By Robert Lucke
Talk about World War II stories, retired Chinook banker Norm Mosser has one that is as intriguing as any to come out of that period of time. But not strange at all when considering Mosser's roots in this country.
His grandfather, Joe Mosser, served on a Union gunboat on the Mississippi during the Civil War. After the war he went west to become one of the most legendary of all the bullwackers in Montana. Later he homesteaded on Clear Creek and, to this day, even though the homestead is gone, a bridge over Clear Creek still bears the name Mosser Bridge.
Later, Joe Mosser sold the homestead and moved into Chinook so his son could go to high school in town.
"When my dad finished high school, he married his teacher," recalled Norm Mosser. "She had come from Minnesota and had started out to teach in North Dakota but just kept going until she got here."
Young Norm recalled fishing in Clear Creek.
"When I was little, my dad fished and caught fish so big that a tank couldn't even hold them," Mosser said with a laugh. "Fishing was sure different those years."
Mosser's education was tied to the military from a young age.
"I enlisted in the National Guard when I was a senior in Chinook High School," Mosser said. "I thought that I was old enough to buy beer and I could buy beer in Helena."
Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and he got called in for training. "I knew I didn't want to be in the National Guard during the war so I applied for officers' training in Georgia and signed up for pilot's training. I had found a way out of the Guards."
A Mosser in pilot training was sort of strange. When his family had previously gone to war, it had always been in the Navy.
Before he knew it, he was heading off for England as a pilot of a troop plane.
"That was a long journey. First we flew to Maine and they added another gas tank to our planes. From there we went to Goosebay, Labrador, then to Greenland, then to Iceland, and finally to Ireland," Mosser remembered. "From there we ended up in Lincoln, England where Robin Hood used to frolic around."
From that time on, Mosser trained for the D-Day mission. So far, he had been mistaken in his own personal war timetable. He had thought that by the time he was through with pilot training and over in England, the war would be over and he could come home. Instead, he was in England training to make runs into France.
"And remember," said Mosser, "I never did like flying in the first place. But it was better than getting sent to the South Pacific."
"After D-Day we flew to Rheims, France, and we got set up in an old base there," Mosser said. "We flew supply missions to the front lines, and flew lots of gas to Patton's tanks so they could continue their dash to Berlin."
Hauling gasoline to Patton was done by strapping many full five-gallon gas tanks to the floor of the plane.
"Sometimes we towed gliders into Normandy. I felt sorry for those glider pilots. Someone below had outlined a field at night for them to land in and we had to cut them loose so they could land. Some of them carried jeeps and if they did not land right, the jeeps would come loose and get right up into the cockpit and kill the pilot," Mosser said. "About 10 days after D-Day, I flew over and landed on an airstrip in Normandy. I got out and peeked through a hedgerow, hearing gunfire in the distance. There was a German tank right in front of me. I really wanted to look down into it, but I thought it could be rigged and that would be the end of Mosser."
Later Mosser was taking some R and R on the French Riviera when he was told that if he went back to his headquarters, he could return home before long. But what a trip around the world they all had to getting home.
"We flew to North Africa, then to Ascension Island, and then west again to Brazil," Mosser related. "I remember I saw the Amazon River pouring into the ocean and it was so big and the water in the ocean was a different color from that river. I worried that if something happened to the plane, I would have to land in the water as I could never land in the trees. That was just huge!"
From Brazil, Mosser and the boys headed north to British Guinea, then to Puerto Rico, skirted the tip of Cuba, flew up the Florida coast to Charleston, S.C., where they had to give up their airplanes.
Then it was overland in a milk train to Fort Douglas, Utah, where they were given 30-day passes home and told to stay alert as they might be called into the Pacific front at any time.
"I was home in Chinook and walking down Main Street when I heard that we had dropped the atom bomb on Japan," Mosser said. "I didn't even know what an atom bomb was."
Mosser had piloted his DC-3 through four European missions: D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, the mouth of the Rhine River, and the central Europe supply mission. Usually there were 37 to 38 planes flying together and each had a four-man crew.
"I knew I needed insurance, so I taught my crew chief to be able to land our plane in case I ever got a bullet up there. He could bring the plane down," Mosser said.
Norm Mosser had gone into the National Guard in 1939 at the age of 18. He came home in 1945.
Playing golf one day, a Chinook banker came up to him and asked him if he had any plans for his future. He said no, so the banker asked him to come to work at his bank. That was the beginning of a distinguished banking career for Mosser.
And you might think that he spent his spare time flying over Montana the way he had flown all over the world.
"No, I didn't," Mosser said emphatically. "I wasn't ever that nuts about flying at all!"