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What Did You do in the War Dad?...Dad?

Tight lipped WWII veteran, dad didn't talk much about his experiences. He knew I wouldn't understand the experience since I was young.

Early Questions Deflected

How many of us ask someone who has served in the military, "what did you do in the service or the war?"

Asked with innocent intentions and curiosity, the answers are usually short, vague and not informative.

After nearly fifty-five to sixty years since asking, "What did you do in the war Dad?", I realize that that he was probably protecting me from the traumatic and horrifying things he saw and experienced while serving.

Up in the attic were dad's flight bag, hats, medals, radio headphone, training material and assorted military items. We would sneak up and wear the hats and pin the metals on our shirts and fantasize about being a pilot and the glorification of what it might have been like. We would play war up on the hill in back of the house and the good guys would always win, without injury or the ultimate sacrifice. In our childhood we were protected from the path these items took to land in the attic along the stories attached to them. Out of sight, out of mind.

What I did know was that dad, 1st Lieutenant Howard N. Moulton Jr. was a pilot in WWII, and he flew a P-51 Mustang shooting down two German planes and participated in the destruction of a train that was taken out by Duane Beeson.

He was shot down on April 8,1944 and was a POW at Stalag Luft 1 in Barth Germany for 13 months before it's liberation in May of 1945.

Most of the information I learned about his experiences was from keeping an ear out when someone else would ask as he reluctantly opened the cover of his story, but never revealing many details.

His most likely time of opening up was with people that served with him or someone that had experienced war firsthand. Only those people had real understanding of the effects of what war would have on a person.

I'm sure it wasn't all bad because he and his Crew Chief, Eber G. Haning "Gary" had some great laughs when they got together. Dad had a great respect for Gary and trusted him with his life.

I am putting together the information I have to understand what drove him to be a pilot and what it might have been like.

A couple of the things he shared were short and to the point:

"The Germans were not stupid or was POW camp anything like they were made out to be on Hogan's Heros." That show was not allowed on our television for obvious reasons.

When watching a movie, such as Top Gun, he said, "Pilots don't get all worked up and talk like that on the radio. That's bullshit."

You knew where you stood with dad. He stived to do what was right and called a spade a spade and his word was his bond.

It's time to start at the beginning to see where this will take us as we learn more about dad together.

Early Flight and Training

Dad, Howard N. Moulton was nicknamed "John" was and raised in Sheffield, Massachusetts on the family farm. He loved and exceled in sports playing with some talented players. I was able to meet some of them as the years rolled on. One of those players was Moses H. Haile, Sr. whom I met at golf course in the town above ours.

I remember him saying to me as we walked away, "There's a guy that could play ball and a great guy."

Dad was a pitcher and from what I've heard was quite good. He told of how he would pitch a game in Gt. Barrington in the early afternoon and then pitch another in Canaan later in the day. I guess he had plenty of rest on the ride to Canaan!!!

I don't know when his love of flying began or what exposed it. Did he see planes flying overhead? Did he see something at the movie theater about the war effort that intrigued him? Did someone offer to take him up in a plane?

Like so many in this country the war inspired many to enlist to fight for their country.

An early flight log documents that he was training in nearby Canaan, Connecticut in a Piper J-3 Cub at twenty years of age from September 11th to October 25,1942.

Low and Slow: Piper J-3 Cub – Vividcomm

The same logbook resumes March 4,1943 in Avon Park, Florida with flights documented nearly every day until April 3,1943 with a PT-17 Stearman. Along with flight training there were classes in engineering, meteorology, chemical warfare, aircraft identification and much more. Training must have been pretty intense as I have looked through the many notebooks he had. He was a very detailed man and was really good at dotting his "I's" and crossing his "T's".

Boeing PT-17 Stearman - Lone Star Flight Museum

The average age of the pilots training for war was 20 to 22 years old. In early 1943 dad was 21 years old. Flight training was sixty hours with complimenting ground training for 225 hours. Due to the need of pilots during the escalation of the war, ground training was reduced to ten weeks with flight training remaining at 60 hours according to Wikipedia.

Dad was transferred to the 4th Fighter Group in Debden, England on January 23,1944.

He first started flying a P-47 and spoke about how good a plane it was, but once flying the P-51, it was a totally different plane. "The V12 was smooth and powerful and experienced nothing else like it."

It wasn't until about fifteen years after dad died that I saw and heard my first P-51 in flight at an airshow. The depth of the purring of the motor went to my soul as the sound vibrated in my chest. The plane flew past at about 100 feet with authority exhibiting what was the cutting-edge fighter plane of its day. Hearing the one plane was exhilarating, I tried to picture fifty or a hundred of them in flight together. I wouldn't want to hear that sound coming for me.

There isn't much else in all the documentation available until January 31, 1944.


Flight School Documents and Books

Flight log and assorted training books

Flight log and assorted training books

P-51 that we saw and heard at the airshow. Although this is a two-seater verses the single seat fighter, it was still so very impressive.

P-51 that we saw and heard at the airshow. Although this is a two-seater verses the single seat fighter, it was still so very impressive.

The Ultimate Fighter Plane

Even before seeing or hearing a P-51 Mustang, the name itself has a mystique about it. Not only does it have a rich sound, but the sound of power and prestige.

Seeing pictures reveals the sleek lines that could cut through the sky with precise maneuverability.

Hearing one approach from a distance for the first time with its smooth guttural sound draw your eyes to search the sky to get a glimpse of where this awesome sound is coming from.

Seeing the plane approaching at cruising speed of approximately 265 miles per hour completes the expectation as the vibrations from its power while it cruises 100 feet over you. While your body is absorbing the sound, it creates a mouth opening grin of uncontrollable satisfaction. Oh, that lucky dog that is in the cockpit of this masterpiece of aviation history.

496 P51 Mustang Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock (istockphoto.com)

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Some Pictures from Debden Field

Picture of Howard "John" Moulton after a mission.

Picture of Howard "John" Moulton after a mission.

Early duffle bag would carry all you "needed".

Early duffle bag would carry all you "needed".

Following the Information of the 4th Fighter Group in WWII

There are a few places that information about dad's journey.

  • The films that are activated when the guns are being fired. The P-51 only carried approximately 30 - 40 seconds worth of ammunition.
  • The book, Escort to Berlin by Garry L Fry and Jeffrey L. Ethell. (Awesome book).
  • His personal notebook that he carried when flying.

All these pieces put together tell an amazing story of an ordinary man. He was one of so many ordinary people doing their duty.

"John" in uniform.

"John" in uniform.

Piecing history together.

Piecing history together.

John's P-51 Gun Footage

The P-51's had cameras that were engaged when the guns were being shot. Although the film is rough and marginally legible, the book, Escort to Berlin documents the happenings of the missions on the film. Dates include January 31, 1944, March 6,1944 and March 23,1944.

The details of the book, Escort to Berlin, give an overview and the happenings of those specific days.

In the March 23rd account, Duane Beeson is introduced for taking out the train that is in the video. Dad and Duane will cross paths in a couple short weeks.

January 31,1944 Mission

John's first documented flight January 31, 1944. Box score 6 Destroyed, 0 Lost.

John's first documented flight January 31, 1944. Box score 6 Destroyed, 0 Lost.

March 6,1944 Mission

Box Score: 13 destroyed, 4 lost.

Box Score: 13 destroyed, 4 lost.

March 23,1944 Mission

Box score: 12 destroyed, 0 lost. Introduction of Duane Beeson

Box score: 12 destroyed, 0 lost. Introduction of Duane Beeson

Footage from dads P-51 gun camera

April 8, 1944

April 8,1944 Four combat wings of B-24's called for additional support. P-51's led by Major Carpenter answered the request turning south to help protect the B-24's request. Joining the group escorting the B-24's, the two groups of P-51's separated, and some flew head on to 75-100 ME-109 and ME-190's to engage them and protect the B-24's".

Dad was engaged in a dogfight with his section of fighters north of Ulzen, Germany with ten ME-190's. Unfortunately, one of the ME-190's fell in behind him making him the target and at a disadvantage. Maneuvering as best he could he took on gunfire.

"I could feel the 50 caliber bullets hitting the plane and then the steel plate on the back of my seat. Thank goodness they weren't armor piercing. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here."

"My plane took on more damage and caught fire. I had to get out. I had a hard time getting the canopy off, but finally released it. Climbing out, jumping from the wing, parachuted safely to the ground below. Greeted shortly by German soldiers."

From there he was transported to Stalag Luft 1 in Barth Germany where he would spend the next 13 months until being liberated by the Russians May 1,1945.

He would mention the flight board in Debden, "Every day we would see the flight board and every day the names would change. It wasn't a case of if but a case of when your name would be removed." Pilots and planes were lost almost every day.



Stalag Luft 1 (Main Camp 1)

Stalag Luft 1, Barrack 1, Room 6 would become dad's new home until being liberated by the Russians on May 1, 1945.

Stalag Luft I - Wikipedia

The Roommates (merkki.com)

There weren't many conversations about his time there although there was mention of a presence of dogs that were not to be messed with. Shortages of food and a lot of time playing cards.

Not ever having a shortage of food, freedom or being threatened, this might explain why he had was protective of us, in his own way or say, "clean your plate." when we had a meal. He did love dogs in spite of his experiences. Labradors would be his dog of choice.

Relationships were made and I can only image some of the conversations that might have taken place and the stories they shared. These guys in their early 20's flying in missions with purpose to stop the German army and support our allies, at all costs.

Each of these guys had flying in common and each of them had a story. Some were ready to share and some, not so much. Dad was a not so much.

Enter the notebook that dad had with him with his name on the front, "Moulton, H.N. Jr."

Inside the notebook is a glimpse into the people that were there and some of their stories. The first eight pages are names and addresses of others in the camp with the likely intentions of keeping in touch after the war. Flipping another twenty empty pages or so there is a full page and a half of a written firsthand account of how and when they were shot down. Turn the page and there's another and another and another, a total of five firsthand accounts written by the pilots. Three from P-51's, one from a P-47 and one from a B-17 Bombardier.

These accounts were from P-51 pilots, Duane Beeson, Chuck Carr and A.F. Bunte all shot down on April 5,1944. P-47 pilot P.E. Pompette March 17,1944 and B-17 Bombadier A. E. Fleischer March 23,1944.

Flipping all the pages a few times looking for one more account. Empty pages and more questions than answers. How come he didn't write his story down, why so many blank pages?

He wanted to hear the stories of these other aviators, yet, maybe he didn't think his story was as important as others. Was he embarrassed? I don't know. I do know that it took all these airmen doing their part to escort the bombers to drop their payloads to knock out German factories, military bases, airfields, tanks and trains and more. It's funny because dad would always say how important each person is.

Following are the accounts from dad's flight book of Beeson, Bunte and Carr with the Escort to Berlin box score of the sortie.

Dad thought so highly of Duane Beeson that he named my brother after him.

Firsthand account of April 5,1944 of Captain Duane W. Beeson documented in Stalag Luft 1, Barth Germany.

Firsthand account of April 5,1944 of Captain Duane W. Beeson documented in Stalag Luft 1, Barth Germany.

Firsthand account of April 5,1944 of Lieutenant A.F. Bunte documented in Stalag Luft 1, Barth Germany.

Firsthand account of April 5,1944 of Lieutenant A.F. Bunte documented in Stalag Luft 1, Barth Germany.

Firsthand account of April 5,1944 of Lieutenant Chuck Carr documented in Stalag Luft 1, Barth Germany.

Firsthand account of April 5,1944 of Lieutenant Chuck Carr documented in Stalag Luft 1, Barth Germany.

April 8,1944, not mentioned by name, Howard "John" Moulton was one of the fortunate two that survived. Details were a blank page in his notebook.

April 8,1944, not mentioned by name, Howard "John" Moulton was one of the fortunate two that survived. Details were a blank page in his notebook.

What did you do in the war Dad? Dad?

Reflecting on the information gathered from books, personal items, internet links, notebooks and memories of my own, I have learned more about dad and some of the others he served with and lived with for 13 months in Barth Germany.

I have come to realize that the reason dad might not have talked about it is because my question, "What did you do in the war dad", might have been a trigger that took him to a place that was filled with too many things that no person should see. It must have been a darkness that needed to be kept closed off with the shining light that he kept surrounding him when he got home. His wife, family, friends, work and the list go on.

In reflection, fifty or so years later, the questions I should have asked would have been:

  • "Dad, what was your inspiration to fly planes?"
  • "Dad, what was it like to sit in a plane for the first time?"
  • "Dad, what was the best time you had in a plane?"
  • "Dad, what was the most beautiful sky you saw in the air? Was it any different looking in England than in the Sheffield?"
  • "Dad, tell me how the power of the plane pushed you back into the seat and what it felt like to accelerate to nearly 450 miles per hour?"
  • "Dad, what was it like to fly upside down and make acrobatic twists and turns?"
  • "Dad, tell me how flying made you feel. Was it freeing?"

With these questions, I would have learned more about my dad and his passions and more of what really made him tick.

The stories of, "the greatest generation" are dying every day and will soon be lost forever. History is a great learning tool and knowing where you came from, and their lives and stories need to be preserved.

Hindsight. When talking with people that have served, I will rephrase the questions that I ask.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Dan Moulton