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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.”

That hatred took him into a world of heavy drinking and smoking that lasted through much of his service with the Dutch air force. In April 1960, while stationed in the Netherlands, he collapsed. The doctor found spots in Hubert's lungs, and his liver was almost completely gone. He was given six to eight months to live.

“I got shocked,” he said. “I got scared.”

He started to clean up his act, and soon a young naval officer asked Hubert if he could give her a ride to church. It was an LDS Church. Hubert was baptized Aug. 5, 1960.

“And by the way,” Hubert said, leaning forward and lowering his voice a bit, “the young ladies were so pretty in church, and I was single,” he laughed as Carmen sighed.

Shortly after Hubert joined, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints needed some people who could build chapels. Hubert had his visa ready to go to the United States. But in an experience he said was “like Samuel,” he was awakened in the middle of the night and told to stay and serve. His service helped him in more ways than one.

“That was simply something that I had to do … to get rid of the urge.” His more structured life during his 2 1/2 years of service helped him resist the need to smoke or stop in the bar on the corner.

Not changed enough

Although he had quit drinking and smoking and had joined the church, Hubert still struggled for about 45 years. He suffered from chronic migraines and nightmares.

“I’d see the bayonets still coming, and the Samurai still coming, and the beheadings,” he said of his nightmares.

Two marriages failed because he was just too hard to live with. His 40-year marriage to Carmen hasn’t been without struggles, either. Ten years into their marriage, Carmen took the kids and left temporarily.

“There wasn’t even a profile for him, he was so screwed up,” she said. But he sought help, and Carmen came back.

“She worked real hard and used her skills to make me change and think differently,” Hubert said of his wife.

He remembers talking years ago to former fellow ward member and Japanese internment camp survivor Gene Jacobsen, author of “We Refused to Die.”

“I remember the cigarette burns on my body and the stabbing with the bayonet. I said, ‘I cannot forget that.'" Jacobsen told him to forgive the Japanese because it would change Hubert's life as it did his.

“He was able to refine himself and get over it, and I didn’t,” Hubert said. “I had to carry it with me.”

Hubert's final turning point happened just more than 10 years ago when James Matsumori, the current president of the Washington D.C. North Mission and husband of former general Primary presidency member Vicki Matsumori, was called as the stake president over Hubert's old stake in Murray, Utah.

“It felt like I was kicked real hard in the butt,” he said of finding out about the calling. At the time, he was serving as the stake’s satellite specialist. In the years Hubert worked with Matsumori, he grew to love and respect him.

“He is the most wonderful man that I’ve ever run into, especially (for being) Japanese,” Hubert said. His relationship with Matsumori helped change his view of all Japanese people.

”They had a conversation and big hug where everything just kind of melted away,” Carmen said, describing a particular Sunday morning that found the two men setting up for a broadcast.

“We were just bawling like little kids,” Hubert said. “That was the point that I — sorry, I may get a little emotional — that was the point that made … the change in me. … It was the bottom line and the best thing that ever happened to me in my life.”

A second life

“Well, after that was taken care of and I was able to change my system, not to accuse them (the Japanese) anymore, not to carry it anymore, I became a normal person,” he said, starting to choke up.

“Almost,” his wife interjected. The two laughed together.

“He’s over it so much that it’s almost like it’s another person’s life,” Carmen said.

“Now it is a story,” Hubert said. He is able to talk about it openly now, and he uses his story to teach others.

Hubert learned an incredible lesson of forgiveness and said, “You cannot honor our Heavenly Father if you hate your neighbor.” He has accepted that everyone, including anyone who is Japanese, counts as his neighbor and that it is “dumb” to not let go of things and forgive.

“You cannot with that attitude and that feeling in yourself, there’s no way that you can be uplifted and happy,” he said.

Hubert has certainly been humbled by his experience.

“What I learned over the years about the gospel as it is taught to me and about living it, and looking back, I have absolutely no business of walking on this earth today.”

Hubert lives in a beautiful home in Riverton, Utah, just a three-minute drive from the temple he serves in. He considers his service there to be payback for a good life, success, a good home and “a fantastic wife.”

He has told the story of what he calls his “first life” in firesides, presentations and to others who simply ask. His “first life” is far behind him now.

“I am happy,” he said. “I am free.”

Email: hbowler@desnews.com

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