The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

April 12, 2009

Researcher’s work shines the spotlight on World War II hero 'Buzz' Wagner


The initials are inscribed on a 1934 Nanty Glo High School class ring pulled last month from the ground in western Florida.

The ring was all retired Air Force Col. Jim E. Moschgat needed to confirm he had uncovered remains of Lt. Col. Boyd D. Wagner, the first Army Air Corps flying ace of World War II and the youngest lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Army.

The discovery was the culmination of five years of research conducted by Moschgat for a book he is writing on the aviation legend.

Moschgat, a 1973 graduate of Windber Area High School, first learned of the wartime hero from older relatives in the area.

Now, from his home in Colorado Springs, Moschgat has made it his mission to learn all he can about Cambria County native son Wagner, who became an international hero.

That class ring and other relics may provide clues as to how a World War II flying ace – who had survived numerous dogfights with enemy planes – crashed during a routine flight from Florida to Alabama in 1942.

“It was incredible,” Moschgat said. “I dug down five feet and started finding things. It was like finding a needle in a haystack.

“I made more than a dozen trips to Florida to finally locate the site, which was lost to history for more than 60 years.”

National icon

Wagner was born in Emeigh on Oct. 26, 1916.

Shortly after his 1934 high school graduation, his family moved to a house along Irene Street in Johnstown’s 8th Ward. He attended the city’s Pitt Extension for two years and then went on to the University of Pittsburgh to study aeronautical engineering.

But before he earned his degree, Wagner joined the Army Air Corps and took to the skies.

Days after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor officially launched the U.S. into a raging world war, Wagner captured international attention by taking on a wave of Japanese planes over the Philippines from the cockpit of his P-40.

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