Legendary Team Owner Bud Moore Stormed the Shores of Normandy 70 Year Ago
Seventy years ago today members of the Great Generation mechanized one of the most daring military operations of all time. 156,000 Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. 12,000 of those men lost their lives the first day. We know it simply as D-Day. This is one man’s story.
Walter “Bud” Moore sits on the couch in the living room of his home in Spartanburg, S.C., in front of a collection of just some of the more than 70 trophies his race teams earned during his 40-year career as car owner in NASCAR Cup Trans-Am racing.
Moore’s transformation from “country mechanic” to mastermind of most things motorized earned him a place as one of the first 10 individuals inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“That’s not all of them,” Moore says pointing at the various awards lining the shelves. “The Hall of Fame has a bunch of them on display up there (in Charlotte, N.C.).”
Moore’s success cemented his inclusion into the sport’s shrine long time. Starting his career as crew chief for legendary driver — and recent inductee — Buck Baker, before launching Bud Moore Engineering in the early 1960s, at least half of the drivers already named to the Hall drove for Moore during their careers.
Slightly to the right of the shelves of motorsports momentos, situated on the wall under the pictures of Moore and his family taken on the night of his induction, are a handful of what, at first glance, appear to be innocuous documents framed for nothing more than posterity.
Closer inspection of the yellowing paper reveal framed reminders of two heroic years spent doing unthinkable duty when victory meant – not a champagne-and-trophy celebration – but a chance to fight another day.
GOING TO WAR
Years after retiring from the daily grind of running a race team, Moore is as well-known around parts of his hometown of Spartanburg as he is in the NASCAR garage area. Walking into the Peach Blossom Diner he is greeted with hellos and hugs and his drink gets to his table, same one each time, almost before he pulls up a chair.
Moore takes his seat with his back to a wall that is home to artwork depicting his past.
Nearly 70 years ago, he was just a kid wondering about his future.
“I turned 18, May 25, 1943,” Moore says. “June 1, I graduated high school, and June 2, I think — it may have been a couple of days later than that, but not much –my draft papers hit the mailbox.”
The United States was 19 months into the Second World War, and now Moore was going to play a role.
“We had to report down to Camp Croft (a military training center in Spartanburg) to get all checked out and figure out what branch of service we were going to wind up in,” Moore says. “Now (NASCAR Hall-of-Famer) Cotton Owens and Joe Eubanks and I were big buddies. We would run together. Shoot, we had run together since we were kids. Well, Cotton and Joe already were in the Navy so I told the guy there I was talking to I wanted to go in the Navy because I already had some friends in there.”
Moore smiles slightly, recalling, “This guy asks me if I had a college education.” Moore shakes his head a little and chuckles. “I thought, ‘Man, I just turned 18 and graduated high school a couple of weeks ago; how would I have a college education?’ So I said, ‘No sir.’ Well, he told me that at that time the Navy was only taking ones with a college education, and that he thought I would make a good Marine. I said, ‘No thanks,’ and went over the Army guy and said, “I want to be in the Army.”
After a time a Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., Moore was shipped to Camp Van Dorn in South Central Mississippi for 13 weeks of training. “I left there on Dec. 23 or Dec. 24, I don’t remember exactly,” Moore says. “I had seven days to get home and see everyone, and then I had to be in Fort Dix, N.J., Jan. 2. I was in Fort Dix a few weeks and then the middle of March they put us on this British liberty (cargo) ship and shipped us out.
“It took us 14 days to get to Liverpool, England. We zigzagged you know, kind of back and forth. That’s why it took us so long. Man, I don’t know how many of us were on that ship, but boy there was a bunch, I know that.”
He had not seen anything yet.
NO DRY RUN
Upon arriving in England, Moore set about trying to connect with family. His grandmother on his father’s side of the clan came from across the pond and many of her relatives still were residents of the United Kingdom.
“We were just down the road from Knighton Wales and that’s where my grandmother’s family was,” Moore says. “I wanted a pass to go see them. I tried everything I could, went to everyone I knew, even went to the regimental commander and couldn’t get a pass. We were just down the road. I couldn’t understand why in the world I couldn’t get a pass.”
Moore shrugs his shoulders in a foreshadowing gesture, and says, “See, what we didn’t know was we were restricted.”
In retrospect, the reason is obvious. Moore, his buddies and a myriad more were part of the largest military force in the world, just weeks away from the biggest land and sea invasion in the history of the world.
Moore, who had been trained as a first gunner on a .30 caliber weapon, says by early May he noticed things happening.
“They started showing up and waterproofing our Jeeps,” Moore says. “They put pipe and hose here and there, around the carburetor and did things like covering the spark plugs with a tacky putty. They told us we were preparing for a dry-run landing somewhere on the English coast. We didn’t know anything beyond that.”
Days drug along. But something was in the air. He just didn’t know what exactly.
“June 1 or June 2, I am not sure, they moved us on to our landing craft,” Moore shakes his head and, for emphasis, he throws out another fact. “LC 149 was the number. I never will forget that number. We were on that LC all that night all the next day and then they moved us from the harbor to out in the English Channel.
“Once we got out in the channel, I looked around and there were four or five thousand ships. I don’t know, but they were everywhere you looked, and in every direction you looked. I had never seen anything like it and I looked at some of my buddies and said, ‘Boys, I don’t know what’s going on, but this ain’t no dry run. I’ll tell you that right now!’ “
YOU WOULDN’T BELIEVE IT
Moore’s prediction soon would take shape, and there would be nothing dry about any of it.
“The next day, a PT boat pulled up and two guys got out and came on board,” Moore says. “They got up in front of everybody and had this big old map. I looked around and said, ‘Boys, that’s no English Coast; that’s France. I can tell that from looking.”
The map laid out the plans of the invasion of France, no dry-run exercise on English soil, but an all-out assault to turn back the Axis Powers. Moore rewound the last few weeks: the continuous rejections of his requests to go see his ancestors; the waterproofing of the equipment. The powers that be were trying to keep a lid on the biggest pressure cooker in the European Theater.
“We were supposed to head out June 4, but the weather was bad so they called it off, and we just sat there. The night of June 5, around 7 or 8 p.m., that PT boat came back, and they said we were back on. We were hitting the beach around 5 am. So off we went.”
Matter of fact. Just like that. “Off we went.” Moore never pulled punches. No reason to start now.
“About 3:30 or 4 a.m., somewhere around there, those big 16-inch guns opened up firing on that beach and everything around it. For an hour or more; just constant. I mean you wouldn’t believe it. I told the boys beside me, I said, ‘Boys, this is going to be a piece of cake. They ain’t gonna be anything moving over there when these guns get done…’“ Moore noticeably pauses.
“How wrong I was.”
IT WAS SOMETHING
A 50-mile stretch of the French Coast at Normandy was the target and the Allies under Supreme Commander Dwight David Eisenhower were throwing everything they had at it and more.
Divided into five beach sections, Moore’s division was part of the initial wave set to storm Utah Beach.
“The landing craft was supposed to pull up into knee-deep water, drop the gate and we go. Well, the pilot of our craft got scared and stopped too soon. We head out of there and water is up almost over everyone’s head.”
The angular Moore sits up straight and places his paw at his chin.
“I just barely could keep my head above water. I had this 51-pound tripod and all this gear on my back.”
It is hard to imagine today, that morning off the coast of France so long ago. Ears ringing from an hour-plus concert of heavy shelling, legs weak from being stationed for days on a landing craft, and being dumped in salt water humping more than half one’s own weight.
For a moment, it appeared as if Moore’s contribution to the liberation of France would end before he ever got to dry land. Barely two weeks after his 19th birthday he was over his head in the salt water of the English Channel wondering if he was going to live out the hour.
“I hadn’t taken more than a couple of steps in that water and I stepped in a big shell hole,” he says. “I went down and I was about to drown if you want to know the truth about it. I came up spitting and blowing, just trying to breath. I decided right then I was going to take the straightest path in the straightest direction toward that beach. I got there and hunkered down behind a sand dune still coughing and throwing up salt water. You wouldn’t believe how many boys drowned.”
That seems to trigger something in Moore. As detailed as his narration has been, he offers little detail about what he experienced – and witnessed – on that beach. His story jumps ahead five hours.
“Anyway, around 11 or 11:30, we had moved in a mile to a mile-and-a-half. I don’t know. It would have been a lot worse for us if we had not missed our landing area by three-quarters of a mile to a mile. I think as bad as it was, it would have been worse.”
Moore sits back into the couch and sighs audibly.
“It was something.”
PRAYING FOR DARKNESS
As part of Patton’s 3rd Army, once Moore’s division moved inland, it did not stop.
“Patton drove them crazy,” Moore said. “Patton didn’t stop. He just kept going. He would get out 20, 30 miles ahead of the rest. He figured once you had the enemy down and running, you went after them. You kept the pressure on them. A lot of people didn’t like Patton. The men who fought under him, we love him. We would follow him to hell and back.”
They darn near did. Moore and his buddies pressed on, being called into action again in support of the cold and weary troops low on food and ammunition in the Ardennes Offensive, better known as the Battle of the Bulge.
“It was cold,” Moore says. “Ground frozen so hard you couldn’t dig a foxhole. I wanted to get as low as possible so I would take this C4 they would give us, cut off a little bit, set it, roll over about 15 feet out of the way and blow me a hole in the ground. They (enemy forces) had these shells that would burst above you and drop down all this shrapnel. Boys in foxholes still would get hit with those things so I took to digging an (alcove) off my foxhole and when they would start with those things, I would just climb deeper in the hole and have the ground over me for protection.
“We used to pray for darkness. The war stopped at dark, so at night you would say, ‘Well, I made it today; maybe I can make it tomorrow.”
At one point, Moore and several members of his platoon were pinned down in a valley, lying in ice cold water to get below the firing line.
“I couldn’t feel anything by the time we got out of there. We finally got up a bank, taking fire and when we got over the other side, a couple of the boys said, ‘Moore, you’re going to need a new overcoat.’ I said ‘What are you talking about, needing a new overcoat?’ I looked and I had 18 (bullet) holes in the bottom part of my overcoat and two in my britches leg. I don’t know how in the world I didn’t get hit.”
Moore also took part in the first wave of another invasion of a different country. A lot smaller, less formally-planned operation.
“Me and three or four guys one day were out and crossed a railroad trestle that stretched over the Rhine River. We got to the other side and I said, ‘Boys, we are in Germany.’”
Moore has a way with words, putting them together in a tale, a yarn-spinning dance that makes the listener believe they should be sitting on a front porch drinking sweet tea.
But the subject he discusses this day slaps the listener with a reality that can be heard, but not comprehended. He talks about reality, not a movie.
“February 22, 1945, I got shot through the hip and spent some time in the hospital getting that fixed,” Moore says matter-of-factly. After undergoing treatment that to describe it would make the faint-of-heart would cringe, Moore was released and sent back to the front .
“The day I got out, a bunch of us were heading up the road and they blew our truck to pieces. “
Pockmarked with hot shrapnel, Moore picks at the back of his hand and forearm to show locations of getting hit.
“ I had all of these little cuts and nicks all over me from this shrapnel,” he says. Then he shakes his head. “I thought, ‘The day I get out (of the hospital); I can’t believe it.’ They took it out of me, dabbed some Mercurochrome on me, had those red marks all over me you know, slapped some Band-Aids on me and sent me on my way.”
FINISHING THE JOB
By May 2, 1945, Moore’s division reached within 12 miles of Czechoslovakia. Six days later, Germany surrendered.
Along the way, Moore already had accepted a surrender from a small part of Germany. He was an occupant in a jeep, just Moore and the driver, and their lieutenant sent them down a side road from the rest of the company’s route to check out a farmhouse.
“Me and this jeep driver, a fellow named Hess, got a little ways up the road and we saw some movement around this farm house. I opened up with that .30 caliber. The house caught fire and it flushed out this fellow. He surrendered.”
Moore and Hess took the prisoner and headed out, continuing up the road, they took a wrong turn. A few hundred yards ahead, they encountered a block building, and a little more resistence.
“We came up on this two-story building sitting there with a couple of Germans moving around and they started shooting,” Moore says. “I opened up on that place too. Hess could speak a little German. But this fellow knew what we meant. We told him he better go in there and tell whoever was in there to come out or we were bringing in the tanks and blow that place off the map.
“He went in and a few minutes later came back out with about four or five officers and a bunch of other guys and we thought ‘what in the world?’ We couldn’t believe it. We marched those guys back to the rest of our outfit and turned them over.”
Here, Moore pauses, either for effect or just remembering how fortunate he had been. It is not a long pause, just enough. Then he chuckles.
“My commander said, ‘Moore, where in the world have you been? What have you been doing? What was all that racket I heard over that hill?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I’ve been fighting the war, what have you been doing?’’
Moore tosses his head back and laughs.
It was after the German surrender, the full German surrender, Moore, NASCAR championship-winning car owner in 1962 and 1963, first saw the value of earning points.
“They sent people home based on a point system,” Moore says. “You got points for how long you had been in, how many battles you had fought in, all of this other stuff. Shoot, I had enough points to give some to the other guys and still be one of the first ones sent home.”
And sent home he was, with two Bronze Stars and five Purple Hearts. He was promoted to Sergeant and put in charge, a precursor of things to come, of the motor pool. At one point he had been offered a promotion to lieutenant. He turned it down.
“One of our lieutenants ran off and two others got shot,” Moore says shaking his head. “I can count. I said, ‘No thank you.’ The man said, ‘Moore, we’re offering you a battlefield commission.’ I said ‘I know. No thank you.’’
He had seen enough.
The young man who wanted to be in the Navy with his friends but wound up in the Army had left home an 18-year-old boy and made it home as a 20-year-old man; only 24 months or so difference by a calendar but a lifetime of difference in living.
“When you are on the front line, you are doing everything you can to protect yourself and that guy beside you,” he says. “You are in a foxhole with guys and this guy on this side of you or that guy on that side of you gets it and you don’t. Who knows why that happens?”
Moore went from the motor pool to the garage, fixing cars, building cars and racing cars. By the late 40s, a group of businessmen, drivers, mechanics and others met in a hotel in Florida to take this thing and turn it into an organized sport.
From prized mechanic to championship car owner Moore cut a wide path. His drivers list reads like a who’s who. He and Joe Weatherly teamed to win at Bristol in October of 1961 before the duo won 12 times and posted 68 top-10 finishes in 85 races while winning the NASCAR Cup championship back-to-back in 1962 and ’63. Allison, Baker, Earnhardt, Parsons, Pearson, Rudd, Waltrip, Yarborough and Yarbrough all drove a Moore-prepared car at one time or another.
When Ford Motor Company wanted to make waves in road racing, they tapped Moore to lead the charge. He had done it before after all, in other ways. In 1970, Bud Moore Engineering with drivers Parnelli Jones and George Follmer earned Ford the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Manufacturer’s Championship for the Over 2-litre category.
He had put his military service behind him. But it was not easy.
“I had nightmares for eight or 10 years,” Moore says. “My wife would just beat on me trying to get me to wake up. That went on for a long time. Then I just quit thinking any more about it and it just began to go away.”
And there it stayed, tucked away in the back of Moore’s mind like so many others who had done and seen the things he had.
Relatives and a few close friends, of course, knew what Moore had done, the honors he had accumulated serving his country. But many still were in the dark.
That changed in June of 1995 on the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day invasions. Many of those who knew Moore’s story arranged for a recognition ceremony before a NASCAR Cup race. Drivers who had driven for Moore through the years were there. Ford Motor Company, NASCAR and many others honored the man and in turn, made many more aware of his story.
Most people in the NASCAR garage could quote the history of Bud Moore the car-owner chapter and verse. Now they knew of a chapter they had not read.
“Dale Jarrett stopped me and said, ‘You were at D-Day?’ “ Moore says. “A lot of people didn’t know.”
Now, many more do.
A long-time sponsor in the NASCAR garage offered to send Moore and his wife Betty on an all-expenses trip back to France; a chance to see Paris in a different way.
“I appreciated it, but I said, ‘No thanks,’ Moore says. “I left too many friends over there. I had no interest in going back.”
More than 150,000 troops participated in the D-Day invasion. This is the story of one. This many years removed, Moore shrugs. Remembering his advice of just trying to protect himself and the guy beside him reminds one that in doing that, they protected us all.
– Source: Bristol Motor Speedway.Tags: Allison, Baker, Bristol motor Speedway, bud moore, Bud Moore Engineering, D-Day, Earnhardt, ford motor company, George Follmer, Joe Weatherly, nascar, Normandy, parnelli jones, Parsons, Pearson, Rudd, scca, Walter Bud Moore, Waltrip, Yarborough