Bill Moeller Commentary: Memories Surfacing From Memorial Day


The patriotic remembrances shared early this week brought to mind — as it does to any old serviceman — my own memories of military service in peacetime and in wartime.

I hope you’ll forgive my ramblings, but here are some “snapshots” from my service record.

First of all, I enlisted for three years of service in 1946 because I wanted to become an actor.

Three years of service would give me enough months under the GI Bill to spend four years in the drama department at the University of Washington.

It’s obvious I never got there.

After the usual term of basic training, I had scored high on the Army General Classification Test, so I asked to be sent to a school on cryptography. Instead, I got shipped to Maryland to spend a couple of useless months attending a “parts clerk” school, learning to tell the difference between a drive shaft and a carburetor.

After that, I was sent to the Philippine Islands, and from there to Okinawa where there were no openings for my talents. And that meant another trip to the Philippines, followed by another quick turnaround that found me in Japan.

While welcoming us, a sergeant explained that if any of us became a paratrooper we could get another $50 per month.

That would be on top of the generous $75 I was already soaking away into my retirement fund.

My next port of call was to an Army base near Sapporo on the Island of Hokkaido. After a few months of repairing fuel pumps and carburetors, a message was broadcast over our local AFRS radio station that they needed a replacement for an announcer whose time of service was running out.

I got the job and it was such a blast that I considered staying in the service until retirement and extended my three-year enlistment for another year to think about it.

Then, the entire division was sent to Fort Campbell in Kentucky and I found myself — with no typing experience at all — sending out news releases to hometown newspapers, letting them know that their “little Johnny” just graduated to something or other.

I did get a sideline of taking a Jeep to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, each morning to let the local citizens in on what we were doing, but that wasn’t interesting enough and I looked forward to September when I would be discharged.

A certain North Korean ruler took exception to that, and I was transferred to a hastily created Airborne Regimental Combat Team, in addition to receiving employment for an added year and being sent to where the action was! 

Once there, our main duty consisted in flushing out the land that bordered the main roads, looking for any hiding North Koreans. The main action we saw consisted of being ambushed by small groups that were left behind after the First Cavalry Division cleaned the main roads prior to our follow-up search.

Our regiment did see action by parachuting approximately 40 miles behind the enemy lines to try to capture any important fleeing leaders, but interrogation of local residents told us we had missed the premier by about 25 minutes! 

The fact that a 1949 Hudson Sedan was parked there after running out of gas gave us the feeling that perhaps they left Pyongyang in a hurry and there were spies in MacArthur’s headquarters, but he denied any such possibility, of course.

Some readers may remember that, years ago, I wrote a three-column series about spending my last night in Korea alone and unable to keep up with our own retreating outfits due to frostbite in both feet.

That led to a couple of months hospitalized in Japan, which wasn’t at all unpleasant. Once cured, I received more stripes on my uniform and as a staff sergeant was sent to Okinawa again to teach draftees on their way to the battle zone what they could expect once they got there.

I’m proud of my eventual five years of service and, although I never made it to drama school, Mark Twain and I managed to find many good years “on the boards.”


Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at