John Moon was a young man working at Caterpillar in Peoria, Illinois when Pearl Harbor was bombed and the U.S. entered WWII. John hated to leave his wife and son, but he decided to do his part to make the world safe, so he joined the Marines. He ended up on Iwo Jima, an island in the Pacific, and eventually was wounded there. Read this amazing story about a man, who at age 103, considered himself the luckiest man in the world.
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John Moon: 1939 WIU Alumnus and WWII Marine Corps Veteran Sings the National Anthem at age 101
John Moon (1916 – 2019)
WWII Veteran, U.S. Marines, Iwo Jima
There were ten children growing up in Macomb, Illinois in John Moon’s family. John had five sisters and four brothers. They were a musical family, and all sang in the church choir. His parents were affected during the Great Depression, but they had a garden and some chickens in the back yard so food was always available for their family.
After high school, John went to college and majored in chemistry. He met the love of his life, a woman named Beatrice (Bee) from London Mills, a small town about 40 miles away. While they were courting, he had the idea of taking her a dozen red roses, but it was very cold outside and he was riding on his motorcycle. He tried to keep them warm, but by the time he got to Bee’s house, they had frozen and turned black. His efforts were appreciated and he was thanked with a kiss. They were married in 1936 and soon had a son named Paul.
John was working at Caterpillar, Inc. when he heard about Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He decided to join the Marines and went home to tell Beatrice of his plans. Off he went to the recruiting station in Chicago with a teammate from his football days in college. He was given a physical exam and enlisted in the Marines, inspired by his college football coach, Ray Hanson.
John went to boot camp at Camp Pendleton in California and later on to Hawaii to finish his training. Then John and his fellow Marines were put on a ship, and after making a stop at Pearl Harbor, they sailed into the Pacific Ocean and stayed there for the next 40 days. They were not allowed to get off the ship and had no idea where they were going. One day, the officers in charge handed out a map of an island and informed them they would be going to Iwo Jima. Like the others, John wondered, “Where is Iwo Jima?”
He learned it’s located about 760 miles southeast of Japan. The Allies wanted to capture the island from Japan as a strategic move because of three airfields located there. The 5th Marine Division was told to get their gear on because “we are going in now.” The men scrambled to get everything ready to take off and got aboard a Higgins boat headed to the island. These boats carry approximately 36 men and are long and rectangular. The front of the boat has a large door designed to open once the boat hits land.
But, when John’s boat got there, the enemy’s fire damaged the front end of the boat and the ramp jammed up so it could not lower down. They were forced to climb over the edge of the boat and drop into the water with 80 pounds of gear on their backs. They scrambled for the beach with the enemy’s bullets flying all around them. If you stood up, you got shot, so John and the other marines crawled in the sand. They crawled all the way to the west side of the island to capture the third and unfinished airfield.
When you are crawling on the ground, your weapon is also on the ground, and it gets full of sand. John could not keep his Browning automatic rifle unclogged. It would not fire a single shot the entire time he was on the island. All he had was his 11-inch KA-BAR knife, which he still has today. It didn’t give John a lot of comfort knowing he only had a knife to defend himself.
His unit traveled for thirteen days to the airfield, crawling most of the way. In addition to his weapons, John had two photos in his shirt pocket next to his heart. One was of his mother and the other of wife Beatrice and son, Paul.
The weather was nice while on the island, with a little sprinkle of rain each day. The journey to the airfields was treacherous, with the marines always trying to avoid the enemy’s bullets. It was challenging, because the Japanese were dug in pretty deep and had tunnels and caves all up and down the island. The marines used flame throwers to draw them out.
John and his fellow Marines would use what they could for cover. They often used shell holes, a cavity in the ground made by an explosion, for protection. Sometimes the enemy beat them to the hole, since they used them, too. The Japanese set traps in many of these shell holes. One day, John dropped in one hole and realized his hand was inches away from a trap. If he had hit it, it would have exploded. He felt he was lucky.
When the men needed rest, they would partner up. One would keep watch while the other rested in a foxhole, a small pit the men would dig to use for cover. John didn’t feel like they slept much, but at least they rested. Just as the Marines made it to the airfield, John felt a sharp jab of pain. He grabbed his inner left thigh and saw blood. He was shot. They enemy’s bullet took a chunk of flesh out about as big as his little finger. Again, he felt lucky that his wound wasn’t serious and he could still walk. John tried to warn his buddy “Muncie” not to come toward him, but he came anyway and was hit in the groin. His wound was worse and needed immediate medical treatment. John wrapped up his leg with his army pack, slung his friend’s arm over his shoulder, and the two hobbled to the company aid station on the beach.
John felt sure the enemy would shoot at them. “But, believe it or not, we were not fired upon. Not one time, as we were walking back,” John Says. “If they saw us, maybe they thought we were through and didn’t waste ammunition on us. I lucked out. I’ve been lucky all my life.”
The two men were taken to the hospital ship. Because of his wound, John got off that island after thirteen days. He firmly believes if he hadn’t been shot, he wouldn’t have gotten off the island alive. John was awarded a Purple Heart and settled back to life in his hometown of Macomb where he and his wife had two more children, David and Jeanine. He worked at several jobs over the years: he was a carpenter, ran a cafe, worked at an Andes Candies store and an insurance company, taught driver’s education, and worked security at Wesley Village (a retirement home) well into his 90s.
At the age of 103, John said, “I feel like I’m one of the luckiest men in the world, and I have been lucky all my life. Thirteen is my lucky number. Those thirteen days … that was a heck of a life.”
“War is a grim, cruel business, a business justified only as a means of sustaining the forces of good against those of evil.”
-General Dwight D. Eisenhower
A BOOK by ME, a book series developed by Deb Bowen, empowers students to preserve history by telling the story of unsung heroes in our communities. For the young participants, it’s a guided cross-curricular project that gathers stories of people who do amazing things but have received little or no recognition. Students learn how to publish a picture book that is a primary source document with photographs and a biography.
Since 2003, Deb Bowen has been arranging meetings between students and individuals from the WWII generation. This intergenerational storytelling results in unique storybooks written and illustrated by kids for kids in the A BOOK by ME series. More about Deb Bowen >