Frank Keder was president of the West Pittston High School, Class of 1937. The son of Felix Keder, an immigrant Lithuanian coal miner, he was 23 in September 1943 when he enlisted in the military. He was assigned to the Army Air Corps. After training at Homestead Air Base in Florida, he was promoted to Second Lieutenant and placed in the 738th Squadron of the 454th Bombardment Group at San Giovanni Field in Italy as a navigator on a B-24 Liberator bomber, which crewmen dubbed “The Flying Coffin.”
One day in April 1944, Keder’s B-24 was on a run to bomb an aircraft factory near Budapest, Hungary. It was the 13th day of the month and Keder’s 13th mission.
The plane was shot down by German fighters.
Keder and eight other crewmen survived, but pilot James Ormsbee, of New Mexico, and radio operator Spencer Fox, of Camden, New Jersey, were killed. Keder had a broken leg. He was taken to a hospital in Budapest, where, as he told his family years later, he was treated compassionately by nurses who were Catholic nuns, until the Germans caught up with him and took him to the Moosborg POW Camp in Bavaria, the largest German POW camp. At the end of the war, more than 75,000 POWs were being held there.
Meanwhile, Don Moss, a Private First Class from Hughestown, who, despite being 29 and married, had enlisted in 1942, was with the 318th Army Infantry in France when he was taken prisoner during the summer of 1944 and forced-marched to Moosborg.
So here were Keder and Moss, POWs from Greater Pittston, both at Moosborg at the same time with 75,000 other Allied prisoners. They didn’t know each other, but they were connected, as they would learn, in a bizarre, barely believable coincidence. The connection was described in a handwritten account by Keder in a notebook found by Keder’s daughter Barbara Keder Pumplun.
Keder wrote: “I first met Don Moss, Hughestown, in a German prisoner-of-war camp in about February of 1945 ... In the morning or afternoon when the guards let us go outside the barracks to walk around, a group of men from each compound would exchange information by shouting over the barbed wire separating us. One day I heard a voice say he was from Northeastern PA which led to “near Wilkes-Barre” and finally the man said “West Pittston.”
Naturally, I asked him who he knew in West Pittston and he called back ‘Marjorie Melberger.’ He said she was his wife.
I was amazed and told him Marjorie and I were classmates at West Pittston High School and I even knew her brothers!! What a world! Marjorie Melberger’s name was bandied about in a POW camp deep in Germany in World War II.”
Moosborg was liberated by the U.S. 14th Armored Division on April 29, 1945. Keder and Moss were discharged in late 1945 and both went back to West Pittston, where Moss was also living, and finally met face-to-face. With their wives, they socialized occasionally and always met at West Pittston High School Class of 1937 reunions.
Keder married his West Pittston neighbor, Jule Starolis. They would have three children: Barbara, who lives in Ohio; Fritz, West Pittston, and Kathy, who died in 2013. Keder spent 13 months in Moosborg, but, Barbara said, other than the encounter with the voice of Don Moss, he never talked about life in the camp.
After the United States Air Force was formed in 1947 — it had previously been part of the Army — Keder reenlisted and served as an Air Force recruiter in the Wilkes-Barre office. Later he had a career with the Social Security Administration. He lived to 84, passing in 2004. His wife died earlier this year. She was 96.
Moss’ post war life was tragic by comparison. Like Keder, Moss rarely talked about Moosborg, though he lost all his teeth, and his health, there. He came home from the war in an ambulance. He had a heart attack at 42 and a second at 52 in 1970, which took his life. He and Marjorie did have two daughters, Ellyn Moss Quinn and Judy Moss Stevenson.
Daughter Ellyn described her father, who died when she was in college, as “a gentle soul.” She said the only story he ever told about Moosborg, again, other than his encounters with Keder, was how he and the other POWs would hide twigs in their socks while in the yard in hopes of using them for a fire to keep warm, only to have the Germans confiscate them. A missal he had at Moosborg survived. In it he marked the passage of time with six lines for days crossed by a seventh line to mark the weeks.
Keder’s daughter Barbara said the story of the disembodied voices communicating over the barbed wire fence in a German prison camp brought the Keder and Moss families lifetimes of friendships.
“It’s kind of like we’re comrades in arms,” she said.