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Hernando High Athletic Hall of Fame inductee lived up to his name

BROOKSVILLE

The question isn't why Joann Moore fell in love with her future husband, Hercules.

It's more like, why wouldn't she?

"I hate to say a man is gorgeous, but oh my goodness!" she said. "He was gorgeous!"

As a cheerleader for the football team at old Moton High School, she could hear the fans demand that "Herc" get the ball, could watch as he launched his trademark breakaway runs.

"It seemed like he scored four or five touchdowns a game," she said.

When he was wasn't playing, "Billy," as she called him, served as a youth leader at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in south Brooksville. If he saw an elderly neighbor struggling with a heavy bag of groceries, he would rush over to help.

"He was universally loved," said Moore, 65. "I've never forgotten what a great man he was."

Nor have a lot of other people who lived in Brooksville at the time. His mythical first name seems fitting because so many old-timers talk about him as a legend: an all-around good kid, a three-sport athlete, a running back so electrifying that white fans drove to all-black Moton High to see him play.

"I remember him taking a kickoff and running like greased lightning down the field. He just disappeared," said Bob Martinez, publisher of Old Brooksville in Photos & Stories, who watched Moore on visits home from the University of Florida.

Then there's the sad, final chapter of the legend. Less than a year after graduating from Moton, Hercules Moore died heroically in Vietnam on a date that his widow, his coach and his brother all recited without being reminded, without even being asked:

May 26, 1968.

His football skills earned him a place in the recently named fifth class of the Hernando High School Athletic Hall of Fame, which is also open to Moton graduates.

That puts him in the company of other new inductees, including Olympic sprinter John Capel, state champion miler Fred Blackburn and softball player Katye Altieri, who later become a Division III all-American outfielder at the College of New Jersey and whose academic accomplishments are even more impressive. She went on to get a doctorate from Rutgers University and a masters from Princeton.

Moore's death put him on another list that is longer than people might expect, a list that serves as reminder of the depth of the tragedy of Vietnam.

Eight soldiers from Hernando County, which at the time had a population of about 17,000, died in the Vietnam War. Nationally, the war claimed nearly 10 times as many American lives in combat as the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Like many others who enlisted, Moore was motivated by innocent patriotism. He turned down offers to play college football, his widow said, because he wanted to serve — and because he wanted to support his new family.

At least that's the way he thought of the two of them and their daughter, Diana, who was born when Joann was a senior year at Moton.

The following year, she left the baby with her mother, happy to be out of Brooksville and going to college in Tennessee.

Hercules, who was finishing high school, spent time with Diana nearly every day. And when Joann returned in the spring, he convinced her they needed to get married.

On the morning of the day he left to report to duty with the Marines, she said. "We made the last-minute decision to run to the courthouse."

That was on Oct. 30, 1967, another date she knows by heart. It's both their first and last day together as husband and wife.

In their letters, they wrote about where they would live when he finished his combat tour, about his promotion to lance corporal and, in the spring, about the upcoming "R&R" the military had arranged for the two of them in Hawaii.

She was downtown, shopping for that trip, when her father came up from his home in south Brooksville and told her that she had visitors.

When she returned home to see two Marines waiting outside, she assumed it had something to with her travel arrangements.

"I'm still all bubbly, and it didn't register with me what they were talking about," she said.

"Then daddy said, 'Honey, Billy's gone.' "

His unit had come under heavy machine gun fire near the South Vietnam town of Dong Ha, according to the letter that arrived later with the Bronze Star he was awarded for his bravery: "Hercules attempted to aid his fellow wounded Marines and received an enemy gunshot wound to the head."

Maybe the way he died has made his character and his play seem more legendary in people's memories. He was 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighed a non-Herculean 150 pounds, so he didn't have the power of, say, P.J. Inmon, a running back from Brooksville who came along a few years later, said Ernie Chatman, a graduate and longtime coach at Hernando High.

And determining whether Moore scored anywhere near as many touchdowns as his widow remembers is impossible. The athletic statistics from Moton were lost after integration, said Lorenzo Hamilton, Moore's former football coach at Moton.

"They just vanished," he said. "It's very sad."

But there's no doubting his speed. On a real track, wearing quality spikes, neither of which were available at Moton, he surely would have run a 100-yard dash in less than 10 seconds, Hamilton said. He was shifty enough that Hamilton installed plays on the football field called simply "Hercules right" and "Hercules left." He was good enough to be named the most valuable player on a team that contended for the title of a very tough conference.

And he was a good enough person that Joann Moore still thinks about how happy they might have been together.

She moved to St. Petersburg and worked for decades as a data processing manager for what is now Duke Energy. She reared Diana, who attended Florida A&M University on a basketball scholarship and now works as a pharmacist.

But Joann Moore never remarried, partly because the men she dated never quite stacked up to Hercules.

"I think 'what if, what if, what if,' which I guess is not all bad," she said.

"Because it means I really loved him."

Dan DeWitt can be reached at dewitt@tampabay.com.

Hernando High Athletic Hall of Fame inductee lived up to his name 07/10/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2014 10:47am]

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