Idaho family on mission to find pilot lost in Korean War
An Idaho family continues its effort to find out what happened to a pilot shot down in the Korean War: Did he survive to become a prisoner in the Soviet Union?
BOISE, Idaho — For nearly 50 years, the family of Capt. Harry Cecil Moore assumed he’d been killed in the Korean War.
Then in 2002, the family received a shock: The Air Force pilot might have survived and ended up a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union.
For the past decade, Moore’s brother and widow — now the brother’s wife — have been on a mission to learn more, especially since the Department of Defense has offered them little information.
They have learned that hundreds, and possibly thousands, of other U.S. service members from four wars also might have been held captive by the Soviets.
The Moores fly an American flag and a POW/MIA flag at their Eagle, Idaho, home. They say it pains them to know that their government hasn’t been truthful with the public about POWs.
“The story has to be told,” said Bob Moore. “It isn’t right to desert our people after saying ‘We leave no one behind.’ ”
Harry Moore grew up in West Virginia and joined the Army Air Corps in World War II. The first time he was shot down was Oct. 27, 1944, in China. He was 20.
For 51 days, he walked through mountains, dodging gunfire and bombs — 16 hours a day, at one point with the Chinese army, surviving on rice and dog meat.
He was discharged, returned to West Virginia and re-enlisted. In 1948, before shipping out to the Philippines, he married longtime girlfriend Lois Gehringer.
She soon joined him in the Philippines. Their daughter was born there in July 1950.
In June 1951, Lois got a telegram telling her Moore had been shot down while piloting an F-51 Mustang over the South China Sea, off the coast of North Korea. He was reported as missing in action.
On Dec. 31, 1953, the Air Force notified Lois that Harry was presumed dead and was listed as killed in action.
Lois decided she had to move on. She moved to California. She connected there with Harry’s brother, Bob. They reminisced about Harry and grew closer. In 1954, they married. Bob raised Jana as his own daughter, and he and Lois had a daughter of their own, Nancy. They owned a medical-manufacturing business, and in 1996 retired to Star, Idaho.
In August 2002, Lois received a Federal Express package from the Air Force.
In it, a July 19, 2002, memo to the Air Force Missing Persons Branch from the Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office read: “(I)t is possible that Capt. Harry C. Moore survived his shoot-down incident and may have been interrogated by Soviet officials. His fate afterwards remains unknown.”
The Moores were shocked. “We thought, goodness gracious, there is still hope he could be alive,” said Bob Moore. “For 50 years we had closure. ... Now we have uncertainty. He may have been suffering for all that time in some Russian prison.”
In March 1954, the U.S. Air Force asked the CIA for assistance in finding U.S. servicemen in Communist custody.
Despite this official plea, and numerous reports and firsthand accounts spanning World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War, the U.S. government maintained that no “credible evidence” existed that U.S. personnel were held captive by the Soviets.
In late 1991, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs chaired by Sen. John Kerry forced the Pentagon to declassify more than 1 million pages of documents.
In November 1992, Kerry said Russian President Boris Yeltsin had admitted that some Americans were imprisoned in the former Soviet Union after World War II, others interrogated during the Korean War, and “perhaps a dozen airmen” imprisoned during the Cold War.
The committee’s 1,233-page report in January 1993 found “strong evidence that some unaccounted for American POWs from the Korean conflict were transferred to the former Soviet Union in the early 1950s.”
In 1993, the U.S. secretary of defense created the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) to address the issues. In August 1993, it published an 82-page report on Korean War POWs, concluding some had been transferred to the Soviet Union “and never repatriated.”
In 1992, the U.S. and Russia formed a joint commission to investigate unresolved POW cases. American and Russian researchers delved into newly opened Russian archives, conducting more than 1,000 interviews with Soviet veterans.
One of those earliest interviews turned up a possible lead on Capt. Moore.
In 1993, Estonian witness Boris Uibo “claimed to have met an American named Gary or Harry in Camp No. 18, near Potma, Mordovia, sometime in 1952. Uibo is convinced that the inmate was shot down in the Korean War.” The two men made wooden chess pieces together.
In 1997, U.S. representatives interviewed Igor Ivanovich Shashva in Taganrog, Russia. The Russian pilot said he’d been told an American pilot named Capt. Gary or Harry Moore, shot down in summer of 1951, had been interrogated by the Soviets.
Also in 1997, U.S. representatives interviewed Aleksey Alekseevich Kalyuzhniy in Ukraine. He said he shot down an F-51 on June 1, 1951, and watched it land on water near shore. He said the pilot should have survived.
The Department of Defense and the Air Force Missing Persons Branch notified Bob and Lois Moore of the developments on Aug. 7, 2002. Since then, the government has provided the Moores no new information.
Lois is convinced the answer to Harry’s fate remains in the Russian archives, but that the effort has fallen victim to a lack of political will.
For more than a decade, the U.S. had researchers boring into the Russian archives. In its last formal update, in 2005, the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POWs/MIA published a 100-page “Gulag Study,” detailing hundreds of case studies and sightings of Americans in the Soviet prison system.
“(M)ost reports we have received lack the specificity needed to correlate them to individuals still listed as missing,” the report said.
When relations cooled between the two countries in 2006, much of the archive research halted. About two years ago, however, the U.S. and Russia reconstituted the joint commission.
In 2012, the DPMO sent a letter to the Moores saying it was continuing its Korean War work at the Russian archives, with two researchers conducting eight days of research per month. In early 2013, the DPMO reported that more than 7,900 Americans remain unaccounted for from Korea.
Since 2002, the Moores have attended dozens of DPMO and other briefings around the country. They’ve delved into National Archive records and worked with other researchers. On several occasions, they offered to hire their own investigator to look at the Russian archives. The DPMO told them the archives are not open to the public.
In January, the Moores traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet one of the analysts who interviewed the two Russian pilots. Bob pushed the analyst to confirm what the family suspected — that Harry survived and ended up under Russian control, which the analyst did.
When the Moores moved to Eagle in 2009, they rented out their other Star home to Hope Manna and Kellie Allred, two Hollywood filmmakers moving to Idaho.
They became close friends. In 2011, after Bob and Lois had returned from a DPMO meeting, Bob asked the filmmakers about making a documentary about Harry’s story.
They were touched, and Harry’s story is now memorialized in the film “Keeping the Promise Alive.”
“I think it is a miracle we found them,” Bob said. “We have honored Harry and we have opened the door to (getting more information). We have honored the others that are missing.”
Bob, 87, and Lois, 85, said they know time is running short for them. They know that Capt. Moore, who would be 89, is probably not alive. But their daughters and granddaughter have vowed to continue trying to find out what happened.