Joe always loved his grandfather, but he didn’t know some of the most interesting things about him until a mysterious journal entry and a surprising wartime keepsake inspired Joe to learn more.
His grandfather was born 1912 in a tiny North Dakota town. He was a skilled piano player. He loved God, his country, his family, and learning.
“I knew my grandpa as a funny, kind, piano-playing man who always had a toothpick in his mouth and a dozen more in his shirt pocket,” Joe says.
After both of his grandparents passed away, Joe found a photo of them in which his grandfather was holding a pistol. The gun caught Joe’s eye, and his curiosity led him to discover details of his grandfather’s life as a soldier that he never would have known otherwise.
“The more I read, the more I was caught up, overwhelmed with emotion for what my grandfather must have seen and experienced. I had no idea.”
Joe still does not know the story behind the gun, but the connection he felt to his grandfather as he searched for answers is a better treasure than he hoped for.
“I am grateful to know him better—for the chance to strengthen our relationship even after he had passed on.”
Watch the talk that inspired this message: Roots and Branches
This is a type 14 Nambu semi-automatic pistol. It has wooden handle scales, a safety lock, and fixed sites. It comes in a nifty leather case complete with an extra magazine, some cleaning papers, and this rod that is used to force the papers into the barrel. I think. It was most likely used by a Japanese officer during World War II, and before I got it, it belonged to my grandfather.
Joseph James Moser was born in Hague, North Dakota, June 1, 1912. Hague is a small town. Small, like less than 70 people small with terribly cold winters. You know how your parents used to say they walked three miles in the snow to get to school. Yeah, my grandpa actually did that when he was six. He never finish school, as he puts it, because of music. When he was 12, he travel with a six piece band. Joe was an amazingly gifted piano player. He never had lessons, he couldn't read music, but he could play. He was a prodigy. Joe even played with the military band when he first enlisted in the United States Army. He was assigned to Echo Company 383rd Infantry, 96 Division, nicknamed the Deadeyes.
On April 1, 1945 they landed in Okinawa, Japan, where he fought in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War, what was known as the Typhoon of Steel. Over 200,000 soldiers and civilians died in that battle. A battle that lasted 82 days. My grandfather never talked about any of this. He mentioned his training in the United States and going to Leyte, Philippines, but all he ever told my mom was how hard war was and how many friends he lost.
In his journal, he only wrote a couple of sentences about the war. He said, after the Leyte campaign, we went to Okinawa and made the initial landing there. After the fighting ended, I boarded the ship on the 14th of August for the United States. That space between sentences is huge. A giant hole. A mystery. What happened over there? What did he experience? Any information regarding the campaign and what happened, I had to research and find out for myself. Digging through different accounts, I found here and there. The more I read, the more I was caught up, overwhelmed with emotion for what my grandfather must have seen and experienced. I had no idea.
The thing is, I knew my grandpa as a funny, kind, piano playing man, who always had a toothpick in his mouth and a dozen more in his shirt pocket. He loved his family. He was married to the love of his life for over 50 years. He loved God and he loved his country. He loved learning and was often seen with an encyclopedia in his hands. He could fix anything and had an extensive array of tools and gadgets in his garage. Once, he was the technical military adviser for the 1955 Korean War film. Target Zero. He took his wife dancing frequently, even after he retired from the Army in 1976. In 1978, he moved back to North Dakota to a town named Strasburg. He often played piano for the residents of a nursing home and after noticing the Strasburg Cemetery was poorly organized, he spend years volunteering to match names to graves creating a map of the cemetery. Grandpa passed away in 1997.
After my grandmother died in 2008, I travel to Strasburg with my mom to help with the funeral and other arrangements. While in their home, I found this adorable picture of my grandparents. I asked my mom about the gun my grandfather was holding. She had no clue. She didn't know he ever owned a gun. And then she told me that if I found it, she was sure my grandfather would want me to have it. I spent the next two days looking, but couldn't find anything. The day before we had to leave, I went upstairs to a room where I had found other military related things. I looked in that room several times figuring it was the most logical place the pistol would be. I actually set out loud, Grandpa, we're leaving tomorrow. If you want me to have this gun, I need you to help me find it. As I stood there, I had the thought to check a closet full of uniforms I know I had checked several times already. I was compelled to look one more time. On the back of the closet was a row of hooks. And one of those hooks, a leather strap, which was connected to a leather case. Excited, I quickly grabbed the case and opened it.
I still don't know the story behind how my grandfather came to possess this gun or why he kept it for almost 60 years. I may never know and it really doesn't matter. I found a connection to him through it and the experience of finding it. I've gained a stronger relationship with him as I learned more about his life, what he experienced, and what was important to him. He was always so sweet to me. He made me laugh, made me feel good about myself. He gave me his name and a sense of humor. I am grateful to know him better, for the chance to strengthen our relationship, even after he had passed on.