Lost World War II soldier returns home at last

Sunday, July 1, 2012

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- It was almost 20 years ago when the Moxleys were first given hope that a family member killed in action during World War II was found.

It wasn't until today, however, that he finally made it home.

How 1st Lt. Warren G. Moxley died in the last few months of World War II was never a mystery.

"It was before I was born but I've heard it my whole life: that he was shot down," said his niece, Cindy Bledsoe of Charleston.

Bledsoe was presented with a book and a computer disc by Army officials with information about her uncle, which includes the report by Moxley's wingman, 2nd Lt. Harry J. Huff II, during Moxley's final flight.

Huff was probably the last one to see Moxley alive and was without doubt the last person to speak to him.

Less than 10 years before his death, Moxley had graduated in 1938 from Charleston High School and soon got a job in Dallas working as an investment field accountant.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan and by Dec. 11 was at war with the other two Axis nations, Germany and Italy.

Moxley, then 22, joined the U.S. Army Air Forces on Dec. 5, 1943.

By the time he was 23, he was doing what many others only dreamed of: flying fighter planes.

A member of the 67th Tactical Recon Group's 107th Observation Squadron, Moxley flew more than 66 missions.

Two of his younger brothers were also serving in the armed forces.

Byron Moxley was in the U.S. Navy and returned safely.

"He just died a few years ago," Bledsoe said.

Fred Moxley, Bledsoe's father, was in the U.S. Marine Corps.

"He served over the Pacific," she said of her father. Fred Moxley also made it back and returned to his life in Charleston before moving to the Veterans Home in Cape Girardeau about a year and half ago.

"He's 86, he'll be 87 in October," Bledsoe said. "Warren was four years older than my dad and he really looked up to him. Dad was about 20, I guess, when Warren died -- he was 18 when he went into the service. My dad got letters from him and corresponded with him when they were in the service."

The glamorous life of a fighter plane pilot -- even those assigned to reconnaissance -- was also a dangerous one.

On March 15, 1945, just a couple of months before his 24th birthday, Moxley and Huff were on an air reconnaissance mission to help the artillery place their fire.

Moxley was flying a P-51 Mustang that had been equipped for tactical photo reconnaissance and redesignated as an F-6C.

While on the mission, they spotted an FW-190 slightly south of the target area near Neustadt, Germany. A heavily-armed and fast German fighter plane designed to take down B-17 bombers, it was dubbed the "Butcherbird" by some.

Huff took the lead and went in for the first pass at the Focke-Wulf in an attempt to line up his guns for a shot, followed by Moxley who tried to do the same.

"After our first pass, intense flak and small arms fire started coming up at us," Huff said in his report.

Huff and Moxley set up for second gun pass each.

"After my second pass, I swung back and noticed a parachute opening up and smoke coming from the enemy aircraft," Huff reported.

Huff called in a request over the radio for someone to take a picture if they could.

"Just then I glanced over and saw Lt. Moxley flying parallel with the Autobahn with fire coming out off his left wing near the fuselage and fire near the scoop, apparently hit by anti-aircraft fire," Huff reported. "I called, ‘Mox, you're hit. Bail out.' He did not answer but flew about 1,000 yards at about 1,000 feet altitude, then turned sharply to the left and dove into the ground. The ship exploded and burned. I did not see him bail out nor did I see him walk away from the wreckage."

Huff survived the war and went on to a 37-year career in the U.S. Air Force achieving the rank of brigadier general before his death May 22, 2011. Online memorials praise Huff as a leader who put his troops first. Col. Sam McAnally of Brady, Texas, remembers Huff "the best pilot I ever flew with" while another described Huff as "a pilot's pilot."

In a letter to the U.S. Army dated Aug. 19, 1947, Huff requested an address for Moxley's family and visited them in Charleston.

While unidentified circumstances are listed as the cause of the crash, it is believed by some that Moxley's plane was hit by an anti-aircraft gun located under a bridge. As the P-51s converted to become F-6Cs were models built before the bubble canopy was added, the planes had limited visibility in their rear quarter.

The crashed plane was eventually found about a mile east of Rahms, Germany -- but not for many years to come.

During investigations after the war in 1949, the American Graves Registration Command wasn't able to find any witnesses of the crash. As all known crash sites in the area at that time were traced to other people, the Command declared Moxley's remains to be "non-recoverable" at that time.

Then in 1993, Heinz Jirousek, a World War II enthusiast in Germany, contacted the U.S. Army Memorial Affairs Activity-Europe about a crash site with human remains he found near Asbach, Germany.

The Moxley family was contacted.

On March 29, 1994, Army officials took the remains recovered from Jirousek to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii. They were compared against DNA from a surviving family member.

"Uncle Don sent his DNA," Bledsoe said.

Tests indicated it was another soldier.

"The first time they checked it, it wasn't a match because they were from another crash site," Bledsoe recalled.

When an investigative team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command met with Jirousek in May 2006 to get any additional details they could about the crash site, team members learned the remains turned over to the Army in 1993 were from a couple of crash sites.

Using pictures of the remains, Jirousek showed investigators which remains belonged to which crash.

Officials determined Moxley's aircraft was the only U.S. plane to crash at one of the sites and additional testing revealed DNA that was a match for Moxley.

When the U.S. Army contacted the Moxleys in April, they had the news the family had always hoped to hear: Their lost war hero was coming home.

"When the Army met with me and my dad and dad's brother Don and his wife Eleanor at the veterans home, they gave us all this information and proof that they had found him," Bledsoe said. "I feel very fortunate to be able to participate in this because this all happened before I was born. It's bittersweet, but it does bring closure. It's going to be sad but we're finally bringing him home. I'm happy that I'm here to be a part of it."

Moxley's remains are to arrive today in Charleston with graveside services planned for Tuesday at the IOOF Cemetery north of Charleston.

On May 22, Moxley was listed as being accounted for.

According to a Friday news release from the U.S. Army, of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died. Of those, 79,000 were initially listed not recovered or identified.

There are still more than 73,000 remaining unaccounted for.

Pertinent address:

Charleston, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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