, Dodge Metropolis, and Tombstone—and Blood and Treasure with Bob Drury. He lives in Sag Harbor, NY.
Tags: Aviation Historical past, Joe Moser, Lightning Down, The Overlook, Tom Clavin, World Warfare II