On Monday, Memorial Day, as people across America pause to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, a truly outstanding member of the Greatest Generation celebrates a milestone birthday.
Walter “Bud” Moore, World War II hero and NASCAR legend, turns 90 years old on Monday.
Moore, a life-long resident of Spartanburg, S.C., is like many a member of America’s Greatest Generation. He grew up during the Depression, went off to war as a young man to fight for the United States in World War II, then returned home and built a thriving business.
Moore was the second-oldest child in a family of ten and was the son of a farmer in the grocery business.
As soon as Moore finished high school, Uncle Sam came calling.
“I got out of school on June 1, 1943, and I got my draft papers on June 2,” Moore said last week as he took a break from mowing the pastures on his cattle farm.
He was soon in training, and after a brief furlough that allowed him to spend Christmas at home, he was off to England to prepare for the invasion of Normandy. It would be the largest sea-born invasion in history, with 150,000 troops hitting the beaches.
The ship carrying Moore, whose job was to fire a water-cooled machine gun, left Liverpool and headed into the English Channel for what they were told would be a dry run.
When Moore saw the number of ships at sea, he knew better. “I told some of my buddies that this ain’t no dry run,” he said.
After a day’s delay because of rainy weather, Moore and his fellow troops found themselves a mile off the Normandy coast at 4:30 a.m. At that point, the Navy’s big guns began firing at the defenses on Utah Beach, where Moore and his fellow soldier soon would be landing.
“When those doggone guns started firing, it looked like they were going to blow the coast up,” he said. “It looked like it would be a piece of cake, but how wrong we were.”
Moore made it through D-Day relatively unscathed. “The Good Lord was looking after me,” he said.
The worst of the war lay ahead of him. By the time Germany finally surrendered he’d received five Purple Hearts, four for being struck by shrapnel from enemy artillery and the fifth from a shot through his hip from a machine gun.
But injuries didn’t keep him out of action for long. And fighting under Gen. George Patton meant that he stayed on the move, never looking back.
“Patton didn’t believe in taking ground twice,” Moore recalled, adding that the legendary General also had his own way of leading his troops. “Others would be two or three miles behind the lines giving orders. Patton was up there with us.”
Staying on the move with Patton led to one of the Bronze Stars that Moore received for valor. He was awarded the honor of being on the front lines for nine months and fourteen days without a break.
He got the second Bronze Star after he and his Jeep driver captured a German regimental headquarters and eighteen enemy personnel, including five officers.
Moore started the capture by firing his machine gun at the concrete block structure, the second building he’d attacked that day. Then, fearing a heavier attack was coming, the German garrison surrendered.
When Moore delivered his captives to his superior officer, that officer responded by saying “Moore, what in the heck is going on?”
Moore’s reply: “We’re fighting a war.”
Moore tells of some great experiences, but some; however, didn’t have happy endings. In some cases he still doesn’t know the fate of friends and fellow soldiers he knew along the way.
“We lost a lot of them,” he said, adding that in the heat of battle he often never learned whether his fellow soldiers who fell during battles were injured or killed. “We just hollered for the medic and kept going. How many we lost I don’t know.”
When the war was over, soldiers were sent home in an order determined by a points system, with points awarded for things like Purple Hearts and time spent on the front lines.
Not surprisingly, Moore was one of the first to head home, ahead of some who had been in the service six or more years. And he’s not been back, despite many offers to return to the scenes of the battles he fought.
“When I got on that ship to come home, I told the Lord that if he’d get me that 5,000 miles back home I wouldn’t be back,” he said. “And I haven’t been back.”
“I don’t want to go back. I left too many friends over there.”
When Moore returned home, he and long-time friend Joe Eubanks went into the used-car business. Before long, they traded a 1939 Ford for a race car, and the rest is NASCAR history.
In 37 years as a car owner in NASCAR’s elite series, Moore’s cars won 63 races, 43 poles and two championships of the series now known as Sprint Cup. He also won numerous sports car races and was the crew chief for Buck Baker’s championship run in 1957. In 2011, he was inducted into the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Among the people who have come to know and respect Moore over the years are several generations of the Wood Brothers racing team.
During Moore’s time in NASCAR, he and the Woods worked together to develop racing technology for their Ford race cars. Among other things, Moore showed second-generation Wood brothers, Len and Eddie, how to use a slide rule to calculate horsepower while using a dynamometer. In the days before calculators came into common use, the slide rule was necessary to do multiple math exercises to arrive at the final result.
During a rainy practice day at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Moore gave the Wood boys some slide rule lessons.
“I couldn’t use one now, but once he showed us how to use a slide rule we went out and bought one,” Len Wood recalled, adding that Moore often worked with the Woods on technical innovations, much like the Ford teams collaborate today.
Despite all the cooperation in the world, just like today, that takes a backseat when the green flag drops.
“Come Sunday, it’s every man for himself,” he said.
Eddie Wood said the greatest thing Moore has given him, and everyone else today, is his service in World War II.
“Hearing what Bud Moore has said about his experiences at Normandy really makes you think how lucky we all are that people like him did what they did,” he said, adding that there really should have been a movie made about Moore’s life.
“If they had ever made a movie, there’s only one actor who could have done him justice, and that’s John Wayne,” Wood said.
That’s because Moore truly is a shining example of America’s Greatest Generation.
“Beyond all the racing and the wins and the championships, I look at him as a hero of World War II and a great friend,” Wood said.