Adolph Christian Ferdinand Moll immigrated to America from Germany in the early 1850s and settled in St Louis where he started a retail grocery store. In 1858 at the age of 24 he became a US citizen. On Feb 2, 1861, Adolph married Hedwig Balleseau who had been born in Prussia and was 17 years old. They had 12 children, 6 boys and 6 girls. The oldest of the boys was Paul Moll.
The A Moll Grocery was located at Franklin St & 7th Ave and the whole family worked in it at one time or another.
Paul Moll, Sr, was born in St Louis on April 27, 1865, and in April 1894 he married Mollie Augusta Gamer. They had 2 boys and 2 girls, the oldest boy being Paul Moll Jr who was born in Jan 1896. He married Marjorie Mosier and on June 2, 1922, their son Paul Moll III was born.
The Moll family was prominent in the St Louis community and its store and houses were landmarks during their era.
LT PAUL MOLL, USAAC:
Shortly after midnight on 12 July 1973, a major fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis destroyed 80% of the Army records being maintained there. The service records of over 16 million veterans were destroyed. The Official Military Personnel Record of Paul Moll III was among those destroyed, or as he now says "I was burned up." All that remains there as proof of his service is his final pay voucher. The following was prepared from his memory and personal records, US WWII POW records and the photo archives of the 8th Army Air Force:
On Dec 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor bringing the United States fully into WWII, Paul Moll III was a sophomore at Purdue University studying chemical engineering. With the world then in turmoil on 16 Sept 1942 he decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps. "People were joining up, it sounded adventuresome," Moll now says. He enlisted in St Louis.
He was stationed for training and officers school in San Antonio, Texas. On 8 April 1944 he received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and chose to become a navigator on the B-17 Flying Fortress.
LT PAUL MOLL III
Lt Moll did his flight training at the Pyote Army Air Corp Base in Pyote, Texas. This base was the main training center for B-17 replacement crews during WWII. Called the "Rattlesnake Bomber Base" by its staff because of the large number of rattlesnakes unearthed while it was being built, it was located in a desolate and stark area with a lot of insects. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, a generally disagreeable place. But with one of the main goals of flight training being to get to know and trust your fellow crew members there may have been a method in the Army's madness in selecting this location for what rapidly became the largest air base in the US.
PYOTE ARMY AIR CORPS "RATTLESNAKE BOMBER" BASE
At Pyote, Lt Moll was assigned to the crew of Stanford Fonnesbeck for training. Along with Lts Fonnesbeck and Moll, this crew consisted of Lts Kenneth E Rhode, Robert L Scott and Sgts George M Kuykendall, Charles L Wingfield, Edwin Reynolds, John L Morton and Paul F Amann.
LT PAUL MOLL WITH FLIGHT CREW AT PYOTE ARMY AIR CORP BASE
TYPICAL NAVIGATOR AT WORK IN B-17
After three months of intensive training the crew graduated from flight school in July, 1944, and was transferred to the Herington Army Air Field in Kansas which served as a staging base for overseas bound heavy bombers.
Two days before shipping out, Lt Moll married his childhood sweetheart Constance "Connie" Smith at the Herington Army Air Field Base Chapel. "It just seemed the thing to do at the time" according to Connie.
The crew had been assigned to:
US ARMY 8th AIR FORCE
1st AIR DIVISION 94th COMBAT WING
The 457th Bombardment Group was stationed at Glatton Air Field, known as Station 130, in Huntingdonshire, England.
GLATTON AIR FIELD BRIEFING ROOM FOR NAVIGATORS
The 457th Bombardment Group was assigned to Glatton Air Field in Jan 1944 and its first combat flight was made on 21 Feb 1944 under the command of Col Luper, the Group Commander.
Capt Fonnesbeck's crew with Lt Paul Moll was among the relief crews that arrived in July 1944. They made their first combat flight in A/C O018 "Lady Katherine" on 1 Aug 1944 it was the 99th combat mission of the 457th.
After that first mission, Capt Fonnesbeck and his crew were assigned to A/C Q954 (42-102954) for most of the rest of their flights. Capt Fonnesbeck flew his last mission on 6 Jan 1945 and A/C Q954 was assigned a new crew. It was shot down on 29 Jan 1945 while on a mission bombing the railway yards at Siegen, Germany.
The Lady Katherine, with a different crew, was shot down and crashed during a mission on 25 Aug 1944.
Of Lt Moll's 21 combat missions, all but 3 were with Capt Fonnesbeck.
LT PAUL MOLL WITH CAPT FLANNERY CREW ON 5 OCT 1944
LT PAUL MOLL WITH CAPT SEESENGUTH CREW ON 6 OCT 1944
Lt Moll's job was to guide his pilots through the constant English fog. Taking off with other aircraft they headed out on bombing missions over Europe. They flew in blind circles to get to the sunshine at 5,000 feet. "We were like hummingbirds, all trying to get up into the sky. It was a problem trying not to hit the other guys" he remembers.
On 7 Oct 1944, Lt Moll flew his 21st combat mission; this time he was again with Capt Flannery and they were in A/C 638, the Follow Me. Their mission was to bomb an oil refinery in Politz, Germany. It would be Lt Moll's last mission!
Six B-17s, including A/C 638, were lost on this mission. In addition, 38 suffered battle damage, five of which had major damage. MISSION 133 -- TARGET POLITZ
POLITZ REFINERY IN 2000
Capt Flannery and four other of his crew were killed when the Follow Me was hit by flak; Lt Moll and four other crew members became POWs. "We didn't come in right at first, so we had to retrace our steps to do it again. Then there was a tremendous explosion." The Follow Me had taken a flak hit directly in the cockpit, it was gone. Moll took shrapnel in his leg and was thrown across the plane. The crew was supposed to wear their parachutes strapped to their chests but his bombardier was not wearing one that day. "It was uncomfortable, he jumped without his chute." Moll remembers bailing out of the aircraft and then passing out. He also remembers coming to in mid-air.
FROM THE DIARY OF A BALL TURRET GUNNER:
"Oct 7, 1944: We bombed Politz today. All three ships in the lead element were shot down over the target. Col Luper, our Group Commander, was lost. I think 2 men got out of his plane. We were hit over fifty times, holes everywhere. Every direction I looked flak was bursting. I must have prayed out loud. I could smell the flak through my oxygen mask. I was sweating even at 40 degrees below zero. The ship flying on our left wing got a direct hit in the nose. It almost crashed into us out of control. One man's body was hanging half way out of what was left of the nose, most of his clothes blasted off. In the ball I was practically looking the bursts in the face as they tracked us along and kept exploding right under me....
I've seen more in a few seconds than most men will see in their lifetime!"
When he came to, Moll says, "It was silent and beautiful. I was falling about 120 mph. At 2,000 feet I pulled the rip. When it opened, they fired at us with rifles. One of the guys was shot coming down." He landed not far from the German soldiers who had been shooting at them and was taken prisoner. "What I remember is beyond fear!"
Lt Moll was herded aboard a packed POW train which reeked from human waste and was taken to Stalag Luft I, known as Dulag Luft by the POWs. Nearly all captured American airmen were sent to this camp and it was recognized as the greatest interrogation center in Germany. He was kept in solitary confinement and routinely interrogated for over a month. After the war, the Commandant of that camp was tried and executed for his war crimes related to the mistreatment of prisoners under his command.
STALAG LUFT I (DULAG LUFT)
At the end of October 1944, Lt Moll was transferred to Stalag Luft III in East Germany. This camp was an officers only camp and was run by the Luftwaffe. The guards were Luftwaffe soldiers and gave the prisoners far better treatment than most of the other POWs in Germany. In March 1943 Squadron Leader Robert Bushell RAF had led a major escape attempt from this camp (which formed the basis of the movie The Great Escape).
STALAG LUFT III
In late January, 1947, Russian troops were advancing towards Germany where the camp was located. The German command decided to evacuate it and at midnight on 27 Jan 1945 Lt Moll and his fellow prisoners (around 5,000 in number) were ordered on a 50 mile March to Spremberg, Germany. It was freezing cold and many of the prisoners did not have shoes. "They gave us a piece of mutton tallow to eat. Instead, I rubbed it on my feet." Moll recalls. After a forced march of 34 miles the prisoners arrived in the town of Bad Muskau where they were allowed to rest for 30 hours. They then marched the remaining 16 miles to Spremberg. "Any prisoners who stopped during the march were shot."
On 31 Jan, Lt Moll was among a group of prisoners who were shipped by train from Spremberg to Stalag VII-A at Moosburg, Germany.
STALAG VII-A MOOSBURG, GERMANY
Stalag VII-A was a huge camp of 85 acres with over 130,000 prisoners, 30,000 of whom were Americans. The camp was liberated on 29 April 1945 by Combat Command A of the 14th Armored Division after a battle with 6,000 German defenders including the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division. Combat Command A had a total of 1,750 men including only a single company of armored infantrymen. In addition, because of all the POWs in the area they were ordered to attack without the support of their artillery. POWs inside the camp heard the Germans open fire on the Americans as they crossed a bridge leading into Moosburg. "Hitler had told the camp Commandant to execute all the prisoners, fortunately he knew better," Moll says.
When the Germans opened fire on the American liberators, they counter attacked the SS troops with a ferocity and barrage of weapons fire that stunned even the most veteran SS officers. Resistance was quickly eliminated and the camp liberated. "They sprayed us with DDT to kill the lice and fleas. I borrowed a camera and miraculously found some film." He asked one of the liberating soldiers to take his picture behind the barbed wire.
Connie and his parents back in the US had not known whether he was dead or alive for the months that he had been held by the Germans. For the rest of her life, his mother always left some food on her dinner plate in memory of her son starving in a POW camp in Germany.
When Paul Moll was discharged from the Army Air Corps on 14 Dec 1946, he returned home to his wife Connie and resumed his studies at Purdue University. He had been awarded the Purple Heart, POW Medal, WWII Victory Medal and Honorable Service Lapel. He graduated from Purdue in 1947.
THE FIREBALL OUTFIT (POLITZ MISSION SECTION) by Ken Blakebrough
If you need to know more about the B-17, here are a couple of more videos you might enjoy:
If those aren't enough, this video has everything you ever wanted to know about the B-17 Flying Fortress! It is quite long (54 mins) and includes several of the clips from the story above but if you still feel like you need to more about this aircraft, here it is:
Thank you for the information on your great-grandfather Adolph Moll. I don't know if you are aware, but his grocery store has officially left a bit of an archaeological heritage. At a site excavated in North St. Louis city, a broken piece of stoneware crockery was exhumed bearing the stamp "A. Moll Groc..." and "St. Louis N..."
Paul, You have wonderful photos and a great story. You are right, not all memories are good, but they are just as important to record. Thank you for sharing. Rachel