One family’s mission to find a lost pilot
By Cynthia Sewell | The Idaho Statesman | Published: July 8, 2013
BOISE, Idaho — For nearly 50 years, the family of Capt. Harry Cecil Moore assumed that he’d been killed in the Korean War.
Then in 2002, the family received a shock: The Air Force pilot might have survived and ended up a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union.
For the past decade, Moore’s brother and widow — who is now the brother’s wife — have been on a mission to find out what happened, especially since the Department of Defense has offered them little information.
They have learned that hundreds, and possibly thousands, of other U.S. service members from four wars also might have been held captive by the Soviets.
The Moores fly an American flag and a POW/MIA flag at their Eagle home. They say they love their country, and it pains these patriotic Americans to know that their government hasn’t been truthful with the public about POWs.
“The story has to be told,” said Bob Moore. “It isn’t right to desert our people after saying ‘we leave no one behind.’ ”
Harry Moore grew up in West Virginia and joined the Army Air Corps in World War II. The first time he was shot down was Oct. 27, 1944, in China. He was 20.
For 51 days he walked through mountains, dodging gunfire and bombs — 16 hours a day, at one point with the Chinese army, surviving on rice and dog meat.
He was discharged, returned to West Virginia and decided to re-enlist. In 1948, just before shipping out to the Philippines, he married his longtime girlfriend, Lois Gehringer.
She soon joined him in the Philippines. Their daughter was born there in July 1950.
A few weeks later, Lois got word that Moore had been killed in action. Later that day, she was told it was a mistake: Moore had not flown that day.
Alone in a foreign country with a new baby, Lois was distraught. When Moore got sent to Korea, Lois and Jana returned to West Virginia.
In June 1951, Lois got a telegram telling her Moore had been shot down.
It was no mistake this time.
Moore was shot down on June 1, 1951, while piloting an F-51 Mustang — in 1948, the newly created Air Force had renamed the popular P-51 fighter — over the South China Sea, just off the west coast of North Korea. He was reported as missing in action.
On Dec. 31, 1953, the Air Force notified Lois that Harry was presumed dead and was listed as killed in action.
Lois decided she had to move on with her life. She left West Virginia and moved with her daughter and brother to California.
She connected there with Harry’s brother, Bob. They reminisced about Harry and grew closer. In 1954, they married. Bob raised Jana as his own daughter, and he and Lois had a daughter of their own, Nancy. They raised their family and owned a successful medical manufacturing business, and in 1996, they retired to Star.
In August 2002, Lois received a Federal Express package from the U.S. Air Force.
In it, a July 19, 2002, memo to the U.S. Air Force Missing Persons Branch from the Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office read: “(I)t is possible that Capt. Harry C. Moore survived his shoot-down incident and may have been interrogated by Soviet officials. His fate afterwards remains unknown.” The Moores were shocked. “We thought, ‘Goodness gracious, there is still hope he could be alive,’ ” said Bob Moore.
“For 50 years we had closure. It was all done. We couldn’t do anything else. He was dead and that was it. Then, 2002 changed the whole scenario. Now we have uncertainty. He may have been suffering for all that time in some Russian prison.” They worried about how Harry, a patriotic man, might have felt abandoned by his own country.
“For him,” Bob said, “it had to be just a terrible thought.” Lois talks tearfully about the years, the decades Harry might have been imprisoned, wondering what happened to his family, whether he was going to be rescued, whether he would ever hear from his country.
It’s those questions about Moore and other POWs that motivate the Moores to keep trying to find out what happened.
In March 1954, the U.S. Air Force asked the CIA for assistance in finding U.S. servicemen in Communist custody: “An unknown but apparently substantial number of U.S. military personnel captured in the course of the Korean War are still being held prisoners by the Communist Forces. These individuals will not necessarily be detained in North Korea or Manchuria, but may be held elsewhere within the Soviet orbit.” The Air Force memo said it is “a fundamental obligation” of the U.S. government to “recover its fighting men being held hostage by anyone under any circumstances whatsoever.” Despite this official plea, and numerous reports and first-hand accounts spanning World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War, the U.S. government maintained that no “credible evidence” existed that U.S. personnel were held captive by the Soviets.
Mark Sauter’s 1992 book, “Soldiers of Misfortune: Washington’s Secret Betrayal of American POWs in the Soviet Union,” reported that in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower’s intelligence adviser, Philip Corso, investigated reports of Americans POWs in the Soviet Union. Corso reported to Eisenhower that “Korean War POWs by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, had been sent to the Soviet Union,” Corso told Sauter.
Corso said it was unlikely the men would survive or the Soviets would ever admit imprisoning them, so he recommended their fate “be hidden from the American people,” Sauter wrote. Eisenhower agreed, according to Corso.
Rumors and reports persisted, but the Pentagon and the White House continued to deny the reports.
In late 1991, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs chaired by Sen. John Kerry forced the Pentagon to declassify more than 1 million pages of documents. Its primary focus was Vietnam POWs, but the committee also examined reports of World War II, Korean War and Cold War POWs.
In November 1992, Kerry said Russian President Boris Yeltsin had admitted that some Americans were imprisoned in the former Soviet Union after World War II, others interrogated during the Korean War, and “perhaps a dozen airmen” imprisoned during the Cold War.
The committee’s 1,233-page report in January 1993 found “strong evidence that some unaccounted for American POWs from the Korean Conflict were transferred to the former Soviet Union in the early 1950s.” “The Committee further believes it is possible one or more POWs from the Korean Conflict could still be alive on the territory of the former Soviet Union.” But the committee had no proof that any Americans were then being held.
In 1993, the US. secretary of defense created the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office to address the issues raised in the report. In August 1993, the office published an 82-page report on Korean War POWs, concluding that some had been transferred to the Soviet Union “and never repatriated.”
In 1992, the U.S. and Russia formed a joint commission to investigate unresolved POW cases. When Russian President Boris Yeltsin addressed Congress that June, he promised “no more lies, ever.” “I promise you that each and every document in each and every archive will be examined in order to investigate the fate of every American unaccounted for. As president of Russia, I assure you that even if one American has been detained in my country, and can still be found, I will find him. I will get him back to his family.” American and Russian researchers delved into newly opened Russian archives, conducting more than 1,000 interviews with Soviet veterans.
One of those earliest interviews turned up a possible lead on Capt. Moore.
In 1993, Estonian witness Boris Uibo “claimed to have met an American named Gary or Harry in Camp No. 18, near Potma, Mordovia, sometime in 1952. Uibo is convinced that the inmate was shot down in the Korean War.” The two men made wooden chess pieces together.
In 1997, U.S. representatives interviewed Igor Ivanovich Shashva in Taganrog, Russia. The Russian pilot said he’d been told an American pilot named Capt. Gary or Harry Moore, shot down in the summer of 1951, had been interrogated by the Soviets.
Also in 1997, U.S. representatives interviewed Aleksey Alekseevich Kalyuzhniy in Odessa, Ukraine. He said he shot down an F-51 on June 1, 1951, and watched the plane land on water near shore. He said the pilot should have survived.
The Department of Defense and the Air Force Missing Persons Branch notified Bob and Lois Moore of the developments on Aug. 7, 2002, five years after the interviews.
Since then, the government has provided the Moores no new information.
Lois is convinced the answer to Harry’s fate remains in the Russian archives, but fears the effort has fallen victim to a lack of political will.
For more than a decade, the U.S. had researchers boring into the Russian archives. In its last formal update, in 2005, the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POWs/MIA published a 100-page “Gulag Study,” detailing hundreds of case studies and sightings of Americans in the Soviet prison system.
“(M)ost reports we have received lack the specificity needed to correlate them to individuals still listed as missing,” the report said. “(R)esolving the questions raised by reports of American servicemen in the Soviet Union will remain an elusive task.” When relations cooled between the two countries in 2006, much of the archive research halted. About two years ago, however, the U.S. and Russia reconstituted the joint commission.
In 2012, the DPMO sent a letter to the Moores saying it was continuing its Korean War work at the Russian archives, with two researchers conducting eight days of research per month. In early 2013, the DPMO reported that more than 7,900 Americans remain unaccounted for from Korea.
The DPMO did not respond to an Idaho Statesman request for information on Capt. Moore, the status of the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission or the current archive research.
Since 2002, the Moores have attended dozens of DPMO and other briefings around the country. They’ve delved into National Archive records and worked with other researchers. On several occasions, they offered to hire their own investigator to look at the Russian archives. The DPMO told them the archives are not open to the general public.
In 2006, Lois wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin’s office replied that it had no information about Capt. Moore.
The family regularly makes requests to the government for updates, but the DPMO and the Air Force have provided nothing new.
In January, the Moores traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet one of the analysts who interviewed the two Russian pilots who provided the possible information about Harry.
Bob pushed the analyst to confirm what the family suspected — that Harry survived and ended up under Russian control, which the analyst did. “His remark was, ‘This is the smoking gun we were looking for,’ ” Bob said.
The Moores note the U.S. has recently put much effort and money into recovering U.S. service member remains from Vietnam, Korea and elsewhere. In 2005, the Moores asked the DPMO about the progress of exhumations in Russia. The DPMO responded: “Exhumations of American POWs from the Korean War have not started in Russia because definitive proof has not been found that American POWs from the Korean War were taken to Russia.” This position frustrates the Moores, because in the same letter the DPMO noted the “high probability that a number of American POWs from the Korean War era were transferred to the former USSR.” And the Moores already had been notified by the military that Capt. Moore possibly survived and ended up in Soviet hands.
“But they cannot search for remains in Russia because they will not admit anyone was there,” Bob said.
His conclusion: The American POWs in Russia are an embarrassment to the government. “They essentially were deserted,” he said.
The Moores’ mission is less about finding Harry’s remains than it is about finding out what happened to him and other service members who could have ended up in Russian hands. They are disappointed that the country they love has so greatly failed military personnel who sacrificed so much.
“It is the inefficiency or the poor judgment on behalf of the bureaucracy that concerns us, but that doesn’t detract from our love of country,” Bob said.
When Bob and Lois moved to Eagle in 2009, they rented out their vineyard home in Star to Hope Manna and Kellie Allred, two Hollywood filmmakers moving to Idaho.
They became close friends. In 2011, after Bob and Lois had returned from a particularly discouraging DPMO meeting, Bob asked the filmmakers whether they’d be interested in making a documentary about Harry’s story.
They were touched, and Harry’s story is now memorialized in the film “Keeping the Promise Alive.” “I think it is a miracle we found them,” Bob said. “We have honored Harry and we have opened the door to (getting more information). We have honored the others that are missing.”
Bob, 87, and Lois, 85, said they know time is running short for them. They know that Capt. Moore, who would be 89, is probably not alive. But their daughters and their granddaughter have vowed to continue trying to find out what happened.
“We have done the best that we can for Harry,” Lois said.
This provided photograph shows Capt. Harry Moore in 1948. For nearly 50 years, the family of Capt. Harry Cecil Moore assumed that he'd been killed in the Korean War. Then in 2002, the family received a shock: The Air Force pilot might have survived and ended up a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union.
Courtesy of Moore family via Idaho Statesman/MCT