Good German, bad German and the changing odds of a war staggering to an end.
Moser's ordeal dates to Aug. 13, 1944, when he flew his 44th mission in the cramped cockpit of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning.Interesting story ... but ...
Flying over the French countryside, the 22-year-old first lieutenant from Ferndale was assigned to seek out any sign of the German occupiers, unload his plane's two heavy bombs on them, then strafe them with the plane's cannon and four machine guns.
Moser spotted a convoy of trucks parked in the open on a country road, an inviting target. "I didn't stop to think that it might be too obvious," Moser said. "It was a trap and I had fallen right into it."
As he swooped toward the convoy, anti-aircraft fire erupted from both sides of the road. His plane gave a sharp shudder as a shell ripped through the left engine, and it burst into flames.
He did what he was taught, releasing the canopy, then turning the plane over to fall out. But his shoe caught in a hinge, and he barely managed to get loose and open his parachute before he hit the ground. "The good Lord was riding with me, I'll tell ya," said Moser, a devout Catholic.
French farmers tried to hide Moser, but German soldiers who saw the crash soon caught up with him and demanded to know the whereabouts of his co-pilot, not realizing the P-38 was a one-man plane.
Moser was first taken to a French prison, but a week after his capture he and nearly 170 other captured Allied fliers were crammed into railroad boxcars for an five-day ride to Germany.
At Buchenwald, they were marched past rows of snarling dogs and armed guards, then were stripped, shaved from head to toe, swabbed with a stinging disinfectant and forced to sleep outside in a rocky field, with three men sharing a single blanket.... when a guard who spoke English "told us the only way we'd leave was as smoke up that chimney," the reality of the horror in front of Moser began to take shape.
In the weeks to come, he and his fellow prisoners would see corpses piled up outside the crematory. "People were dying faster than they could dispose of the bodies."
A typical day's "rations" consisted of a small dish of watery cabbage soup with cabbage worms still wriggling on top, and a hunk of bread laced with sawdust. Toilets were unsanitary trenches; dysentery was rampant.
Unlike "death camps" such as Auschwitz, developed for mass executions, Buchenwald was a sprawling compound of munitions factories, fields and barracks — built as a forced-labor camp for political prisoners.
But as the Nazi cause became increasingly desperate, conditions at Buchenwald grew more brutal. It's estimated that at one point, as many as 500 Russian prisoners a day were shot to death, and that over the course of the war, 56,000 of the camp's 250,000 inmates were either executed, starved, worked to death or died from illness.
Fortunately for Moser, conditions in the SS-run camp apparently shocked even some members of Germany's power elite, including high-ranking members of the Luftwaffe, Germany's air force.
Luftwaffe officers had heard that Allied aviators were at the camp, and arranged a visit with the top officers among the prisoner group, a colonel from New Zealand and an American captain.
"The disgust they felt for their fellow German SS officers was clear," Moser said. "It was also certain that they did not approve of the way we were being treated."
An unusual sense of fraternity was at work: Although Allied and German pilots wouldn't hesitate to blast each other out of the sky in battle, they felt a kinship that predated World War II.
A week after the Luftwaffe visit, the Allied pilots at Buchenwald, which included about 60 Americans, were told to gather up their belongings. They were marched to a warehouse and handed back the clothes they had arrived in.
"There were smiles on our skeletal faces," said Moser. The fliers correctly surmised that they wouldn't be getting their belongings back if they were on their way to be cremated.
Moser, who weighed 155 pounds when he was shot down, had dropped nearly 40 pounds in his two months at Buchenwald.
Years later, after Allied forces examined camp records, Moser would learn Buchenwald's SS officers planned to execute the Allied fliers, and likely would have done so within days if the Luftwaffe hadn't intervened.
Even after he was transferred to a regular prisoner-of-war camp, life was not easy for Moser. As the Germans held less and less territory, he was twice relocated on wintertime "death marches," one of 60 miles and one of more than 100. But at the three POW camps where he was held, life seldom approached the hopelessness that pervaded Buchenwald.
On April 29, 1945 — eight months and two weeks after his capture — Allied forces finally burst into his camp. A battle-scarred U.S. tank appeared in front of him.
"A roar went up from the camp that rolled through the acres ... a roar of relief and joy and exhilaration that only the liberated can truly know."
... he ran into skepticism regarding his story about Buchenwald, partly because there were no official records that Americans had been held there. Rather than defend his account, he opted to keep it to himself.As they say - the rest is history. In this case, also a book and a documentary.
Even his wife, Jean, whom he married in 1946, didn't know about his Buchenwald experience until the early 1980s, when the editor of the Lynden Tribune, who'd heard Moser's story at a meeting of a local POW group, persuaded Moser to tell it to a reporter from the weekly newspaper.
Hat tip AT1.