Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity

Wilford Moss

Wilford A. Moss was born on June 30, 1917 in Mexia, Texas to Joe and Katie Mekalip Moss. He attended Dixie School, Tyler High, Tyler Commercial College, and Tyler Junior College. He enlisted in the Army on March 10, 1936 and was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He was assigned to the 18th Field Artillery, 2nd Combat Training. He then went to a National Youth Administration School, then under the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, in Marshall, Texas, during which time he also joined the Field Artillery Reserves. However, when he heard that President Roosevelt might be calling the Reserves, he applied for the necessary literature for the machinist examination for the Civil Service. He passed the printed examination and was told to appear at the Office of the Civil Service Commissioner in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, he arrived on October 19, a day after the deadline, so he re-enlisted in the Army on November 2, 1940 and was sent to March Field, California. There he was assigned to drill new recruits for a series of qualifications they had to undergo in order to be assigned to the Aviation Ordnance Department. The group went to Albuquerque, New Mexico as the 365th Aviation Ordnance Company, then became the 701st. Also at this time, the 440th Ordnance Bomb Group was established, and the two companies remained together.
The two cadres did not yet have enough men for the Table of Basic Allowance for Wartime Strength, so new recruits were occasionally sent in. Both companies were sent from Albuquerque to the port of embarkation in San Francisco, where they received the necessary number of men to fill their quota.

The two companies, along with several Air Force units, were assigned to the transport ship USS Willard Holbrook, and after three days at sea they were informed that their destination was the Philippine Islands. They docked at Manila and were dispersed to various locations, with the 701s and the 440th assigned to Clark Field. They were then ordered to Mindanao to support the 19th Bomb Group of the Air Corps. Because the Del Monte pineapple plantations canopied so much of the island, the units and their equipment were easily camouflaged under treetops. While the groups were there, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and then Clark Field. Many B-17s with twin-50 calibre machine guns were destroyed, and at Mindanao the 701st used twin-50s, mounted on self-constructed tripods, to ward off pursuits that were strafing the area, although they were useless against the Japanese bombers.

Although the units moved several times to avoid capture, the Japanese effectively sabotaged their cover by bombing the foliage, and thus the men were ordered to surrender at Malaybalay. Moss was given the duty of leading a convoy to surrender his unit. Along the way, they came across two Japanese troops who were unaware that they were going to surrender. Eventually the Japanese assigned an escort to the convoy and allowed them to proceed. When they reached the camp compound, the men had to discard their guns and ammunition, and they were then assigned to quarters.

Moss spent the next 39 months and 22 days as a prisoner of war. He received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. After the war, he was a 50-year member of hte Palestine Masonic Lodge and the St. Johns Lodge No. 53 in Tyler, Texas. He was also active in veteran organizations, and he was a lifetime member and past commander of the Palestine Post of Veterans of Foreign Wars. He died on February 11, 2007.