BY JAMES WAGONER – James Alexander Moir was born May 7, 1917 at St. Joseph hospital in Lorain, Ohio to parents who came to America from Scotland. After graduating from Lorain High School he attended Wooster College for a full year and then went to work for U.S. Steel.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army in October 1941 and received his basic training at Fort Wolters, Texas. From there he went to Fort Ord, California and then on to Maui, Hawaii for staging exercises and his ultimate assignment as a soldier in the Pacific. For some unknown reason, James Moir lost his Army Dog Tag on Maui in the summer of 1942. From Maui he was shipped to Guadalcanal and assigned to Company B of the 108th Regimental Combat Team.
Ten months after being drafted he was in the midst of one of the most ferocious and onerous battles this country has ever fought. The 108th was attached to the 1st Marine Division on “Edison’s Ridge”, which after the heavily engaged battle was forever known as “Bloody Ridge”.
The 1st Marines and 108th were subjected to constant probing by the Japanese Army, usually at night. Under cover of darkness the hand to hand bayonet fighting was intense and continuous. When not under personal probing attacks, incoming artillery fire was the norm. The U.S. succeeded in holding their ground and eventually won the battle at Guadalcanal.
They defeated an enemy three times their size. Along the way, the Japanese sick and wounded were buried alive to prevent them from surrendering to the United States. The 108th sustained losses of 143 men out of their original 700. The battle of Guadalcanal became James Moir’s baptism by fire.
The 108th was then shipped to Lae, New Guinea and once again was teamed with the 1st Marine Division. Once beachheads were secured however, the Marines headed west to the port of Talasea while the 108th headed eastward to New Britain Island.
They encountered heavy fighting all the way up the slopes of a mountain known as “The Father” (Ulawan, elevation 7,546 feet). On their way down to Rabaul they encountered heavy wet jungle growth. Days upon end no one had a dry stitch of clothing. Heavy fighting was encounter at Rabaul where they forced the Japanese to escape by boats.
In December of 1944 the 108th was shipped to Manus Island in staging preparation for the assault on the Philippines. From there they were taken to the Island of Luzon by the USS Monrovia, meeting with heavy resistance during the landing. The 108th fought the Japanese back through San Carlos, Bayambang, Gerona, and back toward Clark Field.
In setting up defensive perimeters, the 108th employed a foxhole and trench layout, dug in a large circle, with five men per foxhole. Each man was vital to the safety of the others as the Japanese, again at night, would overrun the outpost positions. Neither side would fire their rifles so that their position was visually protected.
On February 10, 1945, while guarding their perimeter, James Moir and four other men were in their foxhole with about 100 other men spread out in 20-25 foxholes. After dark they were overrun by the Japanese with 12-15 soldiers attacking each foxhole.
During this nighttime attack, in their first foray Moir sustained nothing more than a bayonet bouncing off his helmet. In their second attack, he again sustained no injury. Unfortunately in their third attack a bayonet was thrust through both his legs. It was hand to hand combat all night long as the 108th demonstrated magnificent valor.
Moir was still alive at daybreak when the main force of the Japanese Army came through to survey the success of their nighttime raid. He was able to remain alive by feigning death. Of the five men in his foxhole, only two of them survived the night. Later when the U.S. forces arrived they found him and took him to a MASH hospital unit at Clark Field. There he was operated on by Dr. Charles Mayo, of future Mayo Clinic fame. Subsequently he was transferred to the 102nd General Hospital at Dagupan.
As a patient in the hospital he was also treated for malaria and a severe fungal infection (commonly know as a jungle rot). After several weeks of hospitalization, he was returned to Company B whose complement of 70 men was down from the original 186. Shortly thereafter he was returned to the United States.
After de-briefing and additional medical treatment, he was discharged from the Army on June 5, 1945. He had not been home in three years and nine months. Even after all the hospital treatment and recuperation, he was down to a weight of 125 pounds. In addition to his repeated bouts of malaria – which lasted for about ten years.
None-the-less, he would marry Eloise Rose DeVeny, his long time sweetheart, four days later on June 9th 1945. They reared a family of six children and James Moir lived to the mature age of eighty four years.
In the summer of 2007, I was enlarging a “tree well” for a persimmon tree on land that was formerly my mother in law’s vegetable garden. This site had been plowed, fertilized, and watered hundreds of times over the past 50 years.
While digging I pulled up a fist size soft rock that appeared to contain a piece of metal. Thinking it may be a coin, I kept the rock and placed it in a jar of motor oil in the garage. Several months passed before I removed the rock from the motor oil. Much of the loose debris fell away and I could tell that it was an Army Dog Tag. Being a Navy veteran I felt duty bound and honor driven to find the owner. I spent several weeks trying to read the lettering with little success.
I finally got myself a dental exploratory tool, a good magnifying glass, and with liberal use of WD-40, one by one the lettering became readable. Eventually, the day came when I could read the name: James A. Moir of Lorain, Ohio.
The next morning I was on the phone talking with the telephone operator of Lorain, Ohio. I asked her to connect me with any Moir listing in Lorain. She informed me that there was no one by the name Moir listed. I quickly told her how I found this army dog tag on Maui and my wish was to return it to the rightful owner. She said she would be happy to see if any neighboring townships had a Moir listing. In less than a minute she came back with the name of Mary Ann Moir of Avon Lake, Ohio and her telephone number.
I made the call to Mary Ann. I introduced myself and asked her if she was a family member of James A. Moir. She informed me that she was not a relative, and in fact had never heard of James A. Moir. Once again I told her the story of me finding the dog tag here on Maui and of my desire to return it to its owner. She then told me that her daughter worked in the Lorain newspaper and she would ask her to make a search of the newspaper files for any information on James A. Moir. With that I gave her my phone number and address.
JACKPOT: Two days later there was an email from Mary Ann that had an attachment of James A. Moir’s obituary published in the July 19, 2001 Lorain paper. The obituary listed the name of the surviving spouse, and the names and home town of all six children. I immediately put in a call to his son, Dale Moir of Lisle, Ohio. I introduced myself and bluntly told him I was in possession of his father’s dog tag and I would like to see it returned to the family. After a good pause, Dale said something like are you sure? I answered affirmatively. Dale gave me his mailing address, and that honorable little piece of metal was on its way home the following day.
James Moir’s obituary mentioned that he was a Shriner. As a fellow Fraternal Brother Mason, I am convinced that it was divine intervention that brought that dog tag and me together. For sure, I have been rewarded with tons of love and friendship from this marvelous Moir family.
I have a special relationship with Mother Eloise (Pat) Moir. In one of her letters to me she wrote:
“We were blessed to have 56 good years together until he died at the age of 84, a few days after we celebrated our anniversary of June 9, 2001. He died of a massive heart attack on June 13th. He died instantly and I was right there with him. I called 911, but it was too late and I knew it. He just took a few deep breaths and was gone…….he was the love of my life and I have no regrets…….it was a wonderful life – just an average to anyone else, but to me it was perfect.”
Pat sent me a picture of Jim’s Dog Tag and Purple Heart Medal placed together in the same box. A more fitting resting place cannot be imagined.
JAMES WAGONER IS A MAUI RESIDENT AND BUSINESSMAN. REACH HIM AT firstname.lastname@example.org