Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Elgin, IL) Ray Moen was born at his Aunt’s house on Chicago’s northwest side in 1927. Growing up on Osceola Street, he took saxophone lessons from a local instructor and played sports with the neighborhood kids. Ray attended Steinmetz H.S. for a year then transferred to Lane Tech H.S. where he continued playing saxophone in concert, military (ROTC) and marching bands. He also took vocational classes and learned the basics of tool and die making. A football injury caused Ray to miss a large portion of his senior year so he did not graduate from Lane Tech until mid-term of the following year on February 1, 1946.
His local draft board, however, was looking for Ray in June 1945. They agreed to give him the extra time he needed to graduate but, as it turned out, not one day more. On February 2, 1946, young Ray was drafted into the US Army and sent to Ft. Bliss Texas for basic training. He received training as an infantry rifleman and instructions on the use of heavier weapons such as the Bofors (40mm) Gun and Quad 50 (cal.). Upon successfully completing the training Ray, was assigned to a rifle company in the 350th “Battle Mountain” Regiment of the famous 88th Blue Devils Division in the Northeast portion of Italy.
The 350th was an occupation force, hostilities having concluded about a year before Ray arrived. As such, its rather complex mission included guarding German POWs and enforcement of the “Morgan Line” that divided the disputed Province of Venezia Giulia between Italy and Yugoslavia. As a rifleman, Ray’s initial assignment was watching prisoners and walking guard posts. That soon changed.
The commanding officer of the 350th decided the regiment needed a band. He secured the necessary musical instruments and appointed a bandmaster creating the only regimental band in the Division. When Ray found out about this, he volunteered, auditioned as a sax player and was accepted as a member. He relocated to the band barracks in the beautiful Alpine village of Tarcento and began his new assignment.
Military bands typically play at parades, ceremonies and other special events and the 350th was no different. Its audiences included the British and U. S. high command officers such as General Mark Clark and General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower. Ray recalls one of these events in particular when after the obligatory inspection formation “Ike” came back and put the band “at ease.” He spent some time with the men, asking about their duties, quarters and families.
Between “gigs” there was a lot of practice and rehearsal. As a ceremonial unit they were constantly shining their boots, polishing their brass and making sure their painted helmets were always perfectly white. GI’s call this “spit and polish” and there were plenty of both. Ray and his band-mates also had time to explore the area,” one of the most beautiful on the planet” Ray recalls. Located just south of the Austrian Alps and just north of the Adriatic Sea between Venice and Trieste, Ray took advantage of these surroundings and (courtesy of Uncle Sam) enjoyed the same beaches and mountains where today’s tourists spend big bucks.
After a while the need for a large occupation force diminished and in July 1947 he was offered an “early out”. Ray put down his sax (the Army would not let him keep it) and returned to Chicago with an Honorable Discharge. Using the skills, he had previously learned at Lane Tech, Ray secured a job as a tool and die maker and successfully completed his apprenticeship.
On a double date at North Avenue Beach, Ray met his future wife, Barbara. They were married in March of 1949 and bought a home in Melrose Park where they raised their three children, Jean, Susan and Robert. Ray retired from Ballek Die Mold in 1989. Barbara and Ray currently reside in Elgin where they enjoy seeing their children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, all of whom live in the Chicago area.
Although Ray never seriously played the saxophone after he left Italy, he gave his high school sax to his son who then gave it to his grandson, Jon. Rays says, proudly, “My grandson is a much better player than I was.”
Honor Flight Chicago is honored to welcome Ray Moen, one of our hometown heroes, on its October 5, 2016 flight. Enjoy your special day!