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Pennsylvania county remembers area's first Pearl Harbor fatality

The grave of 2nd Lt. Louis Gustav Moslener Jr. at Beaver Cemetery in Pennsylvania. Moslener was Beaver County's first casualty in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

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By MARSHA KEEFER | Beaver County Times | Published: December 4, 2019

BEAVER, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Saturday, Bob Henry will visit Beaver Cemetery. He'll pause at the grave of a man he never met, but one to whom he owes plenty.

Some years he came alone. Some years with his children. The past two, approximately 65 people came.

They come to honor and remember the sacrifice of 2nd Lt. Louis Gustav Moslener Jr., Beaver County's first casualty Dec. 7, 1941, in a surprise attack by Japanese forces on Pearl Harbor.

"I personally feel that if we forget them — all veterans — we lose our heart and soul as a country for what they fought for," said Henry of Daugherty Township.

Those who defended our country's freedom "made the supreme sacrifice," he said. "They set the bar."

Shortly before 8 a.m. Hawaiian time that Sunday 78 years ago, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes rained bullets and bombs on the base on the island of Oahu, destroying or damaging nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships and more than 300 airplanes, according to History.com.

More than 2,400 Americans — including military personnel and 68 civilians — died in the attack; the number of wounded totaled 1,143.

The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

"No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory," he said.

A year before the attack, Moslener, an engineering student at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), withdrew to join a U.S. Army Air Corps' training school in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Subsequently, he would transfer to Maxwell Field in Alabama and Miami University in Coral Gables, Fla., where he graduated in the first Aerial/Celestial Navigator Training Class conducted by Pan American Airways.

Moslener, son of Louis G. and Blanche Moslener of Monaca, was assigned to the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron that was part of a secret mission to photograph Japanese military bases in the Marshall and Caroline islands. According to military records from the National Archives, Navy intelligence units in the Philippines picked up increasing radio traffic indicating Japanese air, land and sea forces were mobilizing.

In late November, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commanding general of Army forces in the Far East, ordered two crews of the 88th Reconnaissance's 7th Bombardment Group stationed at Fort Douglas, Utah, to fly to Sacramento Air Depot to pick up planes being specially modified with reconnaissance cameras and then fly to Hamilton Army Airfield in Novato, Calif.

The night of Dec. 4, 1941, Moslener, a navigator, departed the airfield aboard a Consolidated B-24A Liberator (40-2371) with eight other crew members and headed across the Pacific Ocean to Hickam Field on Oahu.

1st Lt. Ted Faulkner piloted the bomber, which arrived the next day, but upon landing, officials realized the plane had "insufficient armament for combat — only one .30 caliber and twin .50 caliber guns in the tail, and was without ammunition for the guns that were installed."

Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, a commanding general in Hawaii, held the plane at Hickam's Hanger 15 until it was "satisfactorily armed."

Many young men who enlisted in the military considered duty in the Hawaiian Islands a choice assignment, according to historians Leatrice R. Arakaki and John R. Kuborn in their book "7 December 1941: The Air Force Story," as they "enjoyed the beautiful beaches, lush foliage, and year-round pleasant climate that characterized 'the Paradise of the Pacific.'"

The base was well-equipped with an officers' club, theater, gymnasium, tennis and basketball courts, and family quarters.

On Dec. 7, however, "death and devastation resulting from the surprise attack transformed the 'Paradise of the Pacific' into a veritable hell on earth," wrote Arakaki and Kuborn.

Around 6 a.m., the Japanese launched 360 planes in three waves of coordinated attacks on Pearl Harbor.

The first attack struck at approximately 7:55 a.m., a deliberately timed attack, according to the historians, because our "defenses would be at their weakest at this time due to the American tradition of taking Sunday as a day of rest."

Most military personnel on the base were just waking up or in the mess hall eating breakfast.

Moslener and crew were performing a pre-flight check on their B-24A that sat outside Hangar 15 when the first bomb fell on Hickam, setting the plane on fire.

Moslener, 23, was killed along with Pvt. Daniel J. Powloski, 36, of New York, another crew member. Four others were wounded.

Japan dropped about 100 bombs on Hickam, which were "practically all hits," said Maj. Charles P. Eckhert three days later.

"The papers say they (Japanese) are poor bombardiers. They were perfect on nearly all their releases," he said.

"The only people who saw the attack coming were the radar operators, and even they were not exactly sure what they were looking at," Arakaki and Kuborn wrote.

Moslener's parents learned of their only son's death two days later by telegram from the war department.

"His interest was all with the Air Corps," Moslener's father told the former Pittsburgh Press. "So if he died facing the enemy, that's something to be proud of."

In remembrance

A history buff, Bob Henry first became aware of Moslener while on a walking tour of Beaver Cemetery one Fourth of July years ago. That prompted him to research the officer's military history and spurred repeat visits to his grave in homage.

In 2016, the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Henry thought someone would organize a tribute to Moslener. Nobody did.

The next year, Henry did. He recruited Jerry Fisher of Brighton Township to help. Both are Vietnam-era veterans.

"It's a shame," Fisher said. "All this stuff eventually just seems to go away. Life moves on. People got other things that they want to deal with. That's why I'm very supportive of what Bob wants to do to get this guy back and being remembered."

Saturday marks the third year the duo has orchestrated a memorial ceremony, open to the public, at Moslener's grave – the first right turn after entering the cemetery and a block down on the left.

Those attending are asked to gather at 12:30 p.m.

Henry, a member of Beaver County Historical Research and Landmarks Foundation, will give opening remarks at 12:55 p.m., which approximates the time Pearl Harbor was bombed (Beaver is five hours ahead of Hawaiian time).

Ret. Col. Ken Frankenbury of Hopewell Township will sing the national anthem. Relatives of Moslener will place a wreath at the tombstone.

Henry will read names of area Beaver County veterans who served at Pearl Harbor during World War II, though none of them died there.

The Rev. Dr. William Silver of Chippewa Township, a Vietnam veteran and retired pastor at Bridgewater Presbyterian Church, will speak and offer a benediction.

Fisher will deliver closing remarks. Frankenbury will sing "God Bless America."

Mike Harcher of Center Township will sound the bugle call Taps.

Fisher, who researches histories of local servicemen killed or missing in action, plans Saturday to also remember Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen John Anzio Jr. who grew up on Sixth Street in Beaver.

"I want to mention him so that he is not forgotten," Fisher said.

Anzio joined the Navy after graduating in 1942 from Beaver Area High School.

"Eight days after his 19th birthday he was killed," Fisher said.

Anzio served as a radioman and tail gunner aboard a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber, Fisher said, stationed on a small, aircraft carrier off the Azores Islands, an archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean.

"They were escorting a convoy of empty supply ships back to the United States," Fisher said. "At some point they were pulled off on patrol duty."

On July 19, 1943, the plane with a pilot and Anzio aboard crashed into the Atlantic.

"Could have been shot down, could have run out of gas, could have had mechanical failure, Lord only knows, but they were gone," Fisher said. "Another ship went into immediate search for them for over an hour. They found nothing but two pieces of the airplane."

Anzio was the eldest child of Stephen and Anna Faye Mantz Anzio.

Fisher said if any of his relatives still reside in the area, he would like them to participate in Saturday's memorial tribute.

"I personally would like to see them included," he said.

Americans must remember those who served, Henry said.

"We have to live up to their ideals and what they stood for every day."

©2019 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)
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