CP MOTORSPORTS: TOM HIGGINS: BUD MOORE AND THE LONGEST DAY EVER
Dawn, June 6, 1944.
Seventy-two years ago.
Unable to sleep, Cpl. Walter E. "Bud" Moore arises and goes on deck of the landing craft that he and other members of the 90th Infantry Division, 359th Regiment, D Company, First Platoon have been aboard since June 1.
After the troops, attached to the Fourth Infantry Division, were taken on at Liverpool, the ship moved a few hundred yards from the dock and anchored. The soldiers are told a force is being assembled for an exercise assault somewhere on the English coast.
During the darkness of the night of June 4-5, LCI 149 begins moving, then stops and is at anchor when Moore goes topside for fresh air.
Moore, 19, a self-described "country boy" from Spartanburg, S.C., who has been in the U.S. Army since August of 1943, can't believe the sight before him.
"There were ships as far as I could see, thousands of them in what I assumed to be the English Channel, " Moore, now a NASCAR Hall of Famer as a former team owner, recalled this a few days ago. "I went back below and told my buddies, Boys, this ain't no exercise. It ain't no dry run.' "
Moore might have been a military greenhorn, but his assessment was very accurate.
"Within a few hours a PT-Boat pulled alongside and these officers come aboard the LCI, " he said. "They pull out this big map and inform us that tomorrow is going to be D-Day and that our outfit's orders are to assault a place in Normandy on the French coast code-named Utah Beach."
Commemorations, the greatest of them in Normandy, are annually Monday to honor those who participated in "The Longest Day, " the beginning of the epic battle that freed Europe from the Reich of Adolf Hitler.
After spending 17 months in Europe during World War II and being awarded two Bronze Stars with clusters and five Purple Hearts, Moore returned to Spartanburg to become a NASCAR pioneer in the late 1940s, first as a driver and then a Winston Cup Series team owner/engineer.
After NASCAR started keeping exact records in 1961, Moore's cars became credited with 63 victories. His team won Cup Series championships in 1962 and '63 with the late Joe Weatherly as driver.
"We didn't know exactly what to expect when we went in on Utah Beach, but we figured it was going to be bad, " said Moore. "The Germans had had all those years to fortify the coast of France.
"At five o'clock on the morning of June 6 the front of our transport went down and we were off. The ramp opened up 200 yards short of dry beach and we stepped out into shoulder-deep water.
"I was a machine-gunner. I had a tripod for a 30-caliber machine gun on my back and it weighed 51 pounds. My pack weighed 30-to-40 more pounds, so the going was tough. I stepped into a hole the German artillery - which was zeroing in on us - had blown in the ocean bottom. I was in water over my head, and thought I was going to drown.
"But I swam a little bit and found footing.
"About that time a boy to my right or left - I don't remember - got hit and just disappeared.
"Finally, I got to the beach and right then I realized what war was all about. It's crazy.
"I had just turned 19 and here someone I'd never seen was trying to kill me. My folks had raised me right and I thought I was a decent human being. I couldn't imagine shooting someone or having them shoot me.
"But on that beach I realized those Germans in front of us were going to kill us unless, by God, we shot them first. You learned pretty quick what it took to survive."
Bud Moore sighed.
"A lot of fellers got hit, some of them my buddies, " he said. "We felt it was awful, and it was. We had about 200 casualties.
"Before long we found out the first wave at Omaha Beach, just up from us, had been pinned down and practically wiped out. There were 4,000 casualties at Omaha Beach, and it made you wonder what would have happened to you if your outfit had gone in there."
Moore generally evaded specifics about the slaughter he witnessed on D-Day and during the weeks following as the battle for Normandy raged.
"We had a job to do and a lot of good men died doing it, " he said. "After a time you got immune to it. . . . "
But a few years ago, Moore talked of the personal pain he experienced during combat.
"Once I left my machine gun during those early days after the invasion to join a buddy in his foxhole for some K-rations, " Moore said. "After a little while I went back to my position. I hadn't left him for a minute when an artillery round scored a direct hit on his foxhole. I never saw any part of my friend again. It was like he never existed."
Moore recalled "The Big Push" of July 3, 1944, when American planes dropped personnel bombs "thick as raindrops" on a 10-mile strip near Periers, France.
"Right after that, Gen. Patton broke through, made a hard right and hemmed in the Germans on the Cherbourg Peninsula, " he said.
Moore hemmed in some Germans of his own in December of '44 during the Battle of The Bulge.
"We were attacking a little town that we'd swapped back and forth with the enemy about five times, " said Moore. "My platoon leader ordered me and this kid driver to take a Jeep with a 30-caliber machine gun on the hood up this trail and check out some houses near patches of woods.
"We saw this German soldier run in a wood hut. I sprayed the building with a couple of bursts, and the tracers set it on fire. A white flag waved and the German came out.
"We loaded him on the hood and took him with us. A little bit further we saw two German soldier sprint into a rock house. We took heavy fire from the house, and I returned it, blowing out the windows and doors. They showed a white flag, but wouldn't come out.
"The kid Jeep driver spoke a little German, so we sent the one we'd captured in to tell the others if they didn't surrender we'd call in artillery and blow 'em off the face of the earth."
The Germans started coming out. They kept on coming. And coming.
"When we got them all lined up we had 15 enlisted men and four officers, " said Moore, chuckling at recollection of the sight. "We'd captured the area headquarters. We started marching 'em back.
"My commanding officer said, Boy, what in hell was all that shooting over there?' I said, Well, we was having a little trouble.'
"He said, Where did all these Germans come from?' I said, We happened to get them out of a building over there. You only sent two of us and we had to capture a whole army.'
"It was funny afterward. But we were lucky."
Moore was awarded the first of his Bronze Stars for meritorious service for that capture, and was promoted to sergeant for his outfit's continuing fight across France, into Germany and on to Czechoslovakia.
En route, he got the second Bronze Star. He had been on the front lines nine months and 14 days without being evacuated or being wounded seriously enough to miss combat.
"I guess it was bound to happen, " said Moore. "We were pulling into an abandoned complex, I think it had been a hospital, and got into a heck of a fight. I took three slugs in the left thigh."
Moore's outfit was near Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, meeting a Russian force, when he learned of Germany's unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945.
Victory came 11 months and two days after Moore and thousands of other Allied soldiers fought their way ashore on the beaches of Normandy.
Bud Moore left Europe for home on Nov. 1, 1945, aboard the USS Excelsior, named for Excelsior Mills in Union County, S.C., not far from Moore's Spartanburg home. Moore never has returned to those battlefields.
"I was tempted to go for the 50th anniversary, " he said. "It makes me proud that D-Day is being remembered so well and that so much is being made of it, 'cause I think it definitely changed history for the better and certainly saved that part of the world from Hitler.
"I would have gone, but when racing is your livelihood and there's a race on the schedule for a certain weekend, you about have to be there.
Moore paused, and his voice broke slightly for just an instant.
"I just wish all the rest who went in on D-Day and didn't survive then or during the rest of the war could be alive too."
-Bud concedes to having harbored a pet peeve for decades, He hates it when some announcer says that race drivers “are going to war.”
“Racin’ ain’t war,” he said. “War is Hell…”