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Raising the 12th-Man flag

A World War II pilot who survived concentration camp raises the 12th-Man flag before game

Published: 12:38PM November 15th, 2012

World War II pilot Joe Moser stood at the flag pole, prepared to raise the flag high above his head, wondering if his nerves would get the best of him.

The 91-year-old Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter pilot had survived aerial dogfights, a crash landing after being shot down over France, internment in a Nazi concentration camp and even notice of his execution date.

But none of that, he said, was as nerve-wracking as raising the 12th Man flag at CenturyLink Field Sunday before a sold-out crowd during the NFL’s annual Salute to Service game.

It was a day to remember for Moser. His daughter, Joyce Lorenz, didn’t tell him about the honor of raising the flag — or the perks that came with that honor — until the day before the event. The Ferndale, Wash., native traveled 100 miles the night before and was given overnight accommodations in a hotel directly across the street from the stadium. Days before the event, Lorenz told him they had “won tickets.” Moser knew something was up, but stayed quiet about it.

The Seahawks went out of their way to make this day incredible, Lorenz said. He was shuttled to the stadium by the Seahawks. The long-time football fan was met by Seahawks staff, along with 17 members of his family, spanning three generations. They stayed in Suite 22, overlooking the end zone. And right before kickoff, at the top of the stadium, everyone was watching Moser, in a No. 12 Seahawks jersey raising the flag, becoming the 103rd person since 2003 to perform that honor.

“Nothing compares to being up there today. It has just been fantastic,” Moser said.

It is not hard to imagine why the Seahawks chose Moser to raise the flag on Veterans Day, before thousands of veterans from all wars and all services. Moser survived bailing out a fiery fighter plane that had been shot down by the Germans in 1944. After his capture, the Germans shipped him to Buchenwald — one of the most infamous concentration camps in Germany.

The order came down from German leaders that he was to be killed. Four days before Moser’s execution, German Luftwaffe officers stayed the order and put him, along with other American captives, on a train to another famous World War II location — POW camp Stalag Luft III. Moser was placed in the same barracks that a month prior, Allied flyers had tunneled out of and temporarily escaped, dramatized later in the movie “The Great Escape.” As Allied forces advanced toward Germany in 1945, Moser was moved again, forced to march nearly to his death. On April 29, 1945, nine months after his capture, the Allies finally broke into the concentration camp. He was liberated and returned home.

He has spent the past 60 years fixing furnaces in Whatcom County and the past 30 years traveling the state, talking to students about his experiences during the war. He has a simple message that he likes to leave with people after telling his story.

“Believe in yourself and have faith,” Moser said.

A book titled “A Fighter Pilot in Buchenwald” and a documentary called “The Lost Airmen of Buchenwald” tell the entire story of Moser’s amazing ordeal of capture and survival, but it was his quiet return to civilian life that showed his true personality. He insists he is not a hero, but rather someone who served his country and returned home to serve his family. The soft-spoken Moser didn’t even tell his wife Jean about his ordeal until 40 years later.

“I’m not an American hero, I’m just an ordinary, little man — a guy doing his job.”