Albert Moe in 1934
Albert senior's first rugby match in Shanghai was on 18 December 1932, playing for the ‘Blue’ team against the ‘Whites’. In the New Year, he was selected to play in the Marines 1st XV participating in the 8:0 victory against the Shanghai Rugby Club 1st XV. He was not in the team for the Marines big loss against the touring Japanese team from Waseda University, but regained his place to face the team from Hong Kong 10 days later, also a heavy loss to the Marines. There was more success in the local Spunt Cup, both Marines’ teams reached the final, Moe’s ‘White’ team losing against the ‘Blues’ in the final.
Later that year, another communication, this time from Moe to his Commanding Officer, requested a fourteen-day holiday leave for the end of September. If his request was successful he informed the officer that he would be staying at House #3, Lane #4, Apt. #6 on Nanyang Road in Shanghai. This road is still largely unchanged and it is most likely that the location is still there. Many Marines were billeted around this part of town. The three addresses associated with Moe during his stay in Shanghai were all in the same vicinity.
Presumably because of his new family responsibilities, during the next two seasons, Moe only played for his Battalion rugby team rather than the Regimental team. These matches required less commitment and were mostly played as a curtain raiser at the start of the season.
As part of orders to reduce the number of Marines in Shanghai from around 1,700 to 1,450 men, about the size of one whole battalion, only three days before the Marines were due to face the touring Japanese team from Meiji University, rugby players Albert F Moe, Clarence J O’Donnell (who signed Moe’s marriage certificate), Milton C ‘Slug’ Marvin, Hermen Rasmussen, John F ‘Jarhead’ Giargiari, William H Ellis, Richard K Ford, Jack W Goodall and Kenneth C. Bateman left Shanghai.
In preparation for Moe’s departure the Marine’s Quartermaster’s Office at 489 Ferry Road [Xikang Road] instructed the Shanghai Stevedoring Company to; 'Please pack chinaware, crockery, glassware, bric-a-brac, screens and mirrors, the property of 1st Lt. Albert F. Moe, U.S.M.C., for ocean shipment. It is desired that this job be started on Monday 26 November 1934 at 8:00 a.m. at Apartment 101, 61 Kinnear Road [Wuding Road].’
Marines muster roll from April 1942
Family photo from the pass letter allowing them access to Hong Kong enroute to the United States in 1935 with Albert's signature
The USS Wharton in 1943, formerly the Southern Cross
Newspaper report about the death of Albert F. Moe in a fire at his home in 1986
Albert Moe from around the period he was with the OSS
The OSS’s key role was to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines for all branches of the United States Armed Forces, including the use of propaganda and subversion. It operated in the western and eastern theatres of War. Moe was assigned to Detachment 202 based in Kunming, a city he returned to in March 1945, to enrol at the OSS Parachute School. He eventually received a certificate on 9 August 1945 showing that he had graduated from the Parachute School as a qualified parachutist. But before then, he achieved so much more than learning how to jump out of a plane and land safely.
He remained in America for the next few years, being trained in the skills that would be required for a most arduous and dangerous mission. After spending most of 1943 and 1944 as an instructor at the Rifle Range Coaches’ School on Parris Island, he spent one month at the end 1944 on the OSS Basic and Advanced Courses on Santa Catalina Island, off the west coast of America, south of Los Angeles. Trainees from the OSS's Special Operations branch, endured a five-day survival exercise on the island's rough geography. Using only a knife and fishing wire as tools, the men were expected to survive on the island's feral goats, wild boars, and marine life. Another exercise sent recruits in the OSS's Maritime Unit on raids into mock-hostile territory. Entering Avalon underwater with a SCUBA-like breathing apparatus, the recruits were ordered to capture the town's post office or bank by scrawling an X on the building. The soldiers guarding the harbor were not forewarned, and if detected the OSS recruits risked being shot on sight.
Moe’s time on Catalina was followed by a stint as a guest lecturer at the OSS Far Eastern School in Washington. The OSS was the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor of the CIA. Even today, the operations of the OSS are largely unknown. An early attempt to document the history of the Marine soldiers who were involved in the organisation was written in 1979 but not published until 1989. This paper focused on the European theatre but offers a useful introduction to the organisation;
'Before 1941 the United States had no intelligence service worthy of the name. While each military department had its own parochial tactical intelligence apparatus and the State Department maintained a haphazard collection of 'country files' there was no American equivalent to the 400-year-old British espionage establishment or the German Abwehr. No one in Washington was charged with putting the jigsaw puzzle of fact, rumor, and foreign innuendo together to see what pictures might develop or what portions might be missing. Even those matters of vital interest to policy makers remained uncoordinated, unevaluated, uninterpreted, and frequently in the wrong hands. That was in 1941. Four years later the scene was forever altered. The organization which achieved this dramatic turnabout was the Office of Strategic Services, better known by its initials: OSS. Headed by William J. Donovan, a World War 1 hero, Republican politician, and millionaire lawyer, the 055 infiltrated agents into every country of occupied Europe and raised guerrillas armies in most.'
Chinese banknote circa 1939 from the file of Albert Moe at the US Marines Archives in Quantico, VA.
Memo informing Moe that he had been invited to a rugby dinner
Included in the US Marine archives at Quantico, is a box of paperwork related to Moe. One of the documents is a communication dated 7 April 1933. In it, the regimental and battalion athletic directors are informed that they have been invited to a celebration dinner marking the end of season and the Blue team’s success in winning the Spunt Cup. The communication read, ‘Mr Berg of the Little Club is having a dinner for the Rugby Team at 9:00p.m., Monday 10 April 1933 at the Little Club. Uniform for officers will be tuxedos. You are invited.’
The records from his file at the Marines’ Archives include correspondence from his Commanding Officer Alfred T. Cox. A letter dated 22 August 1945, shortly after Japan had surrendered, noted that; 'You [Moe] have come to China voluntarily, prepared to undertake any assigned mission, no matter how hazardous. Eager to come to close terms with the enemy at the earliest opportunity. You have accepted a long, arduous training programme, with good spirit, as becomes a real soldier. You have labored long and diligently, with infinite patience and tact, and under uncomfortable and discouraging conditions, to train Chinese troops that they might better fight in combat, and thus might save American lives otherwise required to be sacrificed in order to gain complete victory.'
His primary role had been to train twenty airborne commandos in only a few months. The report noted that this would have been a difficult task even in America, but in China with; 'personnel with little or no training, undernourished and often illiterate, having no such flame of patriotism as is inherent in every American, you have in the space of eight short weeks, produced hard-hitting, compact guerrilla teams, well-molded as a unit. By your attention to their health and to their nourishment, and by your control of their physical conditioning, they have set an enviable record in a concentrated parachute-jumping course. … You have produced marksmen, [which] men with long experience with Chinese troops said could not be done. You have proven that Chinese soldiers can operate at night with good control and that Chinese soldiers can employ effective fire discipline.'
After training his team of Chinese Commandoes, he led them into battle. In several correspondences dated 17 October 1945, recommending Moe for the Bronze Star and the citation itself, we can learn more of this extraordinary time. The Bronze Star was awarded specifically for his service during the period 5 April 1945 to 18 August 1945, three days after Japan had unconditionally surrendered. The report recorded that Moe had served as leader of an intelligence and reconnaissance party behind enemy lines in Kiangsi [Jiangxi], Fukien [Fujian], Chekiang [Zhejiang], Anhwei [Anhui], Kwangtung [Guangdong] and Kwangsi [Guanxi] provinces.
Moe and his men covered substantial ground. A first-hand account of a similar journey was published in the Marine Corps Gazette in 1946. In it, another Marine wrote about his own team’s experiences in occupied China in early 1945. It illustrates how life would have been for Major Moe in the summer of 1945;
'First, there had been the trip overland. The first 750 miles, from Kunming to Chihkiang, ran through the so-called "free China." Driving two 2 1/2-ton trucks over narrow, back-breaking roads took us seven long, exhausting days. At some points, the road wound hack and forth up the side of a mountain so many times that it looked like a layer cake.
Then, we had marched overland to Wukang, Chinese Army headquarters and hopping-off point for our 200-mile trek overland through the Jap lines to the "pocket." Wukang is one of those ancient, sleepy, walled cities of interior China where everything goes on today just as it probably was 2,000 years ago. It boasts not a single wheeled vehicle, not even a cart. Everything is moved on the shoulders of coolies…
… the Chinese commanding general of the 74th Army at Wukang gave me two companies of his "best troops" to escort me over the long, tortuous route through Jap lines to the "pocket." They turned out to be characteristic soldiers-as carefree and cheerful as Chinese soldiers always are. We spent three weeks steadily training them in basic infantry weapons and tactics.
Finally, my little group of about 300 men was ready to depart for the pocket. Our 2 1/2 tons of equipment (including rifles, ammo, explosives, bazookas and radio) were broken down into small bundles so that it could be borne by 70 to 80 coolies, each of whom could carry about 75 pounds a day for 20 miles. We left Wukang midst much ceremony, including a barrage of firecrackers (the Chinese have no sense of security). It was like a day at the circus!
For the next 15 days, from early morning till late afternoon each day, we marched in single file over winding, ancient stone trails which ran through rice paddies and mountains. It reminded me of pictures of the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaskavile weather, poor food, trails covered with snow, mud and ice.'
On Moe’s adventure, he infiltrated enemy territory by means of a parachute jump on 9 April 1945. Note that this was four months before he was awarded his certificate! While in enemy territory, he secured intelligence materials of great strategic value, using his exceptional knowledge of the provinces and his understanding of the Chinese people. His superiors noted that the intelligence he gained would have been impossible without such exceptional qualifications and perseverance.
Moe’s citation for the Bronze Star concluded, 'At the time of the Japanese surrender, he did outstanding work in securing vital information about Japanese occupation, in spite of great danger to his life and the lives of members of his party. His devotion to duty, strong leadership in the field, and highly valuable reports he submitted from the field reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.'
In the earlier August letter to Moe, his commander wrote, 'The greatness of your achievement has been more than recognized by all higher commanders who have observed your troops. … Lt. General Wedemeyer, the Theater Commander, General Ho Ying-Chan [He Yingqin], Commanding General of the Supreme Chinese Armies, and many others have personally expressed their pride and appreciation for the fine work you have done. Our own Commanding Officers, General Donovan, Colonel Heppner and Colonel Livermore, although knowing the excellence of your work in other Theaters, consider what has been done here particularly outstanding among the many great OSS accomplishments. … You should realize that the monument you leave behind as a record of your work here, is the finest troops in China, troops of which all China is immensely proud.'
Moe had served China, a country and people which he had grown to love. His daughter recalls that her mother he never really left China, in his heart he had become Chinese.
The next available muster roll shows that Moe was in Washington DC by April 1946. After 20 years of service, he was honourably discharged from the Marines on 1 September 1949, having attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The last muster roll available in July 1949 includes the note, ‘NAdmin Comd CIA, Wash, DC’, which suggests that like many of his contemporaries from the Marines, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency. This was confirmed by his daughter who, noting that, ‘my father was silent on his life’, the family only discovered his CIA connection after his death when sorting through paperwork in the basement of his house.
After he arrived back in America, Moe served in several locations throughout the United States, as he progressed through the ranks, by now a career Marine. During this period, on 11 January 1937, Moe and his wife had a second child, a daughter named Barbara Elise.
In October 1938, Moe was back in China. This time posted to the Marine Detachment at the American Embassy in Peiping [Peking, Beijing]. He was there to start a three-year programme to study the Chinese language. Another correspondence from the Marine archives shows that while in China, he spent time in Peiping, Shanghai, Chungking [Chongqing] and Chengtu [Chengdu]. By July 1941 he was in Chungking, the war time capital of China since October 1938, in the far west of the country.
Had he stayed in Peiping, he would have ended up as a prisoner of the Japanese. A fate faced by many of his old comrades who were incarcerated after Pearl Harbor, initially at POW camps in China and later on, in Japan.
The Marines in Shanghai may have considered themselves lucky, they left China only a few weeks before Pearl Harbor, escaping the invasion of Shanghai by the Japanese. However, they had left the frying pan, only to jump into the fire, unwittingly headed for the horrors that awaited them in Corregidor and Bataan and later, like their Peiping comrades, to camps in Japan.
Above: address label for Moe's work place
Left: Instructions for moving perosnal effects from home address
Below: A 1937 Marines Map of Shanghai showing location of addresses associated with Moe as well as the Racecourse where he played rugby
After they left Shanghai, it was reported in Walla Walla that on a stopover in Hong Kong, the Marines played a game of rugby against their old rivals HMS Cornwall, drawing the game 8 all. The China Mail in Hong Kong announced that ‘MARINES TO PLAY – CRACK RUGBY FIFTEEN SEEK THEIR REVENGE’. Far from reporting the fact that the team was composed of a group of players who were heading back to the United States and were far from representative of the US Fourth Marines rugby strength, the article referred to the Thundering Herd of 1929 whose only defeat was against HMS Cornwall, the team they were to play at the Club ground in Happy Valley in Hong Kong. Rasmussen, the team’s spokesman tried to play down the game saying that while it included six members of the 1929 squad, ‘it is nothing like what it used to be.’ He also told the reporter that members of the team were thinking of entering a team in the ‘West Coast English Rugby League now being run by American Universities and Colleges’.
The contest against HMS Cornwall in Hong Kong was described as ‘An exciting, but very scrappy fixture.’, the result, an 8 all draw . The reporter noted that; 'The Marines presented a very unusual sight with very short rugby knickers and sweat shirts in contrast to the Cornwall’s ordinary rugby outfit… The Navy’s task of tackling was made extremely difficult in that they had nothing to grasp when they took their men around the thighs, the very short knickers of the Marines making a very poor hold.'
Albert Ferdinand Moe was born in California on 15 November 1907. He was the first child of recent immigrants to America. His father, Albert Carlsen, was born in Norway, as was his mother, Hilda, nee Nerem [or Nerheim]. Albert senior arrived in the United States in 1901, Hilda in 1903, they naturalized in 1908, shortly after they were married on 6 April 1907. On the 1910 census, his father’s occupation was listed as Master Mariner of a schooner.
Albert junior graduated from the University of California in 1928 with a BS in Economics. Before taking a commission with the US Marines in 1929, he briefly worked as a Freight Clerk on the passenger and freight steamship Southern Cross, which operated on the South American service of the Munson Lines. When the Southern Cross was bought by the US Navy in 1940, it was renamed the USS Wharton, a ship that transported US Marines, many of whom Moe would have known, during the war in the Pacific, notably during the invasions of the Marshall Islands, the Philippines and Okinawa.
Right: The American Consulate's certificate of marriage 4 July 1932
Below: The Holy Trinity marriage certificate 9 July 1932
Moe's parachuting certificate awarded to hi after he had jumped behind enemy lines
Aside from his CIA activities, in later years, Moe seems to have followed an academic route. In 1965 he published an academic paper about the derivation of the name 'Leatherneck'. This was followed in 1967 by a paper about the derivation of the phrase 'Gung Ho', a term first derived by a contemporary of Moe’s in the Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Evans Fordyce Carlson. In 1968, with his wife Margaret, he co-wrote an 80-page book titled, American drama through 1830: A checklist. In 1970 another academic article was published, this one about the phonetic alphabet. Finally, in a book about catch phrases published in 1977, he was widely referred to in the notes as having significantly contributed to the content.
We get a brief glimpse into the life of Moe in the 1960s. A newspaper reported that in Albert Moe’s house, his mother in law, Mrs. Mary Grayson, aged 85 and recovering from a broken hip pulled herself along the floor to the bedroom where her daughter lay. The invalid took a glass of water to fight the fire, fortunately, she had also telephoned the fire brigade when she first smelled the smoke. They arrived and found the two ladies lying unconscious in the smoke. Neither was seriously injured but both were lucky to have survived.
Twenty-four years later, there was another fire – with more tragic consequences. The fire in Moe’s home at 4729 N. Washington Boulevard, a few miles from the Pentagon, took hold in ‘the two-storey brick and frame house.’ The house ‘was packed from floor to ceiling with boxes of highly flammable newspapers and magazines’, which were estimated to have taken up as much as 90 percent of the rooms in both floors of the house. At around three o’clock in the morning, three days after Moe’s 79th birthday, a delivery man noticed smoke coming from the house. After calling for the fire brigade, he attempted to enter the house but was forced back by heat and smoke. When the fire fighters arrived, they found fire blowing from the front door. The firemen started to climb stacks of boxes, thinking that they were stairs. It was concluded that a kerosene heater in the living room, ‘either tipped over or (more likely) Mr. Moe was in the process of filling it when it flashed and ignited nearby combustibles.’ Moe was found on the first floor, his death certificate recording that he had died of carbon monoxide poisoning at around 02:30.
Moe’s wife Margaret died the following year on 6 December 1987, at Sun City, near Phoenix in Arizona at the Boswell Extended Care Center. She was survived by her three children, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Within a month of arriving in Shanghai, Moe was married, patriotically on 4 July at the American Consulate, and at the Holy Trinity church five days later, to Miss Margaret Beatrice Grayson, the daughter of Captain and Mrs. Joseph Charles Grayson. Margaret was born three years to the day after her new husband. Moe’s father in law was also a U.S. Marine. He had served with the Marines 6th Regiment in France at the end of World War One. He was also with the 6th Regiment in 1927 when they were posted to Tientsin, the location where the Marines first played rugby in China. Fortuitously, or perhaps it was planned, he returned to China in April 1932, to Shanghai, enabling him to attend his daughter’s wedding. A few weeks after the happy occasion, he was posted to the Philippines.
In October 1932, he was taken ill at the Marine Barracks in Cavite in the Philippines. He returned to the United States, where he seemed to recover, the Marine muster rolls indicating he returned to normal duties. However, on 4 March, he was admitted to the Mare Island Naval Hospital where he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 6 April 1933. Exactly four months later in Shanghai, on 6 August 1933, little more than a year after they were married, Albert and Margaret had a son, Albert Gerhard.
After nine months of basic training in Philadelphia, Albert was put in charge assembling a US Marines rugger team at the Philadelphia Navy Yard base. Moe certainly played American Football, but it is not clear why he was chosen to run the rugby team. One possibility is that he learned the game while at University. Moe’s main varsity sport in California was rowing at Stroke. He achieved the status of Letterman. After three years of rowing, in the spring of his final year in 1928 he chose not to report for spring training due to ‘the press of studies’. Moe’s daughter tells that his father’s great regret was not rowing that season, a decision he took at the bequest of the Marines with whom he was soon to enrol. By not training, he missed the chance to earn a place on the University of California Eights team who went onto to represent the USA at the Amsterdam Olympics, winning the gold medal.
In his role as coach of the Marines rugby team, Moe Moe reported, ‘the development of a great deal of interest in rugby among the student officers at the Basic School and the enlisted men at the barracks.’ It was planned that as soon as possible, ‘as many experienced rugger men as possible will be sent to Philadelphia’, hopefully including one of the best players then in Shanghai Lieutenant A. V. Girard.
During that season, Moe and the Philadelphia Marines appeared at Thompson’s Stadium on Staten Island, New York, playing against the New York Rugby Club, in front of 1,500 enthusiastic spectators. The New York Club had only been founded the year before. The result was a scoreless tie, an unusual rugby score, in what was the first game of rugby to be played in New York in the last decade. A return match was played against New York on 26 April 1930 at the Municipal Stadium, the first home match for the new Marines team, and the first rugby match in Philadelphia in 25 years, the result a 6 all draw.
The Municipal Stadium was a huge venue to play in, it was built as the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition of 1926 for the world's fair held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, and the 50th anniversary of the 1876 Centennial Exposition. Fifty-Five years later, by now renamed the JFK Stadium, it was the location of the 1985 U.S. Live-Aid concert!
The following season, Moe, who was by now described as ‘the mentor of the Philadelphia Marine rugby team’, predicted that, ‘our “side” will again hit the top of the heap’, observing that his squad were, ‘working together in finer form than they did last season’, with the backs, ‘clicking together’. The Walla Walla, the U.S. Fourth Marines weekly magazine, also reported on the success of the Philadelphia Marines 1931 season;
'Rugby, the Dean of English games, has reared its head over the horizon of American Sports and the local Marine fifteen has helped it to reach the crest it has assumed. This year, the Leatherneck Organisation has lost only one game out of five starts, and that was lost to the New York Rugby Club, an organization made up of experienced English players. The first contest of the season was with Harvard at Cambridge, Mass. The Marines nosing them out 7 to 6. The Princeton U. game was cancelled because of the Easter vacations. A newly formed club, the Columbians of New York City, were overwhelmed 10 to 0 in the final few minutes of play in a game at Whitestone, Long Island. The Marines then dropped a game to the New York Rugby Club 9 to 3 but on the following day they defeated the French Club 11 to 0. The last game played with Syracuse University at the Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia was a decided victory for the Marines 19 to 3… Rugby is gaining a foothold in the states, [sic] the enterprising football coaches recognising the value of the game and urging their men to participate instead of spring training on the football field.'
With that kind of pedigree, the US Fourth Marines rugby team in Shanghai were delighted when Moe, was posted to Shanghai for a term of duty. He was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable advocate of the game. Writing a piece for Walla Walla shortly after his arrival in Shanghai, he contrasted rugby and American Football commenting that;
'Perhaps the sportiest feature of Rugby is the no substitution rule. The flock of subs who deluge an American gridiron, have made a travesty of sportsmanship, besides slowing up the tempo of a game already punctuated with tiresome intermissions… The code of sportsmanship is zealously guarded in Rugby. No helmets, shoulder harness, kidney pads, or other protective gear are worn by the Rugby player. He takes the field bareheaded, wearing an unpadded jersey and running shorts… The neglected forward, who rarely gets a chance to sparkle on the American gridiron, comes into his own at Rugby. A forward can get the ball out of the scrum and run. There are no complicated signal codes to be mastered, and practice is fun instead.'
‘A rugby playing, Chinese speaking, undercover, academic!’
Albert Ferdinand Moe (1907 – 1986)
A source referenced copy of the text below is available on request
Player and coach for Philadelphia Marines (1930 – 1932)
Player for the US Fourth Marines in Shanghai (1932 – 1934)
Albert on the other hand was, for the time being, relatively safe. Chungking still belonged to Free China. It was far enough away from the invading Japanese that at least for half of the year, bombers could not reach it, the city was enveloped in clouds. The Marine’s muster roll shows that Moe was still in Chungking in October 1941. Sometime in November or December, he travelled to India, the muster roll records him there on 1 January. The wartime trip from Chungking to China was not easy. He would have first travelled from the capital to Kunming where the main airbase was located. From there, he would have taken the dangerous flight over the Himalayas, known as ‘the Hump’, to India. Moe’s January 1942 muster roll records how difficult it was to travel at this time, even in India which was not under the control of the Japanese.
The first two days of January he was stuck in Calcutta waiting for transportation to Delhi. In the late evening of 3 January he left Calcutta using the East Indian Railway line, arriving late the next day. He spent the next five days in Delhi waiting for a train to Bombay. He finally caught the Bombay, Baroda and Central Indian Railway train on the morning of the 11th, arriving in Bombay the next morning. After two days of looking for transport, he left Bombay by taxi arriving in Juhu for a flight. Finding his fight cancelled, he headed back to Bombay where he was forced to stay until the 26th. He eventually secured a flight from Bombay to Karachi on Tata Air Lines. He was still in Karachi on the last day of the month trying to get to Iraq. The next available muster roll in April 1942, finds him safely back in the United States at the Marines base in Quantico.