WW2 pilot returns to Buchenwald, where he was a prisoner



Bio | Email | Follow: @GlennFarley


Posted on April 8, 2010 at 5:57 PM

SEATAC, Wash. – A World War II fighter pilot from Ferndale, Wash. is headed back to Germany to revisit one of the most notorious concentration camps in which he was held prisoner.

At 88 years old, it may be hard for you to envision Joe Moser as a hotshot fighter pilot.  But that's what he was - Flying P-38s until he was shot down two months after the D-Day invasion of France.

“Parachute opened. Saw my plane crash, then I hit the ground," said Moser. His left engine was shot after attempting to attack a truck convoy outside of Paris. Within 15 minutes he was captured, despite an attempt by some French farmers to hide him.

But that wouldn't be the scariest part of his experience. You see, Moser and more than 160 other captured Allied airmen didn't go to a POW camp. 

By way of the NAZI SS, they ended up in Buchenwald - one of the most notorious concentration camps of the war. And when he saw the people inside, "They were just skin and bones, the people you could see through the fence. Thousands of them. What are we getting into here, you know," said Moser.

Buchenwald was foremost a forced labor camp, making weapons including parts of the V2 rocket. It's also a place where estimates say nearly 57,000 people also died. But the pilots refused to work.

“We figured we'd get a firing squad, but we stuck together, all 168 of us," said Moser.

What gets his daughter Julie Hanes, a nurse, was the torture and the medical experiments carried out on her father and the others.

“They just injected medicines. They didn't know what they were. They used the same needle over and over and over again," said Hanes.

But within four days of their scheduled execution, it wasn't the Allies that rescued them. It was the respect of pilots in the German Luftwaffe.

“The German Air Force. They didn't feel fellow flyers should be in a place like that," said Moser.

Joe then spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. He's even written a book, "A Fighter Pilot in Buchenwald."

Now he, two daughters and a grandson, are flying back to Buchenwald as guests of an association dedicated to making sure the memories of this nightmare are never forgotten.