By Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell, 107th Attack Wing
/ Published December 30, 2017
NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. --
The skies above Europe during World War II are cold and deadly but set the stage for a love story that spans more than two years. Nine months of that is spent waiting for release as a prisoner of war.
Taking whatever scraps can be found or bribed for from the prison camp guards, memories are immortalized and devotion to a new wife is professed. Letters that are sent off, hopefully reaching their destination.
Just as dreams of flying high in the blue skies were written, so too were the dreams that came crashing down. Dreams that crashed with a P-51 Mustang taken down by anti-aircraft fire.
1st Lt. Bill Moore has hope that his wife and family know that he is alive. Though it will be nine months of silence from home, with hopes for the future providing the only relief.
“Dear Dorie,” writes Bill Moore to Dorie Tritton in January of 1943 as he is shipped out to Army Air Force training. “Its 6:30 a.m. and they just got us up, don’t know whats next.”
Whats next would be life changing experiences during World War II. Experiences that would be shared between husband and wife over thousands of miles, through the best of times and the worst of times.
“My parents met a Methodist church in Cleveland, Ohio, at a youth group dance,” said Linda Moore, daughter of Bill Moore. “His room mate was dating my mom’s sister so they invited my dad to come for Sunday diner which is pretty much how that all started.”
That dance in 1942 saw the start of a romance that will last a lifetime. Playing out as if it was scripted to be a timeless story, Dorie saw something in the future fighter pilot despite the fact he left her standing in the middle of a dance floor.
“They went to the Methodist church dance that night together,” said Linda, “they had their first kiss without it really even being a date.”
The eager Bill Moore had a strong desire to enlist in the military rather than waiting to be drafted. He had settled on becoming a pilot, but was rejected due to being underweight.
“One of the funny things was he ate bananas so that he would gain weight,” said Linda. “And so my aunt said, ‘he just stuffed his face with bananas and he was sick of them by time he was done’.”
The day he weighed himself and saw his plan had paid off, Bill went right away to enlist. He began cadet training, shipping off to Florida in January of 1943.
“Honey, I’m having the time of my life!” writes the cadet to Dorie in February of 1943. “I miss you more and more each day and can’t wait until the day when we are together again.”
The challenges of cadet training took Bill across the country leaving few precious moments with Dorie. Graduation would come soon when they could plan the next part of their lives together.
“Gee honey you said you wanted to see that dear old dimple in my chin and twitch in my nose and then lose yourself in my embrace,” writes Bill to Dorie in January of 1944. “Didn’t I stand close enough when I was there? I bet there wasn’t any air space room between us.”
On February 8, Bill was commissioned as a new lieutenant. With training returning to Florida, he gave Dorie quite the surprise by writing to her and asking if she wanted to get married on April 22.
“She took a train with her mother and my dad’s mother down to Sarasota to get married before he was going to ship off,” said Linda. “And they were part of probably 30 couples who got married like a production line and partied all night, and I think it was 10 days later he shipped out.”
The new fighter pilot would be assigned to the 505th Fighter Squadron of the 339th Fighter Group. The group which would later go onto become the 107th Attack Wing in the newly formed New York Air National Guard after the war in 1948.
“We’ve had a dream come true here, we are going to fly P-51s,” writes the new lieutenant to Dorie in July of 1944. “I really miss you honey. I hope it isn’t too long before we are back together again.”
The Allied forces had invaded France on D-Day in June, and with Hitler facing increasing defeats on two fronts, many expected a quick end to the war.
“The war looks like it might end over here fairly soon,” writes Bill to Dorie in August of 1944. “That will be swell.”
Bill would soon learn that the war had other plans for him.
“Five. Fifth mission went down,” said Bill. “It was ground fire. I wound up hanging in a tree and my plane about 100 yards away burning.”
As if beyond belief, German farmers found the tangled pilot and captured him armed with pitchforks. Given a beer while he waited, the Luftwaffe eventually took him by train to Stalag Luft 1, in Barth.
“It was funny because the guy that was interrogating me was from South Africa and he spoke real good english,” said Bill. “They knew damn well a lot of us we were going to be shot down and captured so they told you what to do to keep getting in trouble.”
Despite captivity, Bill never stopped writing to Dorie. The communication was now one-way however, as mail could leave but none was coming in.
“I was wondering if you know by now that I am a POW. I hope you and the folks don’t take it too hard,” writes the downed pilot to Dorie during October, 1944, not knowing if he would ever hear from her again. “I’ve worried because I’m sure at first you’ll think I was dead.”
A shortwave radio operator in Canada who spoke German had been listening to German messages. She was able to telegram Dorie that her husband had been taken prisoner and bring some relief to the family with the fact that he was alive.
“They were all hurt. They said my dad took it the worst, he really got hit hard when he found out,” said Bill. “He thought I was dead and he got pretty upset about the whole thing. But it turned out alright in the long run.”
Life as a prisoner of war would have its share of hardships, but would also show a different side of the enemy the Allies are fighting.
“After supper the Gerries pulled a surprise and rolled in a 20 gallon keg of beer,” writes Bill to Dorie in October of 1944. “We can’t figure out any reason for them doing it. Funny creatures these Gerries.”
Getting closer to 1945, the war starts to take its toll on Germany. Moods change in the Germans as the environment in the prison camp begins to change as Bill writes to Dorie:
“Another thing that happened they took away all the Jewish boys and put them in one barracks. Just what for we don't know. Also four of the boys moved out of our room into a little room by themselves. Then they moved Mike Segrum because he is Jewish, then got Glider pilots in our room I’ll tell you about them when I get home. It is quite an interesting story.
“We are all following the news closely as the Russians are moving fast now. I’m praying that they can end this war fast as our food supply is running low and our tempers thin. I hope I will have settled down by the time you and I are together again.”
The harsh German winter would continue to rage on with the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich drawing closer. An order in February of 1945 ends mail service.
“I really miss you and love you terribly. Lately I had lots dreams about you, all good ones,” writes Bill to Dorie in February of 1945. “Honey then I wake up and get homesick as hell.”
Winter would turn into spring, and in the face of an advancing Russian army, the Germans abandon Stalag Luft 1 on April 30. Having been left behind, the prisoners take control of Barth as the mayor surrenders.
“Dearest, gosh am I ever a happy fellow tonight, I’m so happy that I’m just bubbling over with joy,” writes Bill to Dorie in April of 1945. “Remind me to give you an extra grand hug and kiss, in fact two extra special ones.”
After nine months in captivity, Bill was going home after being liberated by the Russians. Letters were also finally reaching the homesick pilot.
“It was only about a week and then they came in with bombers and flew us out of there into France,” said Bill. “It was quite something all the way around.”
The freed POW would depart Camp Lucky Strike in La Harve, France, sailing for the U.S. After several days, he and other POWs arrive in New York City.
“My mother got a telegram from him when he landed in New York and she got on a train and met him there and they spent a week there finally having their honeymoon,” said Linda. “And they came home and started a family.”
Bill was released from active duty as the war was ending and the Army was downsizing. Though he is quick to say he was never discharged.
“A couple years later I decided I better look into it and I wrote to them and they wrote back saying you are an officer and you stay an officer,” said Bill. “I’m still an officer in the Army! They could call me in any day if they wanted a 95 year old guy.”
Building a life after the war with Dorie, they tried their best to move on like many others did after the war. Though it would take a couple decades before the war was discussed at home.
“She pulls out this great scrapbook that she kept of all the letters he ever sent,” said Linda. “She would just say that it was scary, but others, their fiancés or their husbands were dying and so at least she had that hope that he was in prison camp and might come home.”
Throughout war and throughout the years, the love between Bill and Dorie never diminished. Small gestures turned into lasting memories.
“He had been off training somewhere for the company he worked for and had been gone for three weeks,” said Linda. “He called and said he was getting off the train and would be home in a few minutes.
“She was deciding how to pose, how to look when he walked in that door again and that just made my heart sing, that she cared that much after all these years to care what he saw when he walked in the door.”
These expressions continued till the final days they were together. Then it ultimately it became Bill’s turn to be there for Dorie.
“When she was dying of lung cancer he took care of her the whole time, she never had to go into hospice care he had people that came in and helped him,” said Linda. “He was like, ‘no she was there for me and I'm going to be there for her.’ So again he just rallied and made it happen.”
Dorie passed away in 2001 shortly after their 57th wedding anniversary.
“Dear Dorie,” writes Bill Moore to Dorie in October of 1944 while a POW, “I love you darling.”