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Moore defines the term 'Marine Mustang'

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Early Sunday on Dec. 7, 1941, Marine Sergeant Max A. Moore was pulling guard duty at Pearl Harbor when he heard the planes.

"We heard the planes approaching and thought they were ours being flown to Pearl from the states," Moore, 93, recalled of the first wave of Japanese fighters and torpedo planes. "When the first Zero passed over me and I saw the rising sun on the wing, I knew we were under attack."

A Marine gunner, Moore and his men grabbed "whatever we could get our hands on -- machine guns, pistols and BARs (Browning Automatic Rifles) -- and we began shooting at the Jap planes."

Moore's group was credited with shooting down three Japanese aircraft.

"I reported to my (commanding officer) and he told us to hang tight, not give up and hunker down until it was all over with," said Moore, a native of Vienna. "I knew then were we going to prepare to retaliate."

In May of 1942, Moore's outfit, the Third Defense Battalion, was shipped from Pearl Harbor to Midway Island to participate in defense of the tiny but strategically important atoll.

The typical defense battalion consisted of 1,000 officers and Marines armed with three 3-inch anti-aircraft batteries, three 5-inch batteries, two naval guns and .50- and .30-caliber machine gun batteries.

On the morning of June 4, the Japanese began the battle with more than 100 enemy aircraft swarming over the island.

"The Japs were coming in force with bombs falling and bullets flying everywhere," Moore, now a master technical sergeant, said. "We were knocking down quite a few of them. I was firing a BAR and hit a Zero. It fell right over the top of me. The wing came within a couple feet of my head and came to rest with the wing over the top of my fox hole.

"The pilot was on fire, and I assumed he was dead."

American anti-aircraft was accurate and intense, with later reports crediting the units with more than a third of the Japanese aircraft losses.

The American victory at Midway effectively ended Japanese offensive capabilities in the central Pacific and is regarded as the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

Moore and the 3rd DB returned to Pearl Harbor to begin preparations for the U.S.'s first offensive action of the war -- the assault on Guadalcanal.

"We landed at Tulagi Island on Aug. 7," Moore said. "We couldn't unload our weapons due to some amphibious restrictions, so we went ashore with the First Raider Battalion. The Japs were dug in pretty good, and we were in some very heavy fighting on Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo."

Guadalcanal was secured in February 1943 and Japanese power had reached its peak in the Pacific.

Moore was later ordered back to Camp Elliott in California as a witness in a court martial and met his future wife, Corporal Ernaveral Barclay, at the base's unclaimed baggage lost and found area.

The couple married a year after the war ended, and Moore remained in the reserves until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.

He spent four more years of active duty in various roles in Camp Lejeune, N.C. While at Camp Lejeune, the Moores adopted a daughter, Peggy, and later had a son, Chuck.

After leaving active duty in 1954, Moore had accomplished what few Marines realize: the title of "Marine Mustang."

He'd held every enlisted rank, from private to master technical sergeant, warrant officer grade and three commissioned officer ranks.

"Yes, that's unusual," Moore said. "I'm proud of that."