Face to Face with the Greatest Generation
• World War II Hero Survived Torpedo Attack •
WILLIAM JOHN MOORE was part of the aptly named Greatest Generation that stepped up at a crucial time in history — in the crucible of World War II — and triumphed over the twin threats of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan.
A longtime Simsbury resident, Bill Moore was born in New London on April 6, 1925, and raised in Bristol. He died at 95 years of age on April 21, 2020.
In 1943, Moore graduated from Bristol High School. The next day, he enlisted in the Navy, entering into active service on July 29. World War II was raging, and he wanted to serve his country and make a difference.
“Dad was in high school when Pearl Harbor was bombed,” says Pamela Verney of West Simsbury, Moore’s daughter, referring to the infamous Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy base in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. “That event helped to solidify his opinion that it was his patriotic duty to defend the United States of America during World War ll.”
Moore fought in the Pacific Theater until his honorable discharge in April 1946. He was on the destroyer escort USS Shelton in October 1944 when the ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine near Morotai Island in the Pacific Ocean, one of Indonesia’s northernmost islands.
William J. Moore served in the Navy, worked as an industrial engineer, and left an indelible imprint on his family
Moore was among 109 crew members who were rescued by another Navy destroyer before the Shelton sank, though 14 sailors died, according to the Wreck Site website.
“He was very brave when the ship was hit,” says Mary Spencer Moore, his wife of 67 years. “Being a strong person physically, he had wonderful reactions, out of a dead sleep. He was in good physical shape — he was such a great ballplayer. He was fortunate.”
After boot camp at the Sampson Naval Training Station in western upstate New York, Moore shipped out for California to be deployed in the Pacific Theater — via a cross-country train trip, picking up servicemen en route to the West Coast, explains Pamela.
“The men were packed in so tightly, in groups of two facing each other, that at night they’d put their feet up next to the heads of the men across from them, and vice versa,” she says.
“They slept that way for days! Dad says the lucky guys were able to clear space and sleep on the luggage rack.”
Moore served as a Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class and earned the following medals: American Theatre Campaign, World War II Victory, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign and Philippine Liberation Ribbon, along with a personal commendation from Lt. Commander Lewis George Salomon.
“I’m proud of and grateful for Dad’s military service during the war,” Pamela says. “I’m sure that his core values were reinforced through military service, and those values enabled him to lead a satisfying, productive and rewarding life after returning to civilian life.”
Sports played an influential role in Moore’s journey, throughout his life, running through his experience as the Farmington River runs through the Farmington Valley. He wore dual athletic hats — as a player and later as a coach of his children’s teams.
At Bristol High, he lettered in football and baseball and was captain of the baseball team — Bristol had one high school then, not two as is the case today, and it was located on Memorial Boulevard. After his World War II valor, Moore went to UConn, where he also played baseball and football. His senior year, he was co-captain of the football team.
“He was quite the star in high school,” Mary says. “I have some of his old baseball headlines in a scrapbook — the clippings are yellow at this point. He was a catcher and a big hitter.”
At UConn, Moore joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity, and upon graduating he began his career as an industrial engineer with Royal Typewriter. In the 1970s he took a position at Heublein as chief industrial engineer, retiring in 1994.
Mary and Bill Moore raised four children, and all were educated in the Simsbury public schools — two daughters, Pamela (Moore) Verney and Leslie (Moore) Dewey, and two sons, William “Bill” Spencer Moore and John David “Dave” Moore. Their Dad is also survived by five grandchildren.
The Moore family settled in Simsbury in 1956. They built a house on Hickory Hill Road, moved to David Drive, and then the empty-nest couple relocated to a condo on Library Lane. Upon Bill’s death in 2020, he had lived in town for 64 years.
“He lived a storied life,” Mary says. “He loved his days at UConn and Bristol and his time in Simsbury.”
For many years, he coached his children’s Simsbury Little League baseball and softball teams and attended their soccer games and swim meets. Later, he proudly watched his grandchildren carry forward the family’s athletic tradition. The family also hit the ski slopes together.
“Some of my favorite memories of my father are skiing with him at Springfield Ski Club,” says Pamela, “and standing beside him at the edge of the ocean in Nantucket as the waves washed over his feet and covered them with sand.”
Pamela is the oldest of the four Moore children, followed by Bill, Dave and Leslie. Dave and Bill live in Connecticut — Dave and his wife Kathy in Middletown, Bill and his wife Cathy in Moodus.
“He was very brave when the ship was hit ... he had wonderful reactions, out of a dead sleep. He was in good physical shape — he was such a great ballplayer” — Simsbury resident Mary Moore • Bill’s wife
Pamela and her husband Jeff reside in West Simsbury, while Leslie and her husband Paul live in Johns Creek, Georgia, abut 25 miles northeast of Atlanta.
“I am most proud of the way he lived according to his values,” Pamela says. “He was optimistic, humble, consistent, committed, hard-working, and he enjoyed life. His career as an industrial engineer spanned many decades, during which he was able to provide a good living for his family. He had a great work-life balance. … He was always there for us in every way.”
Mary notes that her husband invested his talents and time to help their children develop their talents and become productive adults.
“He was a great Dad and a great coach,” she says. “We had a working teamwork in our marriage, with four kids and sports — we spent a lot of time doing that, and it was fun.”
Pamela agrees with her Mom’s assessment: “Dad enjoyed playing with his children — he tossed footballs and baseballs in good weather, and when it was stormy we enjoyed games of Monopoly and pool.”
Further memories revolve around family celebrations at Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, graduations, baptisms and weddings.
After the children had grown, Mary and Bill became fans of UConn women’s basketball and had season tickets during the four years Rebecca Lobo was at UConn — including the program’s first national title in 1995.
“That was a great time,” Mary says, noting that the couple played golf together too. “Bill was friendly, personable and well-liked,” Mary observes. “He was a kind, caring and thoughtful person — and he was faithful to his faith. He had tons of friends and continued to have close friendships with many of his college friends throughout our married life.”
"His service to the nation and to the community represent the best of the Greatest Generation” — Major General Paul Lefebvre
Moore was an only child. His mother and father supported him in his athletic career and “never missed a game,” Mary says.
Ernie Lefebvre and Moore were lifelong friends. They played sports at Bristol High and were roommates at UConn, where they both played on the football team. Lefebvre likewise served in World War II, in an Army Intelligence unit. His son Paul Lefebvre is a retired U.S. Marine Corps major general — and is also Moore’s godson.
“His personal example on the playing field was often a topic of discussion in our house,” Paul wrote on Moore’s Vincent Funeral Home memorial website. “How he played and led on the field and how that extended to family and friends [have] impacted many.”
Ernie Lefebvre died two years before Moore, in March 2018, at 93 years old.
“Mr. Moore and my father … are both role models for me and for so many others,” wrote Paul. “Mr. Moore’s actions in the war were significant, but to listen to him you would think they were routine. ... He was very humble about his contributions. His service to the nation and to the community represent the best of the Greatest Generation.” +
By Bruce Deckert — Today Magazine Editor-in-Chief
• For more Today Magazine stories on the Farmington Valley’s World War II heroes, see our June 2019, August 2020 and January 2021 editions — www.todaypublishing.net/digital-editions
• Bruce Deckert is a five-time award-winning journalist — he was an editor for ESPN.com for 17 years
•This article first appeared as the cover story in the April 2021 edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication