A WEST POINT Passenger of Future Fame
By Bill Lee
Recently, while poring over some of the USS WEST POINT's deck logs, I found a list of passengers for her 27 August - 5 September 1942 voyage from England to the United States. Most of the WEST POINT's passengers that trip were civilians, being sent to America by the State Department. I searched the list in hopes of finding some now-famous person, but no such luck. Almost an after thought, I checked a much shorter list of military personnel who also were passengers on that voyage.
A familiar (to me) name popped up - Lt. Thomas H. Moorer, USN. As an avid reader of naval history, I was pretty sure who he was, and, upon checking, I was right.
That thirty-year old naval officer, one of thousands in the United States Navy during World War II, stayed in the navy when that conflict ended. His career was capped by becoming Chief of Naval Operations (1967-1970) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1970-1974).
Admiral Moorer continued to serve 'his' navy in a variety of ways following retirement from active duty. He passed away in May of 2004 at the age of 91. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
So, why was he in England at that time, and why was he returning to the United States; seemingly away from the action? Before I answer that question, let's look at his exciting career, up to the time he stepped onboard WEST POINT.
Born in Alabama, at age 15 he was valedictorian of his high school class. Two years later he entered Annapolis, graduating in 1933. After becoming a naval aviator in 1936, he joined a carrier-based Fighting Squadron. In 1937, his squadron was transferred to the USS Enterprise (NOTE: Enterprise was built in the very same cradle at the Newport News shipyard as the WEST POINT).
Then, in 1939 he was reassigned to Patrol Squadron VP22, flying a PBY Catalina out of Pearl Harbor. On 7 December 1941, he was one of the first pilots to get airborne after the Japanese attack. In early 1942, his PBY Catalina was shot down north of Darwin, Australia. Tom Moorer landed his crippled patrol plane in the open sea and then saved his crew numerous times. First, by getting them together in the water and onto a Philippine freighter. When that ship was attacked, he got them to jump off the sinking vessel and climb into one of its lifeboats.
Navigating the lifeboat to a deserted island, Lt. Moorer had his men draw a huge SOS in the sand; enabling them to be rescued and returned to friendly territory. He then was ordered to return to the United States from the pacific war zone, only to be dispatched to England on the orders of the Chief of Naval Operations at that time, Admiral King.
Tasked to study allied mining operations in-depth, Moorer quickly became an expert on mine warfare and was ordered back to the Pentagon to put his new knowledge to work.
And that's why, as an obscure naval officer, albeit already a hero destined to have many more accomplishments, Tom Moorer was a passenger on the USS WEST POINT in the late summer of 1942.