PENDER, Neb. -- Drafted by the U.S. Army at age 22, Norman Moeller wed his high school sweetheart, Joanne, shortly before he shipped out.
“This is a thing I would never say that a person should do, but it worked out really well for us,” Norman Moeller, now 87, said. “We were married July 15, and I left Aug. 20 for Korea, and in the meantime our first child was born -- he was 8 months old before I ever saw him.”
While her husband was in the service, Joanne stayed home with her parents, who gave her a solid support system during her new husband’s absence. Meanwhile, Norman was landing at Fort Drake in Japan, where he was assigned to fire direction before being sent off to Korea.
He was stationed in the area of the Punchbowl, the bowl-shaped valley in Gangwon Province, just a few miles south of the 38th Parallel, or Demilitarized Zone.
“When the floor observers got out, they went and called in coordinates to our station, to our bunker, and we would put that on coordinates, and we’d pass the coordinates to where the guns were, and they would fire,” Moeller said of his duties.
He spent 12 months in Korea, but never complained. Instead, he found a positive way to look at his situation.
“Well, naturally, you don’t like being away from home and being married was hard,” he said. “But I guess that didn’t bother me a lot, because I knew I was there and I had to be there, so I took it as it was and put in my time and was ready to come home.”
Before Norman met Joanne, he was used to being away from home, because he hadn’t ever had one for too long.
His father, a preacher, went wherever he was called. That often meant moving all over Nebraska.
Norman Moeller, who went to three different high schools due to his father’s pastoral assignments, rejects the notion that it was a tough age to move. “That’s what everybody always says, but I wasn’t bothered at all.”
Luckily, he found something worth staying for in Pender, Nebraska -- his future wife.
“I always tell her I had to run all over the state to find her,” he said with a laugh.
Joanne, whose parents attended Norman’s father’s parish, was a freshman in high school when Norman was a senior. Four children and 66 years later, the couple still live happily in Pender, where Norman takes immense pride in tending to the Thurston County farm he and his wife built their lives around.
Norman Moeller spends several hours a day on their farm, helping his eldest son, Keith, who raises crops and cattle.
“Farming is my life, and I enjoy it so much, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it,” Norman Moeller said.
When Norman returned from Korea, he was greeted by Keith, then eight months old, and Joanne, who were eager for his return. However, one aspect of readjusting to civilian life was difficult.
“It was a very big life change, because when you are in the service, you’ve been with, those guys,” said Norman. “And they become just like brothers to you, so when you come home, basically, you don’t have friends like you just left.”