In spring 2008, a restored B-17 bomber rumbled into the Rogue Valley.
It had been more than six decades since Cliff Moore had been aloft in a Flying Fortress, so when his son, Gary, asked whether Cliff wanted to go up, Gary didn’t have to ask twice.
For about 45 minutes, Cliff relived his days as a 23-year-old pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
“He was so excited to be in that plane and roaming around,” recalled Gary.
When asked by a television reporter for an interview, Cliff responded, “I don’t think so.”
It wasn’t so much a rebuff as it was keeping the veil of silence regarding his days of service, one even his family rarely penetrated.
Clifford Moore, who died at age 99 on Dec. 29, kept his war experiences mostly to himself until July 2012, when the Rogue Valley Manor resident issued a five-page memoir about his time as a B-17 pilot, including his months in German captivity.
“Most of what we know,” Gary said, “was in that little book.”
Moore grew up in north-central Wyoming in Powell, a town of 2,500. He was drafted into the Army well before the U.S. got involved in the war and was stationed in Madison Barracks, New York, where he worked on his field artillery skills. But after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, he entered pilot school and trained to fly bombers based in England.
A typical tour of duty in the Army Air Corps was 25 missions. The loss rate for B-17s was 5 percent per sortie, and Moore returned safely 10 times. On his 11th mission, he was shot down en route to Germany, losing one of his crewmen to enemy fire before setting down in the French countryside.
“You think about those things before you start,” Moore said in a 2014 Mail Tribune interview. “If you can do ’em, you go ahead and do ’em.”
Moore devoted much of his recollection to describing his movement with the help of the French Underground.
“He thought they were the greatest people on Earth,” Gary said. “He loved them, and I was always sorry I never took him back there.”
Hours before Moore and other fliers were to be spirited back to England on a plane that would drop into France under the cover of darkness, the inn where they were to meet was raided.
“The lady who was in the underground was taken into custody by the Germans,” Moore wrote. “The flight was canceled, and I never knew what happened to the lady.”
Ultimately, the Germans caught up to Moore and his surviving crew members after three months on the run.
“They took us to an underground installation, and we stayed there overnight,” Moore wrote.
The prisoners were moved to Lille, France, and put in solitary confinement.
“The cell was two paces wide and four paces long,” Moore wrote. “I had a bare wooden bunk with one thin blanket and a waste bucket in the corner. We had no way to wash, shave or brush our teeth.”
After 30 days, the prisoners were allowed to take a cold shower in the prison yard.
After being moved to a POW camp 100 miles southeast of Berlin, where 8,000 were housed, Moore was quartered in a barracks with triple bunks.
“Every few nights a guard would come into the room to count the slats in the beds,” Moore wrote. “They had done this because in another compound (prisoners) had dug an escape tunnel using the slats to shore up the tunnel.”
As the Russians got closer, the POWs were put on a train and moved to Nuremberg and then a little later to Moosburg. Americans passed time playing cards, reading and playing ball. Even before George Patton’s Third Army arrived in spring 1945, Moore had a pretty good idea help was on the way.
“Some guys put a radio together out of something and we got a little news in there, so we knew what was going on,” he told the Mail Tribune in 2014.
The freed prisoners were moved to LeHarve, France, and reissued American uniforms.
“They destroyed the clothes we were wearing, and sprayed us with DDT,” Moore wrote. “It was great to have a shower, good food and clothes.”