Archie Moeser of Gardner will turn 90 next Tuesday. For the past 27 years, he has been chronicling his life experiences and his thoughts on cassette tapes to hand down to his children.
Moeser has lived a life of many experiences, but none so ingrained in his mind as the years he spent fighting forAmerica in World War II.
Born in Canada, Moeser came to the United States when he was 3. He was considered a citizen under his father’s papers, he said, but once he came of age he was a man without a country.
Still, when he was drafted, he went faithfully to fight for the United States of America.
Basic training was swift and soon he was shipped off to Africa.
“I had very short order of training,” Moeser said. “The only thing I did was really built myself up physically.”
He started and ended his military career under the direction of George Smith Patton Jr., later to be known as General Patton.
Moeser’s first recollection of Patton was him standing on a table in the middle of the room and giving orders.
“He’s telling us what’s going on and what to do,” Moeser said. “He told us, ‘Whatever you do, keep your material (guns) in working order. Your life can be replaced, but your materials can’t.’ It wasn’t very funny at the time.”
For the majority of time during the war Moeser was a machine gunner. He rode in a half-track (tank) until it was time to dismount, seek out the enemy, and fight on foot.
The orders for his company were clear, “Ride until you are fired upon. Then dismount and fight on foot until you get hurt.”
Moeser followed Patton through the war, first to Sicily and then to France.
From the moment he went to war, he never once believed he wouldn’t go home safe.
“I never had the slightest inkling that something was going to happen to me,” he said.
Over the next few years, he fought mainly on foot, carrying his machine gun in his arms like a baby so he could run swiftly or hit the ground. All around him, he saw men wounded and dying. But he never received as much as a scratch.
Moeser recalled five separate incidents when, by all rights, he should have died.
After arriving in France, he stood high on a hill looking down at the front and for a moment felt a sense of calm.
“Until somebody decided the tank I was standing next to needed bombing,” he said. “(The tank) blew into a dirt wall and up over it. Not a piece of dirt hit me.”
Another time he was helping to carry a wounded soldier in a stretcher. Another soldier from his company, tall and well built, was shot and killed as he stood right in front of Moeser.
“He crumpled to the ground,” he said.
There were many other incidents, but the one that occurred in July of 1944 in Canisy, France, earned him and his comrades the Bronze Star for bravery.
Moeser’s company, Combat Command B, was making their way from Canisy to St. Denis le Gast and the Seinne River. The terrain was rough with sunken roads, hedgerows and bomb craters. As they advanced, German troops were caught in a pocket and tried to break through with a series attacks.
Moeser looked around at one point and realized there wasn’t a commander in site.
“It was just plain army men,” he said. “I said, ‘We’ve got to get out and we’ll do it my way.”
There was vicious hand-to-hand fighting while artillery and anti-aircraft guns fired around them.
“It was a case of load up and shoot. You couldn’t tell where (enemy fire) was coming from,” he said.
Within 48 hours, Moeser’s company made its way to the Sienne River, encircling the last of the German troops in the area. They lost only one man in that battle, the soldier who had died standing in front of Moeser.
In Belgium, near the end of his stint in the war, Moeser was called upon by an officer. After a few minutes of letting him wonder, the officer announced that Moeser was finally an American citizen.
When he returned from the war, Moeser went to teach at the Army National Guard and was eventually stationed in Hawaii. He kept himself in shape, he said, always being at the ready to return to battle.
He got married and had a baby on the way when he was called on by a commander. In his heart he was certain that if he went off to war again, this time he would not come home.
“It was so plain,” he said. “The feeling was there and it was so strong.”
But instead of getting service orders, he received his discharge papers and tickets to get himself and his family back home to Illinois.
Moeser credits many things in his life to listening to his inner voice for direction.
“I pay attention to other feelings, the minor ones, and they have always paid off,” he said.
Moeser plans to continue organizing his life on tape and has help from his friend and Community Manager where he lives, Eric Schutz. He feels his children never got to know about him as a young man and this will be a way to pass on his life, he said.
“And boy, what a life.”