Centre Hall Man Recalls World War II Service
Bruce Moyer was born and raised in Centre Hall. As a youth, his greatest ambition was to fly. He flew gas powered model airplanes as a hobby.
“Aviation was on my brain,” Moyer said recently.
When he was drafted into the U.S. Army in February of 1943 at age 19, he applied for the Aviation Cadet program, but that group had reached its quota and Moyer was not accepted. Instead, the army assigned him to the Medical Corps, even though he had no medical background or training.
He soon saw a posting for candidates to take exams for the Aviation Cadet program at camp picket, in Virginia. He applied, and was accepted two weeks later. He passed the exam in April, 1943, and was sent to Keesler Field in Buloxi, Mississippi to begin his training, then went on to the College Pre-aviation Cadet program at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Moyer got his first flight experience there, flying ten hours in an Aeronca Champion.
He went to San Antonio, Texas for the Army Aviation Pre-Flight Course, then spent three months in each of the army’s three-tiered flight trainings consisting of Primary, Basic, and Advanced levels. He flew a Fairchild PT-19 (two-seat, open cockpit design) in Primary school, and a Vultee BT-13 Valiant trainer in the Basic school. He remembers that the Vultee was a noisy airplane.
“It made an awful racket,” Moyer said.
After graduating and receiving his wings, Moyer became part of a fighter pilot group stationed at Matagorda Island, off the Gulf coast of Texas, where he flew patrols over the Gulf of Mexico in a Curtiss P-40 fighter. He later was assigned to a P-51D Mustang, which was the most advanced, state of the art fighter plane of its time.
“If you flew an hour or two flight in a P-40, you were played out,” said Moyer. “The Mustang was like a toy by comparison — the ease of control, and the responsiveness.”
Moyer liked the horsepower, too.
“There was about 1,200 horsepower out there. It was one sweet airplane,” he said.
By this time (1945), the war was winding down, and new fighter pilots were not needed in the European theater. Moyer and his fellow pilots were scheduled to go to the Pacific theater, but dropping the atomic bombs on Japan brought an abrupt end to the war, so they never got to see combat. Moyer was disappointed he didn’t get in combat.
“This was what you were there for,” he said.
After the war, First Lieutenant Moyer wanted to stay in the service.
“I was young, and I was flying, which is what I wanted to do,” he said.
He got his wish by being assigned to a newly formed flight demonstration team, which traveled all around the United States putting on flying demonstrations, complete with close formation flying and aerobatics.
“We didn’t have a name, we were just a tactical flying group,” Moyer said.
The group later evolved into the Thunderbirds Show Team after the U.S. Air Force became an independent service in 1947. Moyer was in that group for about one year, and then was discharged in September of 1946.
After returning to civilian life back in Centre Hall, Moyer had several jobs working for electric power companies. He was one of the founders of Allegheny Construction Company near Old Fort, and later worked for the Department of Chemistry at Penn State University before retiring. He and his wife, Virginia reside in Centre Hall, where they raised three children. He is 88 years old now, but still fondly remembers the time when he served his country flying that “sweet airplane.”