Thomas Moore was an 18-year-old street-smart kid who grew up on his own in Monticello, N.Y. He joined the Navy on Sept. 10, 1940.
“I had no home and no parents. I was out on the street by myself. I was a bum,” the heavy-set man with short cropped white hair recalled as he sat in an easy-chair in his south Punta Gorda, Fla. home. “I always wanted to go to sea. As a kid I read lots of sea stories. They fascinated me.”
His naval career began before the war on the heavy cruiser USS Minneapolis based in Pearl Harbor. He was a middleweight fighter on the ship’s boxing team.
“I was a pretty good boxer for my age having come off the streets. I fought a lot of derelicts when I was a bum,” he said.
Moore was in the brig recovering from a night on the town when his life changed dramatically.
The Asiatic Fleet was looking for replacement sailors. It was 1941 and the word was out among the fleet that the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbor. Many sailors decided to get out of the Navy when their hitches were up. They wanted to get a civilian job and escape the coming war.
Moore was transferred to the USS Perch, stationed in Manila, Philippines as a replacement. When he arrived four days late, Lt. Cmdr. Dan Hurt, the sub’s skipper, said he would overlook Moore’s tardiness.
“Those were the first kind words I got in the Navy. I loved him right off the bat,” he said with tears in his eyes six decades later. “The old man told me to report to K.G. Schacht, the gun captain. He made me a torpedoman even though I had no training.”
K. G. had been an All-American end on the Naval Academy’s football team in the 1930s. He became a legendary sailor during World War II and eventually became a senior admiral.
The day after the Japanese attacked Pearl—Dec. 7, 1941—they bombed the Navy Yard in Manila. The Perch’s crew was in the process of rebuilding three of her four diesel engines. The guts of the 16 cylinder engines were spread all over.
“We had to strike everything blew, seal up the boat and dive to escape the attack,” Moore said. “After the Jap planes flew off it took us 72 hours, working day and night, to get the engines rebuilt and the sub running.”
Several days later Moore went on his first war patrol aboard the Perch. During the 39-day cruise they never once saw the sun. The submarine remained under during the day and surfaced to recharge its batteries only at night.
They encountered numerous enemy ships. The Perch fired 20 of her torpedoes at Japanese ships, but only one scored a hit. The others didn’t work for one reason or another. Their one success took place off the entrance to the port of Hong Kong.
“A merchantman steamed out of the harbor and we sunk her with a single torpedo. But there was an old Japanese coal-burning cruiser with her. The cruiser’s float plane spotted our periscope and the cruiser dropped a couple of depth charges that missed us.
“The old man took her down. We sat on the bottom for eight hours hoping the cruiser would go away,” he said. “We couldn’t hear anything on our SONAR, so the captain decided to surface thinking the cruiser was gone.
“We came up at 3 a.m. When we did the cruiser was sitting 200 yards away. They turned a big spotlight on us. The old man yelled, ‘Take her down! Take her down!’”
The sub’s skipper got his boat below and took evasive action. Because the cruiser’s electronics were deficient, the sub eluded the enemy and escaped.
On Feb. 3, 1942 the Perch sailed out of Port Darwin, Australia with Moore aboard. It was the beginning of his second cruise. The submarine was on a reconnaissance mission to determine what the Japanese were up to in their area. The enemy was about to take control of the Dutch East Indies and invade Borneo or Java.
“I don’t know whether I’m supposed to say this, but we were in the Dutch East Indies when our boat spotted a Japanese convoy while submerged. The officer on duty was reading, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls.’ He got so wrapped up in the book he forgot to lower the periscope.
“The Japs sighted the periscope and sent two destroyers to investigate. Without warning they dropped depth charges on us, but missed. Even though we were still at periscope depth we escaped.”
The Perch was ordered to patrol northeast of the Kangean Islands in an attempt to defend Java. The sub was recharging her batteries on the surface one night when a fast-moving merchantman was spotted at a distance.
She fired a single torpedo at the cargo ship. K. G. was on the conning tower with the skipper checking a new torpedo tracking indicator he just made. He asked the captain to keep the sub on the surface a few seconds longer so he could see if the indicator worked.
That was a bad mistake. Moments later her conning tower was hit by a shell from what they realized too late was an armed merchant ship they’d been tracking. Neither the crew nor the sub’s metal skin was damaged in the attack. But the conning tower took a beating. Much of the boat’s hydraulics were knocked out.
The merchantman was escorted by two destroyers. The sub reached a depth of 100 feet when the first depth charge from the enemy destroyer exploded. The USS Perch’s crew lucked out again. The destroyers ran out of depth charges and returned to port for more. When they did the submarine got away.
The skipper waited ‘till night to surface and recharge the Perch’s batteries. When she came up there was a Japanese destroyer waiting. The submarine immediately dove. The enemy destroyer radioed for assistance.
“Two destroyers had us trapped in shallow water. It was raining depth charges,” Moore said. “Pipes broke loose inside the sub, light bulbs exploded and three of our four engines broke away from their mountings because of the concussion from Jap depth charges.”
Their submarine sat motionless on the bottom for hours hoping the enemy destroyers would leave. By then the sub was flooding from leaks caused by the exploding depth charges.
In desperation the skipper asked K. G. Schacht, third in command, for suggestions, Moore recalled.
“’Throw some air forward and let’s see what happens, captain,’ he said. There was a buoyancy tank in the bow of the sub. He pumped 500 pounds of air into it.”
Air that was pumped into the tank escaped and formed massive bubbles on the surface. When the captains of the enemy ships spotted the air bubbles and saw oil coming to the surface, they thought they sunk the Perch.
Without engines, leaking oil and air, stuck in the mucky bottom 240 feet below the surface, the 60 crewmen of the battered submarine figured they were doomed.
The skipper tried everything he could think of to get his sub to the surface. Nothing worked. Again he turned to K. G.
“Right away K. G. ordered, ‘All hands to the control room.’ From there he told us, ‘Walk forward in a group. Then turn around and walk aft,’ Moore said.
K. C. reasoned that by moving the crew around inside the sub the shifting weight of the men walking back and forth might break her loose from the bottom. Then the sub’s buoyancy would bring her to the surface. It didn’t happen.
“It was about this time that a sailor name McCray suggested, ‘I think it’s about time for all of us to pray,’” Moore recalled.
Everyone aboard began praying. Everyone but Thomas Moore, who ironically was named for a Catholic saint. Praying wasn’t his style.
“When the cook, who I hated, realized I wasn’t praying he suggested I get with it.
But I was a smart-ass. I told him, “Why should I pray. What has the Lord ever done for me?”
“’I’ll pray for you, Tom,’ the cook replied.
“Pretty soon we heard this sucking noise. The boat moved. It was like a miracle. The stern started going up all by itself,” Moore said. “McCray, who was down on his knees praying, said, ‘The Lord must have heard you, Tom.’”
Sixty years later the old salt believes it was most likely K. G. Schacht’s good seamanship that saves the crew, not the Creator. He knows one thing for sure; it had nothing to do with him praying.
Miraculously when the battered submarine made it to the surface the enemy destroyers were gone. Because of all the fuel oil and debris that surfaced the captains of the Japanese ships thought they had sunk the Perch and steamed away.
The 60 crew members of the Perch scramble out of their iron coffin onto the deck and looked around. It was a beautiful days in the Java Sea. Then they looked off in the distance and saw the whole Japanese fleet headed right towards them!
“The sub was dead in the water and we only had a few inches of freeboard,” Moore explained. “It was obvious the Perch was headed to the bottom. The captain gave orders to put on our life jackets and abandon ship.
“A heavy cruiser lobbed an eight-inch shell toward our boat as she sank under our feet. We were bobbing around in our life jackets when an enemy destroyer raced up near us and began laying a series of depth charges where the Perch was last seen. Somehow none of the American sailors were injured by the exploding charges.
“For 45 minutes we bobbed around in the Java Sea in kapok life jackets. The entire crew of the Japanese destroyer was out on its deck and all had rifles or pistols in hand as they stared at us and waited.
“I don’t know if you can imagine how we felt as we floated around out there. Holy God, I thought, one way or the other they’re bound to kill us,” Moore said. “Joe Foley, a good Irish friend, who was floating beside me said, ‘Tom, turn your head. Then they will shoot you in the back of the head with their bullets.’ I’m not sure what difference it made.”
The bullets never came. Word passed among the enemy destroyer’s crew that the survivors were to be rescued. They might have information about American subs that could prove valuable to the Japanese.
“The destroyer put its whale boats over the side, rowed over and began pulling us into these boats,” he said. “They threw us in the bilge and put their feet on us. We were exhausted. It didn’t matter.”
The Perch’s crew was taken into Sarawak, a Japanese-held port on the island of Borneo. They were locked in the black hole of a captured Dutch hospital ship for three days without food or water. Then the ship sailed for Makkassar Celebes, Dutch East Indies.
“This is where I stayed in a prison camp and worked for 3 ½ years,” Moore said. “We built roads, airfields and worked the docks. It was hell. Every day there were beatings.
“We got up at 5 a.m. ate a cup of watery rice and drank a cup of weak coffee. For lunch we had a dipper of rice and some horrible tasting cooked greens. At night they’d run a piece of caribou meat through water and call it soup. It was served with a double handful of cooked rice. That was it.
“We worked eight to 15 hours a day depending on the job,” Moore said.
When they arrived at the prison there were about 3,000 prisoners. They included Americans, Englishmen, Dutch, natives and half-casts. It wasn’t long before they divided the prisoners into two groups and sent half of them to Japan.
How bad was life in the camp?
“A bunch of our men went on a work party after an air raid,” he said. “Allied planes hit a warehouse full of cigarette papers and tobacco. Of course we helped ourselves while repairing the damage. One guy got caught.
“The camp commander wanted the names of every man who stole cigarette papers or tobacco. There were at least 50 guys whose names ended up on the list.”
The only reason Moore’s name wasn’t on it was that the Japanese commander had already determined he was a “bad ass.” Consequently, he was not entitled to go on an easy work detail like the one to repair the tobacco warehouse.
“Prisoners who broke the rules were beaten with a split-bamboo club. It was approximately two-inches in diameter and about the length of a baseball bat. It was a lethal weapon.
On this occasion they had so many offenders they recruited extra help to administer the beatings.
“A bunch of Japanese seaman was marched into the camp. Each had a split-bamboo club. Every one of the guys who stole cigarette material had a Japanese partner who beat him unmercifully,” Moore said with a grimace.
They beat them until there was urine, feces and blood all over. They were pretty much broken men. Some of those POWs died from the beating.”
It wasn’t always that way with discipline at the camp. Moore recalled there was one guard they called “Kentucky,” because he walked around with his rifle cradled in the crook of his arm. Moore became friendly with him.
“I was always on the prowl looking for deals,” he said. “I’d sneak around the camp bartering anything for food. ‘Kentucky’ caught me four times, but let me go with little or no consequences.
“He asked me one time why I was always sneaking around. I told him because I was hungry. He immediately took me down to the galley and ordered the cooks to feed me. I got an extra bowl of rice and raw egg. I was in Heaven.”
Moore made the mistake of promising “Kentucky” he would never steal again. It wasn’t long afterward the guard caught him a fifth time.
Twenty laborers were on the same work detail Moore was in charge of. They were buying gum drop-like candy on the side from the natives. They concealed their loot in their bell bottom pants.
Moore was about to became a member of the “Black Bottom Club,” but he
didn’t know it. The dubious distinction was given POWs who were so severely beaten their backsides turned black.
“I was the last man in the line of guilty prisoners. ‘Kentucky’ had given each one of the other men a stroke or two with his bamboo cane. When he got to me he gave me 20 hits. My butt looked like a couple of basketballs when he was finished beating me,” Moore said.
On Aug. 6, 1945 the world turned upside down for him and his fellow POWs. That was the day Col. Paul Tibbets, flying a B-29 bomber named the “Enola Gay,” dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
“After the first bomb the Japanese sent us back to our barracks for three days. Then the Allies dropped the second atomic bomb,” he said.
“After the second bomb the Japanese commander of our camp called us all out to the front gate. He climbed up on a chair and told us, ‘The war is over!’
“There was no cheering, no celebrating. We were too exhausted,” Moore said.
Conditions began to improve immediately for the former prisoners. They were taken to the hospital at Mahassar and housed in better quarters until Allied forces arrived. The Japanese were ordered by the Allied military command to relocate at one end of the island away from the rest of the people on the island.
On Aug. 17, 1945 Brig. Gen. Barnes, commander of the 13th Air Force, flew over in his B-25 bomber. The former POWs signaled him they were there and needed help. The general signaled he would return the next day after the airfield was cleared of obstructions and he could land his plane.
The party was on. Moore and a couple of his buddies went out on the town that night. They got drunk and were thrown in the brig. A British office, who was the senior commander on the ground and a stickler for regulations, threatened to court martial the trio.
“A chief petty officer in charge of the American contingent, told the general when he flew in that three of his sailors who had been POWs for more than three years, were confined to the brig for celebrating their release the night before,” Moore recalled.
“Get those men out of the brig. I’m taking them with me,’ Gen. Barnes demanded. We flew out aboard the general’s bomber and were the first POWs from our camp to make it back to Palawan in the southern Philippines. We became celebrities. They put us up on stage before a crowd who cheered when told we had just been released from a Jap prison camp”, Moore said.
Name: Thomas Moore
Hometown: Monticello, N.Y.
Address: Eagle Point mobile home park Punta Gorda, Fla.
Discharged: Nov. 5, 1959
Commendations: Purple Heart, Good Conduct Ribbon with two stars, Philippine Defense Ribbon with a star, Submarine Combat Pin with star, National Defense Service Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, World War II Prisoner of War Medal, American Campaign Medal, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, and China Service Medal.
Married: Lena L. Leggio
Children: Thomas Michael, David John, Nancy Chabot, Michael John (deceased).
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida and is republished with permission.
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An old WWII submariner hopefully survives his latest fight
DeSoto Sun (Arcadia, FL) – Monday, October 22, 2007
Author: Don Moore ; Senior Writer
I went to see Tom Moore at Charlotte Regional Medical Center in Punta Gorda late last week. He is a World War II submariner with a world-class war story who lives with his wife, Lee, in Eagle Point mobile home park south of Punta Gorda.
He’s spent the last couple of weeks getting a tuneup at the hospital. Like most folks his age, Tom’s got a multitude of medical challenges that needed tending to, thus the hospital stay.
When I walked into his hospital room on Thursday afternoon, Moore was sitting in a chair drinking a soft drink and waiting for his lunch. He got a big smile on his face when he saw me.
He looked thinner than when I saw him at his home about a month earlier. He told me doctors drained 40 pounds of fluid from him and they were working on his breathing and lung problems.
“I’m 85 and not getting any younger,” he said with a smile.
That’s true, but Moore is a survivor. He survived having his submarine shot out from under him in 1942. He survived being captured by the Japanese, and then survived three-and-a-half years as a Japanese slave laborer, too.
Moore’s story begins during the patrol of the USS Perch, his submarine. The Perch had the ignominious claim of being the first American sub sunk by the Japanese in the Second World War.
Moore was a torpedoman aboard the Perch on its second and last patrol into the Java Sea. Their mission: To spy on the Japanese Navy. The enemy was just about to deliver Imperial Marines to attack the beaches in the Dutch East Indies.
In those days, American submarines ran submerged during the day and surfaced at night to recharge their batteries. The Perch surfaced one evening close to a Japanese destroyer. His sub made a lifesaving dive to the bottom to escape the enemy destroyer’s guns.
For the next dozen hours or more, the Perch took a pounding from depth charges that rained down on it from a couple of Japanese destroyers above. Oxygen was in very short supply, most of the interior lights on the boat had been shattered during the attack and three of the sub’s four engines were blown off their motor mounts.
On top of all that, the submarine was 240 feet down, stuck in the mud. Despite the crew’s best efforts to break loose, the muck still held them in its grasp. It was at this point a sailor suggested it was time for all of them to pray.
Moore was a tough kid off the streets of Monticello, N.Y., and wasn’t about to pray. The entire crew, with heads bowed, was praying away, when the sub’s cook realized Moore wasn’t asking God for help.
Why wasn’t he praying with the rest of them? the cook wanted to know.
“What had the Lord ever done for me?” he replied. The cook responded, “‘That’s OK, Tom, I’ll pray for you.’
“Thirty seconds later, everyone aboard the Perch heard a sucking sound. Moments later, the sub’s stern broke loose from the mucky bottom. A minute later, the sucking sound was heard again and the bow came loose. It was like a miracle,” Moore said some 60 years later.
Their submarine was floating topside. Waiting for them when the Perch broke the surface, Moore said, were two Japanese destroyers that would blow them out of the sea.
But another miracle was about to transpire. The destroyers were gone because their captains thought they had sunk the Perch hours earlier with depth charges.
There they stood on the deck of their badly damaged submarine, all 70 some members of the USS Perch. It was a beautiful day in the middle of the Java Sea as their boat began sinking under their feet.
“As we looked out toward the horizon, what could we see? The entire Japanese fleet steaming toward us,” Moore said. “An enemy heavy cruiser spotted our sub’s conning tower and began firing 10-inch shells at the Perch.”
A few minutes later, a destroyer raced up and dropped depth charges where their sub had disappeared below the waves. They were floating around in their kapok life jackets like ducks in a shooting gallery.
Because they were the first American submariners the Japanese had gotten their hands on, they were rescued for questioning. All the seamen ended up in a Japanese slave labor camp on an island off Borneo. The officers were sent to Japan and never seen again.
When Moore and the surviving members of the crew were rescued from the camp by American forces three-and-a-half years later, he could speak fluent Japanese and Malaysian. It was a necessity to be trilingual to survive at the hands of his Japanese Imperial Marine captors.
Some 60 years later, Moore is facing the fight of his life. Like he did when he was a young torpedoman aboard the USS Perch so long ago, hopefully he will survive once more.
Tom Moore, held at Japanese slave laborer camp during WWII, dies
I knew it was trouble when I checked my phone messages and realized I’d missed a call from Dave Moore. His father, Tom Moore, had been a torpedo man aboard the USS Perch. The 86-year-old submariner was aboard the first American sub sunk by the Japanese in World War II.
“My father died two days ago (Jan. 28) at Charlotte Regional Medical Center in Punta Gorda,” he told me when I phoned him back. It wasn’t unexpected. His dad had been in failing health for several years.
Tom and the other 59 members of the Perch’s crew were captured by the Japanese after their submarine was disabled in the Java Sea in 1942. The enlisted members of the crew were taken to Makkassar Celebes, an island in the Dutch East Indies, where they spent the next three-and-a-half years working as slave laborers. The sub’s officers were sent to Japan and never head from again.
While telling me his war tale a half-dozen years ago, the old salt would lapse into Japanese to emphasize how he responded to a guard in the prison camp. Tom spoke fluent Japanese and fluent Malaysian, too.
“You had to learn a little Japanese if you wanted to survive in the camp,” he explained.
The POW camps were run by Japanese Imperial Marines. They were the largest and toughest men the emperor had in uniform during the Second World War .
“Imperial Marines carried split bamboo canes about the size of a baseball bat,” Tom said at the time. “These marine guards would cane a prisoner within an inch of his life for small infractions or nothing at all.”
Tom was a survivor. He had been a poor boy who grew up on the streets of a small town in upper New York state during the Depression without much help from a mother or father. He joined the Navy before the war to get a leg up.
The story Tom told about the final hours aboard the Perch was as good a war tale as any I’ve head during the seven years I’ve recorded them for the Sun. It was ’42, and their submarine was sent to the Java Sea to scout what the Japanese military was doing in its advance westward.
Unfortunately for the crew of the Perch they sustained damage during a shootout with an enemy cargo vessel and submerged. But the sub got trapped in shallow water by a pair of Japanese destroyers. The crew was running out of oxygen, three of the boat’s four engines were blown off their mounts, most of the lights were shattered by the depth charges they sustained, and they were stuck in the mucky bottom and couldn’t move.
Their skipper was at a loss what to do next when a sailor suggested, “I think it’s time to pray.” Tom wasn’t a believer, but he recalled, “It was a miracle. Moments later, the sub’s stern started going up all by itself.”
When the submarine reached the surface, they expected to be blown out of the sea by the enemy destroyers, but they had long gone. Dead in the water, the crew of the Perch stood on the deck of their doomed sub and watched as the Japanese fleet steamed their way.
Funeral services for retired torpedo man Thomas Moore of Eagle Point mobile home park in Punta Gorda will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 16 at Indian Springs Cemetery chapel off Burnt Store Road.
This obituary first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on 5 Feb. 2009.