Valor Friday

| October 15, 2021

Eugene Moran

Today’s tale is one of miraculous survival as well as bravery in the face of the enemy. I can’t help but be amazed again and again by the adventures of The Greatest Generation.

Eugene “Gene” Moran, born 1924, was a typical southern Wisconsin dairy farm boy. Graduating high school in 1942, he did what many young men of his generation did and enlisted to join the war effort. In late October 1942, Moran would start his epic tale by joining the Army Air Forces.

Gene then went to Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Sheridan was one of four Recruit Reception Centers during World War II. Conditions for the rapidly expanding Army meant close quarters and minimal amenities for the recruits.

From Sheridan, Moran was sent to Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. Jefferson is the oldest continuously operated American military facility west of the Mississippi, having been built in 1826. Jefferson Barracks was the primary site for Army Air Forces basic training.

After his basic training, Moran was selected for aerial gunnery training. He attended the gunnery course at Las Vegas, Nevada. He was then moved around to several bases as he received additional training and his crew was assembled. In sum, he’d spent about a year in training.

Example of a B-17 tail gunner’s position

Moran would fly as a tail gunner in B-17s. On their trip overseas, the crew ferried a B-17 from Maine to Newfoundland, then to Greenland, to Iceland, and finally Scotland where they had to give the plane up and were transported by bus. Moran and his green crew would be stationed at Snetterton-Heath, about 20 miles away from Norwich, England.

96th Bomb Group Patch and 339th Bomb Squadron Patch

As a member of the 339th Bomb Squadron of the 96th Bomb Group, the men prepared to join the war. In late 1943 the life of a heavy bomber crew over Europe was grim. The B-17 Hell’s Angels (41-24577) of the 303rd Bomb Group had been the first to complete the 25 mission requirement to rotate home in May. Memphis Belle would finish the task a week later to much fanfare.

While life at “home” at their base in England was warm, dry, and came with good food, their time in the air was fraught with danger. Statistically speaking, it was impossible for an airman to complete 25 missions, losses were so heavy. In one bombing mission just two months prior to Moran’s arrival in-theater, on a raid involving 376 B-17s they lost 60, which is a 16% loss rate in a single mission!

The veterans started to explain to the new aircrew what life in the skies over occupied Europe was like. With losses so heavy, Moran and his crew began flying operational sorties almost immediately.

The Allies had decided to split bombing duties of Europe. The Brits, who had been battered exceptionally hard during the Battle of Britain, were given the task of bombing at night. The Americans, with superior numbers and fresh aircrew would take the more dangerous daylight raids. This meant that the typical mission would start in the wee hours, before dawn, for the mission brief. For those interested, a blessing from the chaplain would follow, and then off to their planes.

After their pre-flight checks and loading their munitions, the crew would take off. As the tail gunner, Moran would be responsible for firing off flares from the aircraft’s tail. This was necessary as the planes would take off by the hundreds, in the dark, and need to maintain radio silence. The flares from the planes ahead would enable those following to maintain their location in the flight.

Moran’s position at the very tail end of the plane was cramped. Unless there was some emergency, it was expected that all crew would remain at their posts for the duration of the mission. Typical missions from England to German and back would be six to eight hours. One of Moran’s missions was to Norway instead, which became his longest at 14 hours in total.

Moran’s crew in front of their plane. Only two of these men would survive the mission.

Moran’s fateful mission was only his fifth (some of his crewmates had flown six or seven as relief on other planes). On 29 November 1943 he and his crew would be flying their plane Rikki Tikki Tavi, a B-17F, tail number 42-30359 on a raid over Bremen, Germany under the command of Second Lieutenant Linwood Langley.

After arriving over Bremen, the Tavi’s crew successfully completed their mission by dropping their bombs, and were turning to make the trip back home. Ground fire over the German city was intense. Flak shells exploded all around the American aircraft. Having completed their mission, they were now prime targets for the Luftwaffe’s fighters as they zoomed up to meet their foes.

Suddenly, the plane was hit. Hard. The eldest member of the crew, the 26 year old navigator, was blown out the front of the plane after the perspex nose shattered. Moran heard the ball turret gunner, forward of his position, cry out.

Moran had a back parachute on, but it had been shredded and his chest chute was stowed further forward in the aircraft. He left his guns to get it as it was obvious the order to bail out was going to come soon. As he crawled forward, and before he could get the ‘chute, his plane was cut in half, right in front of his position in the tail.

The B-17’s tail completely severed from the rest of the aircraft, with Moran still inside. Alive, but for how long? Moran accessed his condition. He had a chunk of his own plane lodged in his arm and broken ribs. He was also falling fast, from more than four miles in the air.

As the tail plunged earthward, the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, freed of their control cables, were left to flutter in the breeze. This is believed to have slowed the tail’s descent. Inside, Moran resigned himself to his impending death, wrapping himself in what remained of his parachute.

Moran’s tail crashed into a tree. Hard enough that Moran had blood coming out of his eyes, nose, and ears. Falling more, one of the stabilizers wedged into the tree, arresting the tail’s further descent. The incredible flight was, perhaps even more miraculously, witnessed. S/Sgt. George Fisher of Rosindale, Massachusetts was another airman on the Breman raid who had also been shot down. Fisher took the more conventional approach of a parachute ride instead of Moran’s .50-caliber armed express elevator of terror.

Though in Germany, French people came to Moran’s “rescue”. I put it in quotes because the French, at this time still under the boot heel of the Nazis, must have assumed him dead. Moran later said they nearly choked him trying to get to his survival pack, likely looking for his sidearm. Moran said of his sidearm, “Well, I never carried one. What good would it do you?”

The French that found him were prisoners of the Germans too, but had been given considerable leeway to carry out their affairs during the day. Moran’s rescue and immediately after were a bit of a blur for him as his wounds brought him in and out of consciousness. He remembered getting out of the remnants of the tail and being drawn in an ox cart before arriving at a German field hospital at the prison camp in Bösel, Germany, about 34 miles west of Bremen.

A Serbian doctor from Czechoslovakia, also a prisoner of the Germans, told Moran (speaking excellent English no less) that barring severe infection, he’d be able to get him through. True to his word, Moran was on the mend. By the end of February 1944 he was brought to the Luftwaffe’s Dulag Luft camp. Dulag Luft was a temporary housing facility for captured airmen. Held in solitary confinement, the prisoners would be subjected to interrogation. By this point any information Moran possessed was three months old, so he was of little use to the enemy for intelligence purposes.

Moran was then sent to Stalag Luft IV, a Luftwaffe prisoner of war camp in what is now Poland. He arrived sometime shortly after the camp was opened in May 1944, the camp’s conditions were atrocious. There were inadequate shower facilities, poor distribution of Red Cross packages, poor food, and heavy censorship of prisoners’ mail. Medical facilities were so few that most injuries and ailments required the man to remain in his barracks, none of which were heated during the coldest winter in two decades. By February 1945 the camp held nearly 9,000 prisoners, more than 8,000 of them American airmen.

With the Soviet Red Army closing in fast on the eastern side of Germany, the camp was soon going to be liberated. The Germans wanted to prevent this by moving all of the prisoners. By foot.

On 6 February 1945, Moran and about 8,000 other prisoners were marched out of Stalag Luft IV on what would become known as “The Black March.” The already malnourished and mistreated prisoners, who had been held under a particularly sadistic Nazi sergeant-of-the-guard and an indifferent camp commandant, were only allowed to bring what they could carry.

The march would last 89 days as the prisoners were zig-zagged through Germany to avoid the encroaching Red Army. The sick and injured that fell out of the march would be shot or bayonetted. The pace, always under constant guard, was grueling. They were forced to march between 15 and 20 miles a day.

Moran would later recall he thinks they made the equivalent of six trips from his hometown of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin to Minneapolis. The distance between those two cities is 160 miles. Moran’s estimate is remarkably accurate. It’s believed that the prisoners on The Black March covered at least 500 miles in frigid, blizzard-like conditions. Hundreds of the men died on the journey.

The prisoners reached Stalag Luft XI-B, which was a camp where the Germans were consolidating all of their prisoners of war, on 3 April. As the sound of Allied artillery drew closer, the German guards, watching over some 12,000 prisoners at this one camp, eased up on their formerly harsh treatment. Camp conditions though were deplorable, in particular there was a total lack of food.

Around the 17th of April 1945 the camp was liberated. The night before their freedom, the prisoners (who had been weeks without food) were told tomorrow was their day. Men of the 104th Infantry Division (the “Timberwolf Division” from their shoulder patch) liberated the camp. When asked what that was like, Moran (down to 128 pounds) said simply, “It was. It was quite a thing.”

Moran was evacuated to France before being sent on a troopship back to the States. He arrived in the US in June 1945. Docking at New Jersey, he was transported back to Fort Sheridan and given 60 days leave for rest and recuperation. Electing to travel to Miami (soldiers at the time naturally traveled for free), he was chased out of the state by the 1945 Homestead Hurricane (the worst in 10 years).

Moran’s navigator, who was blown out the front of the plane before it split up, was Second Lieutenant Jesse Orrison. He was able to deploy his ‘chute and survived the crash. He was taken to Stalag Luft I (officers and enlisted were, contrary to what you see on Hogan’s Heroes, held at different camps). Orrison too survived the war. He would continue to serve and saw service during the Korean War, rising to the rank of major. He passed away in 1997.

Gene Moran returned to Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin. He married Peg Finley and they raised nine children. Moran worked as a mail carrier for 30 years and served his community as a volunteer firefighter, rising to the rank of chief. He was elected to the county board of supervisors for 20 years and was a member of the American Legion for almost 70 years.

Gene lost Peg in 2004, but found love once again, marrying Pauline Montgomery in 2008. Moran himself died in 2014. A street in Soldiers Grove is named for him.

Category: Air Force, Historical, POW, Valor, We Remember

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Mustang Major


BTW: Eugene Moran’s story makes a strong case for sitting in the rear of a plane when traveling by airliner.

From the infallible internet:

“Seats in the back of the plane, behind the trailing edge of the wing, had a 69 percent survival rate, while seats over the wing and in coach had a 56 percent survival rate. The front 15 percent of seats had a 49 percent survival rate, analysts found.”


Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

Thanks again, Mason.


Definitely an Iron Man. Geez….


Rode that tail section down from over 4 miles up. Lot to be said for being a dirt digging doggie. IIRC the casualties of the Army Air Corps was north of 50K, KIA. And that doesn’t include the ones that died in captivity, or the forced marches back toward Germany.


Thanks Mason.


Survival rate of bomber air crew was terrible.

“During the whole war, 51% of aircrew were killed on operations, 12% were killed or wounded in non-operational accidents and 13% became prisoners of war or evaders. Only 24% survived the war unscathed.”

Early PTSD studies came from studies about the effect on the surviving crew during the war and all the symptoms they developed from being faced with the constant likely threat of violent death.

Any man who could survive that need never prove himself to me again.

Old tanker

His guardian angel must have had a nervous breakdown once he landed. Tremendous story.


My dad was a gunner/togglier in a B-17.
I miss him and all the guys that flew those missions.
To sit and talk with one is an eye opening experience.
The “greatest generation” indeed.

Green Thumb



Great story of a true hero and gentleman.




What a very powerful story…

Thank You!

Once again, another TRUE Hero that did not go around with the attitude of “LOOK AT ME!!!” as well as lying, embellishing their service/awards, etc.

Anyone here remember LBJ and his “Silver Star”? (SARC).



To clarify a glaring mistake; The 339th of the 96th of the Mighty 8th, was stationed at Snetterton-Heath(now a circuit racetrack), NOT Norwich, which is nearly 20 miles away.

My father was a 339th man, flew in the “Miss Mac”, and my Godfather was the pilot, Lt. MacDonald (aircraft named for his wife). Mac lived just a few doors down from us, here in California, as he and my Dad went to college together.

Their “yearbook”, finally printed in 1969, “Snetterton Falcons” also details Moran’s unscheduled experimental glider flight.

The 339th and the 96th, had one of the highest sortie rates,and nearly the highest loss rates, of the 8th AF, participating in every major effort against Germany.

SGT Moran exemplifies the courage and faith of the American fighting man.


Thanks, Mason. Another little tidbit about the 339th, is the famous 5000th Boeing Aircraft B-17 (G model) was sent to Snetterton.

Nicknamed “Number 5000”, she was festooned over the entire fuselage and wings, the signatures, names, and goodwill thoughts of everyone that worked at Boeing. She completed her missions mostly unscathed, graffiti intact, but sadly sent to Arizona and scrapped in early 1946.

What a perfect museum display she should have been.

Skivvy Stacker

How did he fit into that tiny tail gunners pit with those massive balls of his?