World War II oral history interview
Date: August 7, 2001
Veteran: Spencer C. Moore
Interviewer: Michelle Carrara
Summarizer: Walter Borkowski
Spencer Moore was born and raised in Magnolia, Camden County, New Jersey. He graduated from Camden High School in June, 1940. In July, at the age of eighteen, Moore joined the First Separate Battalion, New Jersey Militia. [The battalion was a segregated unit composed of African Americans and was not, at the time, part of the National Guard.] In September, 1940, Moore enrolled in a Camden Police Department program, where he was trained to assist in homicide and robbery investigations. He recalled that he learned the essentials of fingerprinting, a skill that he later used during service in the New Jersey National Guard.
On December 7, 1941, Moore, like everyone else in the military, was ordered to report to his unit headquarters. The men of his company were assigned to guard various sites in and around New York City, where they set up machine gun emplacements at the city’s tunnels, bridges, railroad yards and other critical locations, including an airfield on Long Island. They also patrolled in Jeeps with machine guns mounted in the rear.
In August of 1942, Moore was assigned to the Ninety-second Division, an all African American outfit. The military remained segregated during the course of the war. Moore referred to the official policy of having white senior officers and black junior officers in African American units as symbolic of a “plantation mentality” on the part of the army. By the time the Ninety-second went overseas, however, the division’s senior officers were black.
Moore was selected to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) and graduated on November 26, 1942 as a second lieutenant. He remembered that black and white officer candidates were housed and trained separately at the school. Although selected third best soldier in his platoon, he received an unsatisfactory rating because he was “flip” to his captain. “I couldn’t get promoted” he said, but “I didn’t know that until the war was over.”
Before going overseas, the Ninety-second was divided and sent to four different bases for training. Moore referred to an incident that had occurred at Brownsville, Texas as a reason for dividing the division and not concentrating its black soldiers at any one post. He recalled riding a troop train from Arizona to Newport News, Virginia, and said that “…in some towns that we stopped in, we were told to get back on the train and were not allowed to exercise. German and Italian prisoners of war got better treatment than the black soldiers. That is what we had to suffer.”
[Spencer Moore’s reference is to the “Brownsville Incident” of August 1906, when a battalion of black soldiers from the regular army’s Twenty-fifth Infantry Regiment stationed at Brownsville, Texas encountered strong racial prejudice and discrimination from the local white community that resulted in a confused shooting affray. Although there was no evidence that soldiers deliberately fired into the community, or even participated in the shooting, the entire battalion, including long service soldiers about to retire and six Medal of Honor winners, was dishonorably discharged. In 1972, after considering evidence that the soldiers had been framed by local white agitators, the discharges were changed to honorable, although there was, by then, but one surviving soldier.]
The Ninety-second Division shipped out of Newport News, Virginia and landed in Oran, Algeria in the summer of 1944. At Oran the men of the division were transferred to smaller vessels in a large convoy on its way to Italy. Moore remembered that there were other ships as far as he could see. The convoy docked in Naples, where the Ninety-second landed. The division was eventually assigned to the US Fifth Army, near the city of Pisa. The Fifth Army was a diverse outfit. Moore recalled an incident in which medics from his division treated a badly wounded Japanese American soldier, who received a direct blood transfusion from a black man. He noted that the Japanese-American soldier later became a United States Senator. [Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.]
Moore recalled calling for artillery fire and providing the coordinates to a British artillery officer who “blew to kingdom come” a dozen Germans who were lobbing grenades down on his men. He remembered having to walk through a mine field to take up a position on a river bank, and how his sergeant was wounded. He also described how he was wounded himself in the heel by shrapnel, and how a shell landed a few yards from him but fortunately failed to explode. At one time or another, Moore stated, every officer in his battalion was either killed or wounded.
Moore said that he got along well with the Italian people he encountered during the war, and again when he returned to Italy in 2000 to take part in the commemoration of the heroism of a black American soldier who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. During that visit he met an Italian man who had fled a wartime German massacre in his village. The man told Moore that the Germans killed every man, woman and child they could find.
Following World War II, Moore joined the New Jersey National Guard, where he commanded a Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules missile battalion in the perimeter defenses of Philadelphia. He retired from the National Guard as a captain, and still lives in his hometown of Magnolia, New Jersey. Moore’s son Michael retired after twenty-seven years in the New Jersey State Police and is now a lieutenant colonel in the New Jersey Air National Guard.