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James Thomas Moon
Rank: Private 1st Class
James Thomas Moon



870th Aviation Engineers Battalion

New Guinea

1943 - 1945

Survived the war?
Aviation Engineers

Aviation Engineers

Memories of John Wayne

My name is James T. Moon, serial number 34220609. I was born in Lula, Georgia on June 4, 1913. I enlisted in the Armed Services at Ft. Benning, Georgia on . From there I went to Ft. McClellan, Alabama and on to Indian Town, Pennsylvania where I joined the Infantry. Mountain Maneuvers Special Troop #1686. From there onto Ft. Meade, Maryland and to Oakland, California. I boarded a ship in Oakland to go to Brisbane, Australia and onto the New Guinea Jungles with the 870th Field Artillery Battalion for three years.

I was a Medic and Cook and helped with the building of airstrips. While in the jungles I crawled a mile or more through the jungles to shoot at the Japanese which was my only time on the front lines. In the jungles were the biggest snakes that I had ever seen before or since! I used what medical skills that I had to patch up the wounded. One time I attached an arm as best as I could, using a regular needle and thread and pouring alcohol over the wound. This soldiers arm had been cut to the bone by a Japanese soldier. A lot of my medical knowledge was taught to me by my Mother who was a midwife and knew a little about all types of medicine.

I remember when General Douglas McArthur announced his support for The Australian Government. This was that no more African-American troops would be sent to Australia during World War 2. There was talk about trouble but I never saw it.

I remember one of the best times that I had during the war. It was when John Wayne, the actor, camped in a tent near mine. He gathered us all around a campfire and talked with us most of the night. We went into Australia for R&R every so often. I was well treated by the Australian people.

U.S. National Archives records indicate that Wayne, in fact, did make an application to serve in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), precursor to the modern CIA, and had been accepted within the U.S. Army's allotted billet to the OSS. William J. Donovan, OSS Commander, wrote Wayne a letter informing him of his acceptance into the Field Photographic Unit, but the letter went to his estranged wife Josephine's home. She never told him about it. Wayne toured U.S. bases and hospitals in the South Pacific for three months with the USO. During this trip, he carried out a request from Donovan to assess whether General Douglas Macarthur, commander of the South West Pacific Area, or his staff were hindering the work of the OSS.  Donovan later issued Wayne an OSS Certificate of Service to memorialize Wayne's contribution to the OSS mission.

James T. Moon
as told to Iris Thompson Fry.

Aviation Engineers

In 1939 Gen. Hap Arnold negotiated with the U.S. Army Chief of Engineers for a special engineer unit to work with the Air Corps. The original concept envisioned a small group of skilled construction and engineer troops, closely trained alongside air units, with the ability to repair bomb damaged airfields, to camouflage airfields and if necessary, to defend airfields. These troops would also be capable of constructing light duty airfields in forward locations. After the German invasion of Poland demonstrated the value of such an organization, the War Department created the 21st Engineers (Aviation) Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga., on June 4, 1940. At first, responsibility for constructing heavy duty airfields remained with the Corps of Engineers, but by mid-1941, the mission of the aviation engineers expanded beyond runway repair and light runway construction. As the possibility of American involvement in a global war grew, the planners agreed to give the air forces enough men and equipment to construct their own heavy duty bases in forward areas.

Without knowing exactly what would be needed to build air bases in deserts, in jungles and on coral islands, the planners devised the Engineering Aviation Battalion, a self-contained unit that became the core of aviation engineering efforts during World War II. Originally established with 27 engineer officers and 761 enlisted men, a battalion would be capable of "independently constructing an advanced airdrome and all apportenances."

Lavished with equipment, it would have diesel tractors, bulldozers, carry-all scrapers, graders, gasoline shovels, rollers, mixers, air compressors, drills, trucks, trailers, asphalting and concreting equipment, rock crushers, draglines, and pumps. Manned with well-trained and experienced personnel, 12 EABs had been formed by the time of Pearl Harbor and sent to the Philippines, to islands across the Southwest Pacific and northward to the Aleutian Islands. It became apparent, however, that more EABs would be needed quickly. Between December 1941 and December 1942, the number of battalions jumped from 12 to 51, and three-fourths of them were already overseas. Most of the enlisted men in 1942 were volunteers with construction or engineering experience, and they required little training. As a result, a special "esprit de corps" developed among these men who saw themselves as well-trained professionals, and they resented any new, untrained recruits.

Aviation engineers employed the same basic construction techniques around the globe. After an area had been cleared of trees or other obstructions, Caterpillar tractors towing carryalls cleared the area. Once the dirt runway had been leveled, engineers laid pierced steel planking to create an all-weather runway. After the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines in October 1944, heavy Japanese naval and aerial attacks forced the U.S. Navy to withdraw its carriers. The only airpower available to American ground forces came from aircraft flying from airstrips hastily constructed by aviation engineers, like the airstrip at Taclobon, Leyte. In spite of Japanese bombing raids and paratrooper attacks, the overcrowded airstrips proved vital to victory.  Rollers, such as the ones driven by African American engineers at Bacolod Strip in the Philippines in May 1945, smoothed out any rough spots left by the heavier equipment. Aviation engineers also constructed fully-functional airbases.

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