Missionary and social worker in Japan,
US Marine and pioneering WWII PoW interrogator,
Created Memorial Day 2005; updated since, most recently April 2020 with extensive revisions and corrections.
(Above photo, from 1942, shows S.F. Moran on Guadalcanal interrogating a downed Japanese pilot with an injured hand; USMC FMD CO Col. Edmond Buckley observes.)
This site has been developed by the family of Sherwood F. Moran in response to numerous inquiries about him, following the 2004 publication of Ulrich Straus’s Anguish of Surrender: Japanese PoWs of World War II, and then, more important, Stephen Budiansky’s article in the June 2005 Atlantic Monthly on Moran’s humane prisoner interrogation work on Guadalcanal 1942-’43. Over the last decade and a half there have been numerous followups on his work and his long career.
Selected materials may continue to be posted over time having to do with this most interesting and influential individual. A biography follows. Much of the personal material is taken from S.F. Moran’s interviews recorded by family and others during his last years, his memories subsequently vetted where possible. This page and the author are the definitive source to consult, rather than the S.F. Moran Wikipedia page, as Wikipedia in the past has not allowed linking to this site nor editing of that entry by family, owing to their limiting policies of ‘no original research’ and no ‘conflict of interest’.
The Life and Work of Sherwood Ford Moran, 1885 – 1983
by David R. Moran, Frances H. Moran, and Sherwood R. Moran
(The authors include Sherwood F. Moran’s daughter-in-law and his eldest son, Sherwood Reeves Moran, known as Sherry, both now deceased; their children, four of Sherwood F.’s ten grandchildren, have assisted, led by David.)
In the summer of 2003, Douglas Brower, an active-duty Marine who taught interrogation for the USMC and USN and also is historian for the Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association, posted on http://www.mcitta.org/ a 1943 memo well-known in his area although not widely otherwise. Entitled “Suggestions for Japanese Interpreters Based on Work in the Field,” it had been recently retyped by the association’s Mitchell Paradis (retired Master Gunnery Sergeant USMC). The posting drew attention because of the document’s timely, clear, emphatic, and persuasive explanations of why sympathetic, familiarly grounded prisoner interrogation was altogether preferable to its opposite. (The memorandum, now fully proofed, is available as a pdf at
In December 2004, the Japan Times published a review by freelance correspondent Richard Halloran of the new Straus book. (Straus, who lived in Japan as a child, was a US Army language officer there after the war, participating in war-crimes trials, and has been a faculty member at the National War College.) The widely syndicated review mentioned that a “Maj. Sherwood Moran of the U.S. Marines lived in Japan … and spoke fluent Japanese, and was a particularly effective interrogator because he treated each prisoner as another human rather than as the enemy.” Straus had discovered S.F. Moran records in the WWII archives of UColorado-Boulder.
The next summer the Atlantic Monthly ran an article by the military technology and intelligence historian Stephen Budiansky, entitled “Truth Extraction.” He wrote:
“Six months before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison broke into public view, a small and fairly obscure private association of United States Marine Corps members posted on its Web site a document on how to get enemy PoWs to talk. The document described a situation very similar to the one the United States faces in the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan: a fanatical and implacable enemy, intense pressure to achieve quick results, a brutal war in which the old rules no longer seem to apply.
“Marine Major Sherwood F. Moran, the report’s author, noted that despite the complexities and difficulties of dealing with an enemy from such a hostile and alien culture, some American interrogators consistently managed to extract useful information from prisoners. The successful interrogators all had one thing in common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them.
“Moran was writing in 1943, and he was describing his own, already legendary methods of interrogating Japanese prisoners of war. More than a half century later his report remains something of a cult classic for military interrogators. The Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association, a group of active-duty and retired Marine intelligence personnel, calls Moran’s report one of the ‘timeless documents’ in the field and says it has long been ‘a standard read’ for insiders. An MCITTA member says the group decided to post Moran’s report online in July of 2003, because ‘many others wanted to read it’ and because the original document, in the Marine Corps archives, was in such poor shape that the photocopies in circulation were difficult to decipher. He denies that current events had anything to do with either the decision to post the document or the increased interest in it.”
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In response to numerous inquiries following these developments, Sherwood F. Moran’s daughter-in-law and eldest son, along with their children, undertook this biography explaining who this unusual individual — clergyman, missionary, Marine, PoW-interrogation expert, Asian-art scholar — was, and how he got that way.
(Note that more than one historian has sometimes confused Sherwood F. Moran with his son Sherwood R. Moran, my father, known throughout his life as Sherry.)
— David R. Moran, grandson; Wayland Mass. USA May 2018; email@example.com
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Sherwood F. Moran was born on 8 October 1885 in Covington Kentucky. His father, William Joel Moran, had been stationed there as a clerk for the US Army Quartermaster Corps and had met local belle Margaret Short Ford, more than 15 years younger, with whom the handsome first-generation civil servant fell in love, so goes family lore. Joel was one generation removed from northern Ireland, while Margaret Ford proudly traced her ancestors back through the early settlers in Virginia, some of whom had been members of the aristocracy of England and Scotland; in fact she traced her ancestry to the Robert Bruces of Scotland and the signers of the Magna Carta. Believing she was marrying a distinguished Northerner connected to the army, Margaret Ford quickly enough felt somewhat deceived both about Joel’s status and about his lack of religion. As a Southerner she had been reared a devout Baptist, while he was by background a black Irish (dark-haired) non-Catholic who soon would label himself agnostic and whose parents, Edward and Catharine, had, over a decade before the Great Famine, separately immigrated to Albany NY, possibly from the Ulster area (else Meath for Edward).
Presently the couple settled in Brooklyn and had a daughter, Margarita, and then twin boys, Sherwood Ford and Ford Bruce, who were born in their mother’s hometown, as she anticipated a difficult birth. (Margaret Ford’s father, who died she was nine, had been named Sherwood. S.F. Moran’s wife, Ursul Reeves, would report that disagreement over names was the reason for the unusual naming of the twins.)
The family moved to Flatbush, Brooklyn New York, and Sherwood F. attended the newly coed high school Erasmus Hall, class of ’04, describing himself late in life as getting in fights, flirting, playing football, and excelling academically. Serious vision problems caused him to drop out a few months before graduation, and over the next years he worked in banks. He also had grown seriously attracted to and then skilled in stage dancing, specifically tap, even street performing, violent and acrobatic as he put it, and had built at his own expense a studio with large dancefloor in the basement of the family’s Brooklyn Heights townhouse. He consulted stage managers and sought the most famous teacher, studying for two years under Aldini. Eye surgery was not successful, but eventually a new glasses prescription was. He was tutored at Brooklyn Latin School and received his high school accreditation.
S.F. Moran described his civil service father as intelligent, a well-read man of considerable strengths. Joel was in addition a great walker, traversing more than once the route from New York to Washington DC and back, and also a serious whist enthusiast. Sherwood said of his father that he never took a drink and was a man of strong moral principles. Margaret, similarly intelligent and moreover literary, soon became fanatically religious, veering from active, hardcore Christian Science to fervent Baptist doctrine.
The couple were incompatible most of their lives. As divorce was mostly unheard of, they put up with what they had got themselves into (and reconciled as Joel was dying of cancer, in the 1920s). One result of the marital dysfunction was that the three children took divergent life paths in their maturity, two of them extreme. Margarita, who according to the local newspaper was a “society girl” until her conversion by her mother as a young adult, herself grew ever more possessed of religious fervor, becoming a Baptist zealot and eventually an evangelical missionary in India. She greeted everyone with “Are you saved?”, including on visits to her nephew Sherwood R. and his wife, Frances (‘Fritz’). (Grandson Ted Moran recalls a “visit by [great-]Aunt Margarita where we closed the windows for fear that the neighbors and passersby would hear how loud she was about religion.”) Ford, Sherwood’s twin, took the opposite tack: he became a bitter atheist, sarcastic, anti-politics, “anti-everything”; and at some point he estranged himself not only from his siblings and parents but from his own wife and their two children (the son was killed at sea during World War II). Earlier, Ford had been a serious sailor and fisherman, living with his family on their boats (sail and motor) and plying the waters between Rhode Island and Florida. But at the end of his life he lived and died alone, in a trailer in Florida, out of touch, his situation an undiscussed subject within the family.
After Brooklyn Latin, Sherwood was for several years at loose ends in terms of career plans, and after the Aldini lessons was seriously considering the vaudeville stage. There is a photo of him doing part of his buck-and-wing routine, and the kick leg is completely vertical overhead; it looks like a standing split. His showgirl girlfriend dissuaded Sherwood from the stage life, however, advising that he would not want to associate with the kind of people you meet in her world. At this same time Sherwood became interested in (and had moved to) the YMCA and its social service orientation which over the recent decades had become popular and influential — some termed it “muscular Christianity.” He later would emphasize how much he enjoyed the morally upright men he met there. He also found a mentor, a prominent NYC businessman active in the Y movement, who, after hearing mother Margaret give an ‘extreme’ bible class in the family livingroom, strongly recommended he go to Oberlin College, in Ohio, and learn among many other things a “less emotional type of religion” at such a historically progressive and coed institution.
In 1909, then, age 23, Sherwood enrolled. He worked for his board and also received some financial aid. Neither of his parents had gone to college. He majored in philosophy, and among his impressive professors was Edward Bosworth, a Congregational minister who taught New Testament studies. Influenced by him, Sherwood decided that after Oberlin, including its theological seminary, he would attend Columbia University for a master’s in philosophy as well as its Union Theological Seminary for a divinity degree, followed by ordination. But before all that. he met a beautiful younger woman from California, Ursul Reeves, who had come to Oberlin as an organ major. She was from a family of girls whose mother was also a religious kook. Within a year Sherwood and Ursul were engaged.
In the middle of his college career, 1911, Sherwood was offered the opportunity to travel around the world as secretary to Sherwood Eddy, well-known Protestant educator, speaker, networker, pacifist, and founder of YMCAs overseas, specifically in Asia. The two Sherwoods went headed west to upper Asia, later crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian railroad, a pre-Revolution journey lasting more than a week, thence to the Balkans, Greece, and Europe. Sherwood Moran returned home in April 1912 on a ship arriving right after the Titanic sinking, to docks full of anxious and anguished crowds.
Following this interrupting adventure Sherwood returned to Oberlin, graduating in 1914, and he and Ursul married the next year after her own graduation. They moved to NYC and at Columbia and UTS Sherwood was strongly influenced by the writings of the pragmatic liberal philosopher-psychologist William James. His Columbia master’s thesis compared Christian thinkers Bergson and Eucken.
With his ordination Sherwood and Ursul sought out the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), the Congregational body out of Boston’s Beacon St. which was active in the mission field. They signed on to become missionaries and were assigned to Osaka. Having been strongly impressed with the social-settlement mission philosophy, much in the air, the couple arrived in Japan in 1916 ready and eager not to preach hardcore evangelism but to set up institutions delivering, ecumenically, Jane Addams-style, services and education to Japanese communities and neighborhoods: from family life and mental / marital health issues to nutrition, hygiene, childcare, and preschool classes, and including such recreation as soccer, tennis, basketball, and dancing including squaredancing. To do such work the couple spent two years in Tokyo studying Japanese, and it was there in 1917 that their first child, Sherwood Reeves and called Sherry, was born. Presently Sherwood, Ursul, and baby moved to Osaka, bought or built a house outside it, and with fellow missionary Alice Cary set up Yodogawa Zenrinkan, the Yodo River Social Settlement Center, probably the first such in the country and one that became emulated nationwide.
Granddaughter Susan Harvey today observes that “although I always admired the story of my grandfather’s military service and success as a humane interviewer of PoWs, his interest in social justice and social service as the highest value in life shaped my own life as a girl and influenced my later focus as a social worker and pacifist.”
Son Sherry recalls daily life: “Halfway between Osaka and Kobe was Nishinomiya, where we lived. A typical day would see my father go one way to Osaka to work and me to Kobe to school, to the Canadian Academy, a mission school, still thriving, in the Shukugawa neighborhood. Also in this area were a number of other American families, from GM, GE, National Citibank, and so on. There were lots of tennis courts, I recall. I learned Japanese from everyday activities, on the train, etc.; for example, I talked nothing but Japanese with the maid.”
Two more children, Donald and Barbara, were born over the following years, 1920 and 1924. During this time both William Joel and Margaret died. Ursul worked with mothers and children at the social service center. She did counseling. Sherwood preached, counseled, coached, did social service himself, administered, and befriended non-Christian clergy. He researched early-childhood education methods. He also came to develop a great interest in art, taught himself and then his family art history, and this hobby developed into a lifelong passion including serious scholarship in the study of Oriental art, specifically the visiting of buddhas throughout Japan and China. (Buddhas are a realm within Asian art unto themselves; Sherwood later published monographs on them and other subjects in the scholarly journals Ars Asiatique and Artibus Asiae among others.)
Every seven years or so, mission families received a sabbatical furlough, the Morans heading back to Boston and New York, arriving from around the world either way. Thus during their formative years Sherwood twice took the family to visit Rome, Florence, the Louvre, museums in England, with father lecturing children all the way (he was an indefatigable talker, also wag and punster). They attended concerts. To observe the Sistine ceiling, he had the brood lie on their backs. (Decades later Susan Harvey visited Sherwood and Ursul and spent “an afternoon with him walking me around their little bungalow, which had numerous art reproductions on walls in every room. He gave me a spontaneous lecture on both Western and Eastern art as he described the artist, the style, the context in history, and what he most liked about the piece — without leaving their four rooms or my paying an admission fee. I listened, questioned, took notes, and absorbed a wealth of nuanced and personalized information.”)
Sherry recalled one sabbatical year spent at the Lincoln (middle) School in NYC and befriending David Rockefeller there. The children also attended Newton High School in Massachusetts outside Boston, where the Walker Missionary Home, used on retreats and for retirement, is located.
From 1916 to 1941, then, Sherwood, Ursul, Alice Cary, and a Japanese assistant ran the Social Settlement Center. Over these decades Japan drastically changed politically, and Sherwood (like many others) developed very strong feelings against the rising militarism, becoming a vocal critic of Japanese behavior toward China and Korea. Grandson Ted Moran remembers “Ojisan once telling about the time he was traveling through China, before the war actually started [possibly when accompanying Sherry to his first year of college at Yenching], and saw Japanese soldiers terribly mistreating the Chinese. He accosted one of the officers in perfect Japanese and said, ‘You call yourselves the offspring of the Sun and yet look at how you behave — you should be ashamed.’ The officer really lost face and came close to attacking Sherwood.”
In December 1941 the Morans were again on furlough in Boston. Japan launched the surprise air attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. Back in Japan, missionary and other American families were rounded up and interned in the Philippines, while in this country Japanese families were also forcibly moved inland. Sherwood realized he was among the very few fluent speakers of Japanese in the United States, at least idiomatically, and he knew the culture deeply. After exchange of letters with the Marines, he traveled to Washington DC and went straight to headquarters. In spite of his liberal ways and independence of mind, he very much admired the style, vigor, discipline, and goal-setting of the USMC, some of whom he had come to know in Japan. (He and Ursul often had celebrity visitors from the US who were specifically brought to the household to meet this social-missionary family; Jesse Owens was one.) By this time, son Sherry and Frances Harvey, who had themselves graduated from Oberlin two years earlier, were married, and young Sherry also went to be commissioned, in the Navy as a Japanese language officer and codebreaker.
Inasmuch as Sherwood had kept up with his tapdancing and was otherwise vigorous, he was accepted by the Marines and on the spot made captain. No chaplaincy. He was 56. He returned to Boston to say goodbye and then reported for duty. This was a matter of some dissension with Ursul, in part because it was presumed they would never be able to return to Japan postwar. Indeed, no one was certain the US would win; the war had been going badly in Europe, we had not even joined, and now the Pearl Harbor sneak attack. But Sherwood got leave from ABCFM and departed Ursul and daughter Barby (who was about to enter college). North Carolina boot camp for basic training, then to New Orleans, ship through the Panama Canal transporting the First Marine Division to New Zealand for staging and thence for parts unknown in the South Pacific. Soon the Navy began steaming northward for an invasion in the Solomon Islands. The US had claimed victory at Midway, and the Solomons, “owned” by Japan although populated by Melanesians, were the next step, the first US land offensive of the war, end summer 1942. Amphibious invasion was a new form of assault warfare: navy and air force combined in one mission.
Aboard ship Sherwood learned Marine protocols, rules, and regulations specific to this theater. He was issued a .45 and a machinegun and learned to use them, including disassembling / reassembling them blindfolded. In turn he gave lectures to the crew about Japan and its people (eventually writing a monograph on the “Psychology of the Japanese” as part of the training materials). He well knew that the Japanese idea of the perfect death was in battle, achieving honor; getting captured was not to be an option. Such a suicidal ideal thrived as the war wore on. It was entirely contrary to the American idea and practice of saving as many men as possible. With his decades of cultural knowledge and witnessing Tojo’s increasing influence, Sherwood tried to prepare the troops (who did not yet know where they were ultimately going) for what they would encounter.
The First Marines landed on Guadalcanal on 8 Aug 1942, at 9:08am, senior language intelligence officer Sherwood F. (‘Pappy’) Moran in the first wave. Granddaughter Susan was born two days later, in Boulder Colorado, where Sherry was attending the Navy’s Japanese Language School. Her birthday headline in the Boulder Daily Camera reads “US Forces Land in Solomon Islands To Drive Out Japanese in First Big American Offensive of War.” Richard Tregaskis’s vivid masterpiece, Guadalcanal Diary, tells of ships as far as the eye could see, new kinds like light cruisers, and overhead an armada of air power. Ranking interpreter Sherwood himself described it:
As we sailed straight north day after day from Wellington New Zealand (no radio communications or lights allowed) it was a good sight to stand on the top deck and see this fleet as far as the eye could function. Far in front and far out to the side were destroyers. Within this protecting line were heavy cruisers, light cruisers, aircraft carriers, one of our largest and newest battleships, and miscellaneous craft. Leading them all, but inside the ring of destroyers, was an Australian heavy cruiser (sunk by the Japanese one day after the landing on Guadalcanal). Just behind this cruiser was the flagship of the Commanding Officer of the First Marine Division. It was a show of terrific interest though also of terrific solemnity.
Sherwood and all of the other First Marines were on Guadalcanal from 8 August to 9 December, with no leave, relief, or rest, lucky to get two meals a day, no laundry, just living in the jungle, regularly shelled and shot at, clearing their way and fighting. As he put it,
Marines have a psychological advantage in that they expect hardships and expect fighting. Every Marine is a Marine. … That [first] night we slept scattered over the ground under coconut trees. The next day we advanced to the airfield, our objective. That night it rained as heavily as it was possible to rain, for hours. We just lay on the ground like mud turtles and took it, trying to keep at least our weapons dry. (The ground was uneven and I remember I lay in a mud puddle all night.) During the rain we heard a terrific bombardment at sea. We were elated thinking the Navy had routed out some Japanese sea forces. Just the opposite proved to be the case. A powerful Japanese fleet had headed for Guadalcanal on receipt of news of our landing and had attacked our fleet point blank under cover of darkness. We got the worst of it. Among our numerous casualties four of our heavy cruisers, including the one Australian cruiser, were sunk. Many tales of unbelievable heroism on the part of our Navy personnel afterwards came to light.
The goal was to capture Henderson Field, so planes could be landed for supplies and reinforcements. It was won and then lost, and then won.
In December the Marines were relieved by the Army. Almost everyone had malaria, dysentery, and/or wounds or cuts or infections; Sherwood F. had had a heavy palm branch fall on him and hit his back and hip. The seriously wounded were evacuated.
Guadalcanal was where Sherwood F. began his assignment of interrogation, informed by his pioneering, now legendary style. Today it seems a combination of pragmatic psychology and moral values — Christian, arguably — joined together in, and practiced by, this one individual. (The other services had similar, rare practitioners and initiatives, it turned out.) Sherwood never felt any ambivalence in what he did; there was little disconnect between social work in Japan and “social work” on Guadalcanal, except that the goal first and foremost was to get useful information. Sherwood immediately went down to the level of the prisoner. He began by asking what village he was from. He would say, I know the river, and that bridge in your neighborhood; and so on. Each prisoner had a tale he needed to tell. To be heard, and have personal stories understood: these are elementary needs, a human fact Sherwood knew deeply. He registered fully the young captured men’s and boys’ tales. Other interrogators modeled their efforts after him, and certainly the BiJ (born in Japan) ones, like missionary child Otis Cary, already shared his basic understanding, acceptance, and indeed love of the Japanese people. They were universally deemed a charming nation and more — friendly, polite, generous, hardworking, admirable in most other respects — when they were not conquering and killing others.
All this while, Sherwood’s family did not know where he was, although it could be guessed. On 18 December 1942 the Chicago Tribune ran a photograph of an interrogator on Guadalcanal. It shows a hand-bandaged young man with a beard sitting straightbacked on a folding canvas stool at the entrance to a tent; attending him carefully, leaning forward on an identical stool, almost knee to knee, making sympathetic eye contact, is a bald, older officer, his hands folded. A third person, seated beyond them, is indistinct. The Tribune caption read “Wearing a beard, Jap Zero pilot, captured on Guadalcanal after dogfight, talks to his captors.” The interrogator’s posture, clearly interested expression and attitude, as well as the prisoner’s being seated, fully embody the Sherwood F. Moran philosophy. No one is identified in the photo but it was obvious who the interviewer — his preferred term — was. Sherwood, “Pappy.” Only his commanders were of the same generation. The Tribune photo was used as a newsreel movie poster, and Ursul and Donald saw it while walking down the street. It was the first the family knew exactly where he was. Ursul had moved to Washington DC, where she got a job working for the Red Cross, living in Arlington Virginia.
Sherwood F. participated in later theater operations, New Guinea and related. He afterward looked back on the Guadalcanal experience:
No other armed forces in all probability had ever been continuously under fire for so long with no respite. Day after day went by with no “rest periods” as they had in Europe, fierce as that fighting was, without even time for a “coffee break.” Everyone was on the job all the time. The Marines left for Australia on December 9, 1942, thin, worn out and full of malaria every one of them, for a rest before their next landing operation assignment.
In time, Sherwood’s superior, Lt. Col. Edmond Buckley, spread word of his interview style and impressive results back to headquarters. After 10 months in Australia, where in response to a letter query from Sherry he drafted the interrogation memorandum mentioned at the top of the page, he was pulled out of action and called back to Washington. Sherwood was awarded a Citation and a Bronze Star by Admiral Halsey. In DC he lectured, retrained interrogators, and revised their manual, which hitherto had required that every PoW stand at attention with two guards aside. Included was the newly transcribed “Suggestions for Japanese Interpreters Based on Work in the Field,” which 77 years later is still taught within the US military for its intended purpose, and, as has been pointed out by many others, is more important than ever. It also has a presence in academe, studied in graduate schools of government and public policy.
The codebreaking work by the naval intelligence group of which Sherry was a member had been directly responsible, spring of 1943, for the surprise shooting-down of the plane carrying Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, killing the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Both of the Sherwood Moran families lived in Washington DC for a long wartime stretch of 1944. While there were visits between them, gas rationing affected all social life. Even if the tide had by now turned in the Pacific, the progress was island by island, and very costly. Sherwood lectured and went on special assignments, Sherry broke code. The First Marine Division became famous, the most decorated unit of any of the WWII forces, and Sherwood always wore his Guadalcanal badge proudly. Eventually the invasion of Japan was prepared. Sherwood was assigned to Maui, while the FMD regrouped in San Diego, with September 1945 their tentative landing. But in August the two atomic bombs were dropped, astounding to all, and the war ended.
Father and son were each sent to newly postwar Japan for the occupation and assessment. Each wrote up their observations in fascinating detail, Sherwood toward the end of his extensive in-theater wartime letters to Ursul and family, copies of which are in many university archives (available also from son David), and Sherry in the collected letters volume War-Wasted Asia (aka From a Ruined Empire) along with colleagues Otis Cary, Don Keene, Ted de Bary, Frank Turner, et alia.
On Sherwood’s first leave, he headed for Osaka to see what had happened and what he could find. Even though the occupation was going smoothly, he was advised against going, but he persisted, in Marine uniform with Guadalcanal badge. Osaka was badly bombed, and he started on foot to head toward the settlement house, when he was recognized. People came out of their dwellings, welcoming him back and saying, “Moran-san has returned!” And there the settlement house was, unharmed, under the assistants whom he and Ursul had trained. A triumphant moment of relief. The family house was also unharmed, with others living in it, and in the attic in a box was a Tang Dynasty horse, which is still in the family today, which Moran-san the Asian-art lover had collected on one of his many art excursions.
Eventually Sherwood F. was demobilized, at the rank of lieutenant colonel, resumed his employment by ABCFM, and returned with Ursul to Japan as a social-service missionary for another nearly decadelong term resuming their work. In 1956 they repaired to Pilgrim Place in Claremont California, a community for retired missionaries and educators, in 1965 celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Ursul died two years later, and Sherwood lived 16 more years, all the while continuing his Asian-art researches, writing numerous scholarly monographs on temples, buddhas, swordguards, and more, listed below. (Plus he performed considerable Democratic fundraising.)
Grandson David remembers spending a long afternoon with him in the spring of 1969, when Sherwood was visiting Boston and staying at the Walker Home. They talked about the purpose of his visit, his dawn subway rides downtown every day that week to the Museum of Fine Arts, where the guards would let him in the back door to sit alone and study the Asian collection for hours before the institution opened. The draft-imminent college-senior grandson and his 84-year-old ex-Marine grandfather did not much discuss the Vietnam war that day; Sherwood was hardly persuaded, at the time anyway, that again combatting Asian military aggression was such a bad idea.
As always with Ojisan, awful rapid-fire vaudeville-era jokes punctuated conversations:
“I have a brother who’s a cop in Chicago.” “Oh really?” “No, O’Reilly.” “A man walks up to the ferry to buy a ticket. Loud music is playing. He asks, ‘Offenbach’? ‘No,’ emphasizes the ticket-taker, ‘all fares are one-way!’ ” When family members visited him in the later 1970s and early 1980s, he regularly broke into snippets of distantly remembered popular songs and showtunes from almost a century earlier.
Sherwood F. Moran’s primary commitment was to the humanitarian aspects of mission work — taken altogether, his life may be understood to prove yet again the practical value of a liberal education, centering on deep knowledge of the humanities even in the unlikeliest of situations — but his true love came to be the US Marine Corps. In his final years, at the nursing home, there was no cross on the wall of his room, but over his desk were the presidential citation for the First Marine Division, the Guadalcanal patch, his own ribbons, and an inscribed photograph of JFK. Grandson Tom Moran recalls that “as soon as Grandpa Sherwood heard that Alice [wife of Tom] was going to be a lieutenant in the Dental Corps USN, he sent us all of his medals, picture in dress blues, a huge circular USMC namesake, along with an original set of his entire orders during his stint, starting in New River NC and concluding at Camp Pendleton.” The Marines admired Sherwood back, and not only for the 1943 PoW memorandum; he got to be a bit of a legend in his last decades, and every year for the annual reunion dinner of the FMD in Southern California, a car and escort were sent to Claremont to pick him up. He was probably the only Marine of his era who never took a drink, never smoked a cigarette, and (almost) never cursed. For their discipline and comradeship, their attitude and esprit, he loved them like brothers.
Fellow missionary kid and interrogator Otis Cary wrote down the names, addresses and parents’ names of every PoW he dealt with. In post-war Japan he went around looking up surviving families to tell them they had a surviving son who would soon be home. This was how Sherry Moran and Oti met the famous potter Shoji Hamada. A Japanese psychiatrist to whom they delivered the news about his son was so thankful that he said, “Let me introduce you to the most famous artist we have,” and they got in the jeep to drive to the artist’s rural studio and met Hamada. Hamada said, “Let me give you some gifts; please help yourself out in the back shed by the kiln.” Oti and Sherry loaded up a box with rice bowls, covered vegetable sets, sake cups, soy sauce “ashtrays,” ceramic boxes and many other beautiful, elegantly simple serving dishes that remain in the Moran family.
The two sons also were instrumental in getting Hirohito down off his white horse to walk humbly among his vanquished people, a hugely important symbolic gesture.
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Upon Sherwood Ford Moran’s death, in 1983, Sherry delivered the following funeral service eulogy (excerpted):
Sherwood Moran was first and foremost a man with a mission, and his missionary work took many forms. He spoke always of his commitment to the Christian foreign missionary field through his 41 years with the United Church Board of World Ministry as being his number-one career accomplishment. His and his wife Ursul’s influence on the lives of the Japanese people they touched extends down to this day. At his death there were still on his desk letters from friends in Japan waiting to be answered, in Japanese. He kept up an active correspondence with them to the end.
His commitment to a Christian and peaceloving Japan and his hatred of the rising militarism led him to join the USMC and insist on an active overseas assignment. “We will never see a peaceful Christian Japan until its militarism is knocked out,” he often declared. His famous letter to the ABCFM requesting a leave of absence so he could join the Marines is a classic rationale of the Christian who recognized the occasional need to “cleanse the temple” by force in a world filled with thieves.
His devotion to beauty was widely noted — from the colors of a dress to a pretty face to a work of Oriental art. “Without beauty, life is a wasteland,” he would comment. In his later years he contributed almost two dozen carefully researched scholarly articles on aspects of Japanese art and sculpture to well-known international art magazines. He published volumes books on Japanese swordguards and had completed the manuscript of a book on Japanese temple architecture, sculpture and castle restoration. (This last is in the possession of the art department of Scripps College.)
In a tribute, his good friend Martin Weinberger, publisher of the Claremont Courier, described Sherwood F. Moran as possessed of a mission of joy. “His charm and personality contributed to a joyous aura that one almost always encountered when meeting him. That same contribution also accounted for his remarkable ability to strike up an immediate and continuing and absolutely platonic relationship with a small army of women. That beaming face and bald head somehow always added up to the charm.” A fellow pilgrim only slightly younger than Sherwood F. wrote: “Life like his can never end. I believe that he is carrying on in joy and achievement in the very presence of God and all his saints.”
This world is not conclusion.
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive, as sound.
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SF Moran bibliography / monographs excluding his WWII writings
A Comparison of Bergson and Eucken – 1916, master of philosophy essay, Columbia University
The Yumedono Kannon of Horyu-ji – 1957, Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America v11
Certain Structural Features of the Kichijōten Statue in Kondō, Hōryūji – 1957, Artibus Asiae v20n2-3
The Statue of Miroku Bosatsu of Chugu-ji – 1958, Artibus Asiae v21n3/4
The Statue of Muchaku, Hokuen-dō – Kōfuku-ji: A Detailed Study – 1958, Arts Asiatiques v5
The Nachi Waterfall, a Painting of the Kamakura Period – 1958, Arts Asiatiques 56
The Portrait Statue of Uesugi Shigefusa, Meigetsuin, Kamakura – 1959, Arts Asiatiques v6
Pedestal of the statue of Yakushi, Yakushiji; the fundamental repairs of 1955-57 – 1959, Oriental Art v5
Structural Features of Clay Sculpture of the Nara Period – 1960, Artibus Asiae v23n1
The Kirikane Decoration of the Statue of Fugen Bosatsu, Okura Museum Tokyo – 1960, Oriental Art ns winter v6n4
The Statue of Amida, Hoo-do, Byodo-in – 1960, Oriental Art ns v6
The Blue Fudō, a Painting of the Fujiwara Period – 1961, Arts Asiatiques v8n4, also Contemporary Religions in Japan v10n1-2 (1969)
Kichijōten, a Painting of the Nara Period – 1962, Artibus Asiae v25n4
Ashura: A Dry-Lacquer Statue of the Nara Period – 1964, Artibus Asiae v27n1-2
The Statue of Fugen Bosatsu, Ōkura Museum, Tōkyō – 1965, Contemporary Religions in Japan v6n4
The Gilding of Ancient Bronze Statues in Japan – 1969, Artibus Asiae v31n1
Early Heian Sculpture at Its Best: Three Outstanding Examples – 1972, Artibus Asiae v34n2-3
The Death of Buddha, a Painting at Kōyasan – 1974, Artibus Asiae v36n1/2
Some Notes on Japanese Sword Accessories (part 1) Oriental Art spring 1973 ns v19n1
Some Notes on Japanese Sword Accessories (part 2) Oriental Art summer 1973 ns v19n2
Some Notes on Japanese Sword Accessories – 1978, self-published, comprises the above pair, with a new intro
Notes on Japanese Sword Fittings – 1979, self-published (Hawley)