Gary Harmon Column May 24, 2009

In 1944, Belgium was 'a good place to get your tail shot off’

Delbert Moore went looking for work in Arizona in 1937, when the Great Depression made it almost impossible to find a job.

Moore, who hailed from a farm in Oklahoma before his family moved to Casa Grande, Ariz., soon found out there was one way to get a paycheck and some side benefits.

The Army “was a good place to sleep and a good place to eat,” said Moore, now 90.

It was also, Moore was to find out in Belgium some years later, “a good place to get your tail shot off.”

On Memorial Day, we remember those who died in war. Twice a year, on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, this column talks with recipients of the Purple Heart, a medal that only can be earned by being wounded in combat.

The ranks of World War II veterans are thinning fast. Even faster for those who earned Purple Hearts.

Moore earned a Purple Heart in the Battle of the Bulge and is one of four surviving soldiers from his company, which received a presidential unit citation for its actions at the twin Belgian villages of Rocherath-Krinkelt.

Moore’s story, though, began with the Normandy invasion, when he, then a supply sergeant with the antitank company of the 2nd Infantry Division, made his way onto the beach in France in June 1944.

He was able to drive a three-quarter-ton pickup hauling a 57mm antitank gun over the beach, something he did for almost the entire next year, excepting that bit about getting his tail shot off.

He somehow escaped without serious injury when he was twice blown over hedgerows by German artillery explosions, Moore remembered.

It was in the Normandy hedgrerows that he first became acquainted with hostile fire.

A shot fired by a German sniper tied high in a tree missed him, but the bullet struck a rock that sent a flying shard into his eye.

“I never thought anything of it,” much less reported it, he said. “So I have an eye that I can’t see out of.”

There was no doubt of the fate of the sniper, he said.

“They were left there to die.”

Moore marched and drove and scavenged for supplies through the summer and fall and it was in December that he and the anti-tank company made their way to Rocherath-Krinkelt.

There, they were in the way of advancing Germans. Moore remembers most vividly lying flat on his belly, along with his compatriots, in the Belgian snow for three days, as German soldiers marched and tanks rolled by.

“There was one of them that stepped on my foot,” he said. “I never said a word.”

After three days without food or drink or motion, Moore said, he could go no more.

“I decided that if I get up and get shot, then I get shot,” he said. “So I got up and got shot.”

A German soldier got up from the earth at the same time, he said. Moore whirled to get his rifle, but the German was faster and shot him.

Specifically, “he hit me right in the tail end,” Moore said.

Exactly when that happened, Moore is uncertain.

The War Department, though, was certain about the time and actions of his company on Dec. 17, 1944, in Rocherath, when German tanks attacked the company from the south.

“At dusk, an intense enemy artillery barrage battered the area and as it lifted some 20 minutes later, approximately 20 enemy tanks followed by some 300 enemy infantrymen entered the area,” where Moore’s company had set up in defensive positions, the company’s unit citation says.

“Employing floodlights, the enemy tanks traversed the area, firing at friendly positions, point blank.

Courageously, members of the antitank company held their positions and inflicted approximately 65 casualties, forcing the enemy to withdraw after having run though the friendly positions. Fighting furiously, the antitank men softened the attackers and enabled friendly troops to occupy Rocherath,” the citation says.

The company’s actions “reflect highest credit on the armed forces of the United States,” the citation says.

Ever since those three days without food, Moore said he’s been able to eat little, but that doesn’t explain his spare frame.

He was treated with penicillin, to which he was allergic and it took him 45 days to recover from the wound that resulted in his Purple Heart.

Even though details have become hazy, Moore said, sometimes the experience in the Battle of the Bulge leaps vividly to life.

“Every now and then, I’m suddenly in the middle of it,” he said. “It’s something that won’t go away.”


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