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A second life: Hubert Moes' story

Published: Tuesday, July 5 2011 5:30 a.m. MDT

“You know, you're married to a page in history,” a friend once told Carmen Moes.

There’s no better way to describe the life story of her husband, Hubert Moes (pronounced “moose”).

Today, Hubert Moes is a tall, handsome man wearing bifocals and house shoes. He has a Dutch accent and soft voice but is by no means soft-spoken. One minute, he’ll be getting teary-eyed talking about an emotional moment in his life. The next, he’ll be on his hands and knees to illustrate a story. His whole face lights up when he smiles — and that happens a lot. “Hu” is always cracking jokes.

Carmen says her husband is quite the character. “Oh that’s just Hubert” is a bit of a catchphrase in their home, she said.

Hubert returned in early June from a cross-country motorcycle ride to Washington, D.C., by way of California for a special Memorial Day gathering at the Veterans Memorial. A three-week journey like that is incredible as it is.

But Hubert is 78 years old.

“He doesn’t know he’s old,” Carmen said.

These days, Hubert splits his time between spending time with family, riding with the Temple Riders Association, restoring a Triumph TR6, serving in the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple and being an all-around cheerful man.

“He’s just all the good things you can say about anyone,” said Don Mortenson, a sealer at the temple who works with Hubert and used his story in a fireside.

But Hubert's life — and personality — haven't always been this way.

“My story as a child and a teenager was not pretty”

Hubert was born in 1932 to a Dutch father and Indonesian mother in what was then the Dutch East Indies.

World War II was full of atrocities, especially Nazi concentration camps and the genocide of Jews. With a very European-focused history, it’s all too easy to forget what happened in Asia before Hiroshima.

Beginning in 1941, the Indies was overrun by the Japanese. Hubert was living with his family on the island of Java, which was rich in oil, rubber, rice and coffee — all a major draw for the Japanese armies.

In 1942, Hubert, the oldest of six children, was taken with his family and put in an internment camp. The young boys were considered “men” once they were 10 years old. Hubert reached that age after about a year in the camp and was moved from where his family was held to an old monastery housing more than 7,000 men and boys. They were forced to work in fields and on a railroad.

Prisoners were given very little food to survive on. Adults died by the tens daily. Hubert and another boy once stole two bananas from a Japanese-owned tree because they were hungry. As punishment, they were beaten and locked up in isolation for 40 days. He and the other boy communicated by knocking on the wall between them.

“After a while — no more knocks,” Hubert said. The other boy was dead.

Hubert spent 3 1/2 years in the camp until they were freed in August 1945. His family fell apart, and his life spiraled out of control.

“I carried that with me, that hatred toward the Japanese and even toward other people, for a long, long time,” Hubert said. “Consequently, my attitude towards people was pretty negative.”

His wife agrees. “Everybody was an enemy to him after the war … a lot of times it was the people closest to him.”

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