Mar 10

Suicide at the Top, Remembering RADM Don P. Moon

Tuesday, March 10, 2020 12:01 AM

By

RADM Don P. Moon in Algeria 24 March 1944
(NHHC)

As we remember and observe the 75th anniversary of Operation Dragoon, the Allied amphibious landing in southern France on 15 August 1944, it is worthwhile to reflect on one high ranking casualty just prior to the invasion, RADM Don P. Moon. Sadly, RADM Moon committed suicide ten days prior to the assault. In light of the recent suicides of VADM Scott Stearney, commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, on 1 December 2018[i], and Army CSM Noel Foster, the Fort Campbell Garrison CSM, on 1 September 2017, RADM Moon’s case is worth studying to understand how the pressures of command and combat can adversely affect a service member.

RADM Moon’s career had notable highlights throughout his naval service. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1916; he was at the top of his class in ordnance, gunnery, and engineering. Moon attended graduate school at the University of Chicago studying ballistics, his studies led to successful field tests on the battleships Maryland and Nevada. He commanded a destroyer squadron off Morocco in Operation Torch in 1942, and also commanded the landing force on Utah Beach on D-Day. Outside his naval career, he wrote short stories and patented a razor blade holder.[ii]

However, there were warning signals that all was not well. He had a reputation as an extremely hard worker dating back to his midshipman days at the Naval Academy. He tended to do too much himself, working daily well past midnight, without depending on his staff, he was “burning the candle at both ends.”[iii] He experienced tough times during World War II. As a destroyer squadron commander he was in the escort of Soviet-bound convoy PQ-17 in July 1942; that ill-fated convoy lost 23 of 37 merchant ships due to misreading German warship movements and withdrawal of the escort, leaving the unprotected merchant ships to the mercy of German U-boats and aircraft.[iv]

Aboard LCT 975, Royal Navy, vehicles and men are snugly packed during Operation Tiger
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

In April 1944 during the Allied preparation for the D-Day invasion, he commanded the landing force rehearsal, Operation Tiger, mimicking the upcoming Utah Beach landing involving eight Landing Ships, Tank (LST’s) off Slapton Sands on southeast British coast over the night of 27-28 April 1944. [v] An attack by German E-boats sank two LSTs, a third LST was hit in the stern, but was able to make it to port. The American losses totaled 749 dead. The E-boats retired from the fight with no losses.[vi] This weighed heavily on Moon, he was nearly unhinged and was determined to have no similar calamity occur in the actual invasion.[vii]

During the D-Day assault itself on 6 June 1944, RADM Moon became rattled by the fighting on Utah Beach and contemplated halting the landings, but was talked out it by then-MG Lawton Collins, U.S. Army, the VII Corps commander. Collins thought Moon was overly cautious, commenting, “He is the first admiral I’ve ever met who wears rubbers on a mere rainy day.” Forcefully making the point the landings must continue to exploit initial success, Collins successfully convinced Moon to keep the landings going.[viii]

American troops wade through the surf carrying their equipment at Utah Beach 7 June 1944
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

In early July 1944, Moon was named as one of three naval assault commanders for Operation Dragoon, the Allied amphibious invasion of southern France set for 15 August 1944. His naval force was to land the Army’s 36th Infantry Division. Worn down by months of fifteen hour workdays, seven days a week, along with the recent strain of D-Day coupled with unwillingness to delegate tasks, Moon was exhausted.[ix] Believing his naval force unready for its task, Moon pleaded with VADM H.K. Hewitt, the overall naval commander, to postpone the invasion. Hewitt tried to persuade Moon things were not as bad as they seemed, and promised to consider postponement if final rehearsals were unsatisfactory. Tragically, this was not enough for Moon. On the following morning, 5 August 1944, Moon took his life in his cabin on his flagship.[x]

Hewitt had known Moon from their days at Annapolis and was aware of Moon’s intensity, reluctance to delegate authority, and tendency to overwork. However, he was unaware of Moon’s desire to halt the Utah Beach landings. Though concerned about Moon’s mental state and pessimism over Operation Dragoon, Hewitt thought things would still work out.[xi]

The Moon suicide has several applications for today’s commanders. First, the tendency to overwork and not delegate will wear one down, no matter how resilient the individual may believe they are. Additionally, multiple bad events in one’s career can feed into depression and over caution. Finally, though individual’s breaking points vary, warning signals can give indicate that someone is nearing their limits.

[i] Sam LaGrone, Death of Former 5th Fleet CO Stearney Ruled a Suicide, USNI, June 12, 2019.

[ii] Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light, The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (New York: Picador, 2013) 63.

[iii] Craig Symonds, Neptune, The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings (New York, Oxford University Press, 2014) 203-205.

[iv] Ibid, 204.

[v] Claire Jones, “The D-Day Rehearsal That Cost 800 Lives,” BBC News, May 30, 2014. (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-devon-27185893)

[vi] Dave Wieczorek, “Death Before D-Day, “ South Florida Sun Sentinel, June 5, 1988.

[vii] Atkinson, 63.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Symonds, 355-356.

[x] Samuel E. Morison, History of U.S. Naval Operations of World War II, Volume XI, The Invasion of France and Germany, 1944-1945 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1957) 237-242.

[xi] Atkinson, 191-192. займ без отказа