Remembering Clem Moye

“Remember me as you pass by.  As you are so once was I.  As I am now, so you must
be.  Prepare yourself to follow me.”  

        That appeal is engraved on the grave of Private First Class Clem Moye.   Part of Clem’s story lives on through his letters to and from his mother in his last year on the Earth.  And, thanks to the Rev. Greg Lowery for providing the letters and information about his great uncle, we now have a  keen insight into war and just how horrible it can be.

Ever since there was a postal service, soldiers have written letters home to their mothers, fathers, family members and their best girls.  Clem Moye and his mother were no exception to this practice.  For the first six months of 1944, Clem and his mother corresponded nearly half way around the world as often as they could.  Those letters have survived, along with a few from and to other members of Clem’s family.

Clem Moye was born on November 13, 1911, one of seven children of Lucian and Alice Gay Moye.  Clem grew up on the family farm east of Rentz near Cedar Grove, the ancestral home of his mother’s family in the Burch District of southern Laurens County.

The Moyes lived on a dirt road in the Pine Barrens - Wiregrass region of the county, a full day’s wagon trip from Dublin.  Clem knew little of the war in Europe as did many of the farming people of the day.  Clem was able to obtain only an eighth grade  education like many of the young boys on Laurens County farms during the 1920s and 30s.  Once Clem left school in the mid 1920s, he worked full time  on his family farm.

When the call came from Uncle Sam to serve his country, Clem answered it.  Clem traveled up southeast of Atlanta  to Fort McPherson,  where he enlisted on June 22, 1942.  At five-feet, five inches tall and weighing in at 131 pounds, Clem was somewhat small and at somewhat old at the age of nearly 31 to be accepted into the service.

Beginning in the latter part of 1943, Clem and his mother Alice began to correspond.  Alice saved many of her letters from Clem.  Only some of Alice’s letters to Clem have survived. The oldest surviving letter was written by Clem some eleven months after he enlisted in the Army.

“I want you to remember not to worry about me for I am getting along fine and I think I will continue to,” Clem wrote.  Alice worried anyway, as all mothers do.   Clem was a mechanic and had little doubt that he wouldn’t return home safe.   Clem’s biggest worry was not if he was coming home, but when.  Although he hadn’t been in the service a full year, he began to bug his major about his getting out of the service.  He was told he would be in the army until 1949 when he turned 38.

By New Year’s Day 1944, Clem was stationed on the West Coast - exactly where he did not  know.  He liked it, especially the better chow he was getting. Some four weeks later,  Clem surprised the family from his new home with the 287th Ordinance Company in  New Guinea, just across the Arafura and Coral seas north of Australia.  Clem liked his new home and was happy that he didn’t get seasickness like many of his buddies did.  It did take a while for Clem to adjust to the boiling hot January of the Southern Hemisphere.

Most of the time Clem and his mother talked about the farm, family and friends.  The 1944 crop was a good one and his cows were doing fine.   Clem’s life overseas appeared to be somewhat lacking in exciting news, although he was probably hiding the harry moments from his mother.

Whenever the paymaster issued Clem a check, he placed it in an envelope and mailed back to his mother to deposit  it in his bank account.   When the checks didn’t come on time, Clem never hesitated to apologize for the delay.  Alice never minded the late checks, she was glad to get a generous check for a Christmas or birthday gift.

“Fix it where you and mama could draw it out in case something was to happen to me.  Of course, I haven’t got the least idea that I won’t be coming back home after the war,” Clem wrote in a letter to his father in February 1944.

“I get all I want for four cents a pack.  I think that’s cheap enough for anybody, don’t you?  Money is no good over here. I only spent 83 cents last month.  There is nothing to buy here,” Clem wrote as he asked his mother to stop sending him packs of cigarettes.

“Ma Ma, I can’t say just how everything is over here. But, I want you to remember that I’m all o.k. and don’t you worry about me,” as Clem tried to console his mother about his safety.

As Clem and Alice talked about his friends in the service, Clem yearned to see a familiar face, “anybody,”  from home.  Alice, too could not wait to see her son again and very soon.

While most of the letters were conversations about what was happening to family friends, Clem did comment on the killing of Cadwell Police Chief John Faircloth and the re-election of his cousin, Sheriff Carlus Gay.  

On April Fool’s Day, Clem wrote, “I guess you see my address has changed, but we are still in New Guinea.  I think the Japs are really catching hell over here now.  Maybe the war will soon be over. I hope so anyway.”

As the spring came, the pace of Clem’s letters began to rise. It is easy to tell that Clem was ready to come home to his Mama and Daddy and the rest of the family and go to the sings at Oak Dale Church.

Clem confessed to Alice that he was beginning to worry about himself, “I get to studying about some things and can’t help it,” as he moved north of the Equator, closer to Japan.  And, Clem was still feeling fine when he wrote on May 25, 1944.

Two days later, the 41st Division of the U.S. Army landed on Biak Island off the northwest coast of New Guinea.  The Japanese instituted a new policy of allowing the Americans to land unimpeded to lure them into a killing zone.  On the following Sunday night after church, Alice sat down and wrote a letter to Clem hoping to see him soon.

At the very moment, the American and Allied armies were landing on Normandy Beach, Clem was driving a truck, laughing and talking with his friends.  An artillery shell struck the truck and  killed him instantly,

They laid his body to rest under a white cross in a makeshift military cemetery overlooking the sea.

Alice, unaware of her son’s death, kept on writing. On June 25, Alice answered Clem’s last letter by hoping that he would come home in 1945.

“I was sitting in the back hall on Friday night and watched the moon go down and thought of you so much until I couldn’t hardly stand it.  I could almost see you,” Alice remembered.  

On July 2nd Alice wrote,  “Clem,  I am thinking of you and to see if I can hear from you. It has been nearly two weeks since I have heard from you.” As she closed her letter, she promised to write more when his next letter came.

Three days later, the Western Union Telegram came addressed to E.L.Moye, Rt. 1 Rentz, Georgia.  “The Secretary of War desires me to his deep regret that your son, Private Clem Moye, was killed in action on Seven June on Biak Island - letter follows.”

In an soul numbing instant, Alice Moye collapsed into disbelieving grief.   Alice’s request to get a picture of Clem’s grave was denied by the Army.  Clem’s parents were able to have his body removed to the Moye-Gay Cemetery not far from his family home.

Alice  never got over losing her precious Clem.  She died a week before Christmas in 1948 and is buried in the Moye-Gay Cemetery beside her sons, Clem, Albert Clay and Menzo and her husband,  Lucian (E.L.) Moye, who died in 1955.

Recently, Laurens County dedicated the bridge over the Land Branch of Limesink Creek in memory of Clem Moye, just down the dirt road from where Clem grew up.

So, if you ever drive along Moye Road and cross the creek, remember Clem Moye for as he once was, soon you will be.


Ben Tarpley said…
A sad story, yet a love story in a time of war is hell. Let's remember those mothers along with the brave heroes they shared with each of us.