Logistics Agency Employee Finds Father, War Hero
By Beth Reece
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT BELVOIR, Va., June 12, 2009 Ron Moran spent so many years pining for the truth about his father that searching for clues became a habit. “Where’s my dad? What happened to him?” he’d ask relatives when the void felt too deep.
Ron Moran, chief of the customer relations division in the Defense Logistics Agency's information operations directorate, holds a museum-quality model of a PBY Catalina seaplane, the type of plane his father flew while defending the Philippines during the outbreak of World War II. DoD photo by Beth Reece
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“It was this big secret. Even my granddad, who helped raise me for awhile, wouldn’t tell me anything about who my father was. I didn’t even know what he looked like,” said Moran, customer relations division branch chief for the Defense Logistic Agency’s information operations directorate.
Moran’s mother, Frances, took to silence when her son asked questions. The only answer she ever gave was a name – Raymond – and vague talk about a heart attack and time served in the Navy during World War II.
Rootless and aggravated by his mother’s refusal to lead him to his father, Moran turned to Navy personnel records, genealogy and eventually the Internet for answers. The results were always the same: no Social Security number, no leads.
When a sudden, massive stroke claimed his mother at age 85 in December 2003, Moran’s longing for the father he never knew was replaced by grief. At 45, he was an only son about to bury his sole parent.
Moran spent the following days making funeral arrangements and settling his mother’s modest estate with the help of his wife, Roben. It was she who pulled from the bottom of a wardrobe an orange plastic bag bearing the secrets – Moran’s answers.
“I was getting together the clothes his mom would be laid out in when I noticed the bag,” Roben said. “All I could feel was disbelief when I saw what was in it.”
Like striking gold is how Moran described the feeling of finding that bag. Inside were wedding and honeymoon photos of his parents, pictures of a happy couple with children Moran recognized as cousins, plus Navy identification cards with Raymond Moran’s service number.
“Come to find out, Mom had what I had been begging for all this time – pictures and everything I needed to finally find my dad,” he said. “I just broke down looking at it all.”
Moran took several “bittersweet” weeks to recover from his mother’s death before resuming the search for his father. Then, in yet another letter to the National Personnel Records Center, he asked for a copy of his father’s discharge papers, a “map” of the sailor’s service history.
With a service number, the Navy could finally answer Moran’s request.
“They sent me a list of the places he’d served and units he was with, as well as a list of all his medals. I also learned that he was in the Philippines during the outbreak of World War II.”
Raymond Moran served aboard PBY Catalina patrol bomber seaplanes with Navy patrol squadrons 21 and 102, which fought the Japanese in the first weeks of World War II. The PBYs were designed for anti-submarine warfare and patrol bombing, but the Navy suffered such heavy losses they also were used for rescue and evacuation missions.
“Those guys were outnumbered, flying missions the planes weren’t even designed for. Dad put his life on the line,” said Ron Moran, who since has read much about the history of the units his father served in.
Many of Raymond Moran’s fellow sailors died during intense fighting on the Philippine island of Corregidor or as prisoners of war during the Bataan Death March.
“It was just Dad’s plane and a couple of others that made it out safely,” Ron Moran said.
Learning about the father he’d always yearned for was only half the process of reuniting with him, but it was as far as Moran would get. Raymond Moran died in 1963, when Ron was 5.
“Ron will say, ‘I wonder if I ever got to see my dad. I wonder if he ever got to hold me or look into my eyes,’” Roben said. “These are the kinds of things that run through his mind, and he can only imagine.”
A War Hero
Today, Moran believes he is the son of a hero. His office is like a shrine, with medals, photographs of PBY seaplanes and Navy memorabilia filling the lamp-lit space.
Hoping to find one of his father’s war buddies, Moran posted messages on the PBY Memorial Foundation Web site last summer. The son of a deceased Navy lieutenant responded to ask if Moran realized his father qualified for the Bronze Star for defending the Philippines from December 1941 to May 1942.
“Dad already had a Presidential Unit Citation for that period. But the Bronze Star – I thought that would be awesome,” Moran said.
Virginia Sen. John Warner queried the Navy on Moran’s behalf to learn that his father was, indeed, entitled to the Bronze Star, the U.S. military’s fourth-highest award for bravery in combat. And if he wanted the medal, Moran was told, he could purchase one at any military clothing store.
“That just didn’t seem right, me buying the medal when – if Dad was still alive – they would have presented the Bronze Star properly in a ceremony,” he said.
Navy Cdr. Tiffany Schad took up Moran’s cause. The former chief of the Defense Logistics Agency’s director’s staff group, Schad used personal contacts at the office of the Secretary of the Navy to gain Moran a gift he calls “the ultimate moment” of his career.
In an April 3 ceremony at the agency’s headquarters here, Navy Rear Adm. Mark Heinrich, director of the logistics operations and readiness directorate, presented Moran his father’s Bronze Star.
“It was beyond my imaginations -- the ceremony, the honor of having Admiral Heinrich present the medal, all for me and my Dad,” Moran said.
World War II wasn’t the end of Raymond Moran’s combat experience. He went on to fight in the Korean War and retired with 20 years of service before meeting Ron’s mother.
What happened between them, Moran isn’t sure. He knows they divorced the year he was born, but not why.
“It’s a very important thing for a young man to have his father. Growing up, all the kids in school had dads. I wanted to know where mine was,” he said.
Roben is certain Frances Moran truly loved her son “more than life itself,” but for whatever reason, just couldn’t share her thoughts on Raymond.
“I asked her once what happened to Ron’s dad, and she shut the conversation up real quick and said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it. It’s not up for discussion,’” Roben said.
Her mother-in-law could have had better health care – and Ron a better education – if things had been different and she’d pursued the military benefits she was entitled to, she added.
“But maybe she was somehow afraid Ron would be taken from her,” Roben said.
While Moran still doesn’t understand the reason for his mom’s secrecy, he is not bitter. Instead, he takes pleasure in the family he has today.
“I have two stepsons, Eric and Brandon. They’d do anything for me, and I’d do anything for them,” he boasted, passing a framed photo across his desk.
“And that’s my new grandson. He was born just a couple days before the Bronze Star ceremony. Now that … was amazing. I’m still flying high.”
(Beth Reece works in the Defense Logistics Agency public affairs office.)