Scroll 2 # 820
Moon was born in Cartersville, Georgia on November 21, 1879. He graduated from Emory College (now University) with highest honors in 1903. Serving as a missionary in Cuba for six months, he later pastored a number of Methodist churches in Jacksonville (for six years), Fort Meade (for four years), Clearwater (for two years), and Sutherland (for two years). He married Caroline (Carrie) Lewis Chappell on December 6, 1906 at Riverside Methodist Church in Jacksonville. He was pastor of a church in Bradenton when he decided to go to France. Although the fighting was over, Moon felt called to volunteer with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He would have gone over sooner, he told others, but his young son, John Lawton Moon, Jr, was too ill for him to leave behind.
An international organization formed in 1844 with the mission to provide healthy activities and housing for young urban men, the YMCA offered wholesome entertainment for British, Canadian and Australian soldiers in England, Italy, France and other fighting fronts. Additional work was carried out in Greece, Russia, and a number of other countries. The organization produced pamphlets, raised money back home, and provided recreation, library services, bible study, and religious services.
In America, the Y launched a massive program of morale and welfare services for men in training camps. In 1902, Congress had authorized the establishment of YMCA facilities on military posts. The Y gave soldiers a place where they could get away from the harsh realities of the war. The Red Triangle organized canteens and post exchanges both at American military posts in the United States and near the front lines in France. Overseas, the YMCA agreed to run the Post Exchanges for the army, and thus sold candy, cigarettes, and other personal items to the soldiers. The huts or tents were run by “Secretaries,” who provided writing materials, stock libraries, and sometimes, a gramophone and records. During the war, 25,926 YMCA workers were stationed at these posts globally, including 5,145 women workers. Nearly 1500 entertainers, singers, dancers, and musicians met with troops at the Y in their off hours. Commanding General John Pershing endorsed the YMCA on a popular poster: “I have (had) opportunity to observe its operations, measure the quality of its personnel, and mark its beneficial influence upon our troops and I wish to unreservedly commend its work for the Army.”
Note the Y.M.C.A. tents in the background of this photo of Florida troops stationed at Camp Wheeler, February 1918.
In November 1918, the YMCA conducted a fundraising campaign in conjunction with six other welfare organizations: The YWCA, the Jewish Welfare Board, the Knights of Columbus, the Salvation Army, the American Library Association, and War Camp Community Service. The effort, known as the United War Campaign, raised $192 million. The YMCA followed American occupying forces into Germany, working primarily out of the city of Coblenz. And there were still hundreds of thousands American servicemen still stationed in France and England. It was these men in the American Expeditionary Forces who Pastor Moon believed needed ministering to. So, he secured an appointment as Secretary of the National War Work Council of the YMCA and applied for a passport, which the War Department quickly approved. In late January 1919, Moon boarded the passenger-cargo ship USS San Jacinto, which had been chartered by the Army, for the voyage to France.
But Reverend Moon never made it to France alive. Not far off coast from Cherbourg, after leading others in prayer while on deck on the evening of February 22, 1919, he descended into his stateroom below deck, where he died at 8:20 pm, attended by two physicians who were onboard the San Jacinto. The immediate cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage with an acute heart dilation.
After the ship docked at Le Havre on February 24, Moon’s body was placed in a flag-draped casket and taken to the French Municipal Cemetery for burial. An honor guard of several soldiers fired three volleys over his grave and a bugler played “Taps.” Here, Moon remained until April 29, 1921, when his body was disinterred and shipped by train to Antwerp, Belgium, where it was placed onboard the USAT Somme for the return trip to the United States. Reaching Hoboken, New Jersey, on July 5, 1921, he was then shipped at government expense to Fort Meade, Florida, arriving on July 15. He was reburied in Evergreen Cemetery in Fort Meade.
Reverend Moon’s passport application with Y.M.C.A. endorsement.
John Lawton Moon’s Y.M.C.A. Service Card.
Burial Case File
In addition to Moon, four of Florida’s Fallen listed on the Scroll served in the YMCA—Charles E. Hill, Maurice Oscar Fulton, Charles Oliver Chamberlain and Bessie Gale. Their names are all listed on the same page. At least four other Floridians who worked for the YMCA are known to have died during the Great War—David C. Burson, Franklin Joseph Ford, Charles Loomis, and Clara Summerlin Mendenhall.