LEGACIES OF WWII: Veteran Keith Moore of Fort Wayne tells stories of injuries, the ministry and his loathing of Spam
As a young man growing up in Mannington, W.V., Keith Moore of Fort Wayne was influenced to serve his country by a popular movie made in 1951 starring Hollywood actor Richard Widmark. “I wanted to be a Marine because I had seen ‘From the Halls of Montezuma’ and liked it,” he said.
Moore was born in 1923. After graduating from Mannington High School in 1942, he worked at a grocery store for a year before being drafted into the Marines.
After completing six weeks of basic training at San Diego, Moore traveled to College Station, Tx, where at Texas A&M University he was taught Morse code. “We had to do 22 words per minute and I qualified, but never ended up using it,” he said.
At Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC, Moore was trained as a radio operator. He was also designated as a sharpshooter for rifle skills.
When his unit was shipped to Hawaii, Moore’s military service became irregular. He boarded a LST (landing, ship, and tank) ship with his unit to help the battle at the island of Okinawa, which had begun in April 1945. But the brutal fighting that injured 49,000 Americans and killed 12,520 ended in June. Japanese losses at Okinawa were greater — approximately 110,000 Japanese soldiers lost their lives and an estimated 40,000 – 150,000 Okinawa citizens were killed.
Moore was transferred to the island of Ie Shima where the beloved Hoosier war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, had been killed by a sniper and was buried on the island.
When Moore picked up an infection that required hospitalization, he was sent to Guam for two weeks. Believing he was on his way home, he was dismayed when at some point he lost his sea bag, money and a Bible given to him by his mother. “The only thing I had left was my dog tags,” he said.
That low time for Moore was lightened when he was sent to Shanghai and received a much-needed gift. “The Red Cross gave me ten dollars,” he said.
Moore returned to his outfit and was assigned six months of guard duty. “I couldn’t talk to the other guard who was Chinese,” he said.
Although the Japanese had moved out of China, the atrocities they had committed for years against the Chinese people were severe. “We saw poverty everywhere we looked,” said Moore. “The children stared at us through restaurant windows.” Having been raised in the church and taught to share, Moore gave food to Chinese people, including children.
When American troops were told to prepare to invade Japan in the fall of 1945, it lent an added level of anxiety to the battle-weary troops. “It was a pretty traumatic time of thinking about us going in,” he said. “We would be like sitting ducks.”
The news of Japan’s surrender after the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki relieved Moore. “If President Truman had not ordered those bombs to be dropped, I’m convinced I would not be here,” he said. “The Japanese people would not have surrendered any other way.”
Sergeant Moore was discharged in May 1946. At first, he didn’t know what to do with his life. When three friends told him they had prayed he would enter the ministry, he considered the idea. He had never seen a chaplain while in the military and had no opportunity to attend church services. But as a soldier, he had read the Bible when he had time and had a solid childhood of going to church and serving people. At that point Moore dedicated his life to the Lord, resolving to serve him as a Christian minister.
He earned a degree at Northwestern University and attended Philadelphia School of the Bible for three years, eventually earning a Master’s of Divinity degree.
He considered becoming a military chaplain, but after marrying in 1949, chose to preach at churches in Wisconsin, Niagara Falls, and Philadelphia, while raising seven children with his wife Leah Kathryn.
After moving with his family to Fort Wayne, Keith worked as visitation pastor at Blackhawk Ministries from 1999-2014. During that time, he made 5,000 visits with people. He has also participated with Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.
Overall, Moore has good memories of his time as a soldier. “I felt it was my duty to serve my country during the war,” he said. “It was difficult at times, but I could read the Bible and live for the Lord while there.”
Moore has one disgruntled memory of being a soldier during World War II, particularly concerning a food item. “Spam (canned meat) was served too often!” he said. “I never wanted to eat it again in my whole life.”
Kayleen Reusser is an author who just finished the book “They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans”