SOLDIERS GROVE, Wis. — Eugene P. Moran, 89, who survived a ride on the shot-up tail section of a falling Flying Fortress bomber in 1943, then endured 18 months as a prisoner of war, died Sunday in Soldiers Grove.
Moran’s motto was “I’d rather wear out than rust out,” according to his obituary in the State Journal Wednesday.
Moran, a Crawford County native, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in October 1942. A year later, he was the tail gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress, on his fifth bombing mission, flying near Bremen, when the plane encountered heavy fire.
According to the narrative in a Veterans Lifetime Achievement Award he received in 2007: “With severe gunshot wounds and a bullet-riddled parachute, he rode the tail section down at the rate of 100 feet per second; and he survived the descent, but sustained a crushed skull when the tail section hit a tree trunk before crashing to the ground; his life was saved by a Serbian doctor, also a POW, who surgically repaired his severe head wounds after which he was a prisoner of war for almost 18 months, inhumanely incarcerated in POW camps in Germany, Prussia and Poland, and surviving solitary confinement, relocation on a ‘hell ship’ on the Baltic Sea, and a 600-mile forced march from early February to late April 1945 during one of the harshest winters on record.”
Liberated on April 26, 1945, at Bitterfelt, Germany, Moran was discharged Dec. 1, awarded two Purple Hearts and the Air Medal with Gold Leaf Cluster and other medals.
In the next year, he would marry Margaret “Peg” Finley and move to Soldiers Grove, where they raised nine children.
According to his obituary, he was a rural mail carrier for more than 30 years, a volunteer firefighter, chaired numerous service projects, was a charter member of the rescue squad and a 20-year member of the Crawford County Board. In 2008, the village dedicated a street in the village park in his honor.
In a 2007 interview for the federal Veterans History Project, Moran recalled why he enlisted: “Well, when I was kid there on the farm, on a nice bright day I would be lying there and looking up at the sky and see those planes, and I always said some day I’ll be in one of them, and I did.”
In that same interview, Moran described the forced march of prisoners at the end of the war: “Well, we started marching February the 8th and we marched until — I think it was the 17th of April we got liberated. I figure about six trips from Soldiers Grove to Minneapolis.”
He weighed 128 pounds when liberated.
The funeral is Friday at 11 a.m in St. Philips Parish at Rolling Ground, about 7 miles south of Soldiers Grove. The Sime Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.