More than 70 years after he was killed in action during World War II, U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Harvel Lee Moore is finally coming home to Chatham so that his remains can be buried among friends and family.
Moore’s remains were flown into the Medgar Evers International Airport earlier this week and received by Marines from Bossier City. Marines, Louisiana State Police and Patriot Guard Riders are expected to escort Moore’s remains to Griffin Funeral Home at 911 Warren Drive in West Monroe.
A ceremony and service is expected to be held at the funeral home on Friday, May 25, at 6 p.m.
He will be laid to rest next to his father and mother on Saturday, May 26, at 2 p.m. in the Chatham Cemetery in Chatham. He will be buried with full military honors.
Moore, a Chatham native, was the second of five children belonging to Horace “Todd” and Lillian Moore. Moore grew up in the small town, and graduated from Chatham High School in 1938. Wanting to be a coach, he went on to the Northeast Center of Louisiana State University, which would become the University of Louisiana-Monroe, for a semester in 1938 and the Louisiana Polytechnic Institute, which would become Louisiana Tech University, for a semester in 1939.
In 1940, Moore decided to join the United States Marine Corps. So he made his way to New Orleans where he signed up on July 17, 1940. And he shipped out to San Diego where he arrived on July 20. The small town boy from Chatham was now on the West Coast, and training with the possibility of going to war.
Little did he know, his life and that of his family, would soon change.
Moore was training on the Pacific Coast by hiking 180 miles, learning about amphibious assault, and working tirelessly with other Marines to become the men the USA needed at any time. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the boys were shipped where needed. Some went on to Europe, others went on to the Pacific Theater. It was a two-headed approach, and Moore was headed to the Pacific.
He was promoted through the ranks quickly and became a sergeant. He and the other Marines were at sea for three weeks headed to their destination. They trained and practiced a little in the Pacific, then headed to Guadalcanal.
The Americans fought hard, and did well. There were some casualties, but once the mission was complete, the Marines dropped back to New Zealand for some rest and relaxation to prepare for their next mission.
While in New Zealand, Moore fell ill a couple times. In August 1943, he was in the hospital for about a week. It is thought that this is when he fell in love with a young nurse there, according to his family. Her name is not known to his family, but they hold on to a picture of the two of them that reads “Harvel and his wife-to-be” on the back of it. He went back to training, but again was in the hospital for about a week in October. Soon thereafter, Moore and the boys shipped out. This time to a small island in the Gilbert Islands that was part of the Tarawa Atoll —Betio Island.
The Marines’ targets were Beaches Red-1, Red-2 and Red-3. The island is only three miles long and a half mile wide. As a tiny island, it was useless for the most part. However, Allied forces needed the airstrip to land and refuel planes to hop to the next stop on their way to Japan.
However, getting to it for the Marines was treacherous. The tide was out when they began the attack on Betio, now known as the Battle of Tarawa. The coral reefs were higher than expected, and the Higgins Boats and amphibious tractors struggled to get the men ashore. So the Marines did what they had to do to get there. Some waded in. Others pushed ahead with their steel amtraks. Many died just trying to get to the beaches.
It’s been said that Japanese Admiral Keiji Shibasaki, commander of the highly-fortified garrison proclaimed “it would take one million men one hundred years to take this island.” The Marines would only need little more than 76 hours.
While in the field on the second day, the newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant Moore saw one of his fellow Marines in a difficult spot. The young man had been injured the day before, and was without medical help for 24 hours. Moore ran out amid heavy Japanese rifle and machine gun fire and brought the Marine to safety. He received a Silver Star for the act.
Moore also received the Purple Heart for making the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Moore was killed in action sometime on that final day of the battle before the 76th hour surrender of the Japanese. How it happened is unknown.
Moore was left on the beach and tended to by chaplains and others who stayed behind after the rest of the Marines left to reorganize in New Zealand for their next mission.
Moore’s death was documented on a card along with that of the other 1,100 or so Americans and Navy sailors who were lost in that battle. Some were buried at sea. Others were buried in one of the many makeshift cemeteries.
Moore was wrapped in his Marine-issue poncho, and laid to rest in his grave on that tiny island. And he would remain there for more than 70 years.
Moore’s parents had hoped he would come home. To their dismay, his mother received a Western Union telegram on Dec. 22, 1943, nearly a month after his death. Todd went ahead and asked the Chatham Cemetery for a burial plot, which he received. Sadly, both of his parents died before Moore could receive a proper burial at home. His siblings also died before he returned, too. His youngest brother, Fritz, was the last to depart this life at age 86 back in 2015. But Fritz’s DNA, along with dental and medical records, is what was used to identify Harvel Lee Moore’s remains.
History Flight, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization has unearthed the two largest recoveries of men since WWII. In 2017, History Flight recovered a grave site containing 24 men, including Lt. Moore. In July 2017, the Department of Defense conducted a dignified transfer of the men, returning them to the Central Identification Lab in Hawaii for positive identification. Moore’s remains were identified in Hawaii in February 2018.
November 2018 marks the 75th anniversary of the Tarawa Battle.