WW II veteran from Taylor, 98, recalls horrors of entering Nagasaki after atomic bomb

World War II veteran Archie Moczygemba, 98, said he can still remember what he saw when he was among the first U.S. Marines to enter Nagasaki in early September 1945. A few weeks before they arrived, the United States had dropped an atomic bomb on the city, which led to Japan's surrender.

Estimates of how many died in Nagasaki from the bombing range as high as 74,000 people.

"It was total destruction," said Moczygemba, a Taylor resident who spoke about his military career shortly before Veterans Day.

He said the first things he saw as his ship was approaching Nagasaki were bodies floating in the harbor and buildings on land with melted sheet metal. "The residential area was total ashes except for one thing I really noticed was in front of what used to be a house. A couple of ceramic flowerpots were not damaged," he said.

Moczygemba also said he saw many injured residents with burns. "Their ears and noses were burned," he said. "The survivors were in real bad shape. I was shocked."

Veterans Day is celebrated annually on Nov. 11 to honor U.S. military veterans. The date was chosen because it was the day in 1918 when the fighting ended in World War I.

Moczygemba, who is also a veteran of the Korean War, said he has never gone to events honoring veterans on Nov. 11.

"I don't feel we were any kind of a hero wearing the uniform or going into combat," he said. "It was something we either asked for or we did for the country. That is it."

Moczygemba said he does make sure he wears his World War II cap when he goes out in public, and a lot of people thank him for his service.

"I appreciate that," he said.

In September, he finally went on an honor flight to Washington, D.C., to see sights such as the Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam War Memorial after resisting the free plane ride offered to veterans for several years. "I don't like to fly," he said.

Born on July 4, 1924, Moczygemba said he enlisted in the military as soon as he got a high school diploma in San Antonio at age 18.

"I was just going to get in the middle of what I thought was an exciting life," he said.

Moczygemba said he planned to join the Navy with a friend, but the Navy turned him down because he had flat feet. The day after the Navy refused him, Moczygemba enlisted in the Marines. That was on Nov. 16, 1942.

He got into the Marines because the same doctor who told him he had flat feet reexamined him, he said. The doctor told him to jump off a chair and land on the balls of his feet 25 times and then asked him if his feet hurt, Moczygemba said. "I wasn't about to tell them if they did," he said.

The only injuries he received while enlisted happened before he went to Nagasaki, when a gun that had been put together the wrong way exploded while he was handling it, he said. He ended up in a hospital in Hawaii with a broken arm and four broken ribs.

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He served with the Marines until 1949 and joined the military again when he enlisted in the Army in 1950 because "civilian life wasn't what I thought it was going to be," he said.

After two tours of duty in Korea, including one during the Korean War, Moczygemba left the Army in 1963.

He lived in Austin, where he worked as a dormitory manager for the Department of Public Safety training academy until he retired in 1985, and he spent years traveling around the U.S. and Canada in an RV.

Moczygemba was married to his first wife, Julia, for 50 years until she died in a car crash in 1997, he said. In 1999, he married his second wife, Mary, who died of Alzheimer's this year, Moczygemba said. He has four sons and a daughter from his first marriage.

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The veteran said he's just "lucky" that he's lived so long. He doesn't drink, and he hasn't smoked since 1966, when he gave up a three-and-a-half-pack-a-day cigarette habit, Moczygemba said. He had heart bypass surgery in 1990, he said, and currently suffers from arthritis, but he still does his own ironing.

"World War II taught me self-reliance," he said. "The only thing I can't do is do a good sweeping on the floors."

Moczygemba said he still wants to travel.

"To me there is always something beyond the horizon I have not seen," he said. "I'd like to go back to Canada; it's a beautiful country with very friendly people."

Moczygemba said he doesn't have much advice for young people except to remember that life is a gamble.

"When you wake up in the morning, you don't know if you are going to live through the day," he said. "You don't know when your time is up. I say enjoy life as much as you can. Do what you can while you can."

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: WW II veteran, 98, recalls horrors of entering Nagasaki after atomic bomb drop