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built a fortress around Europe,
forgot to put a roof on it."
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The thousands of small steel fragments sounded like hail as they rained on the thin metal of the
B-17 Flying Fortresses that droned ever closer to their target
four miles below. Inside them the aircrews was busy at their
guns--it seemed that enemy fighters were everywhere. The pilots
struggled to keep their bombers on course despite the thick
anti-aircraft fire. It was the heaviest any of them had ever seen,
later described by one veteran of the raid as being "so thick a man
could walk on it."
The level of enemy resistance was
not surprising. The inbound flight of B-24 and B-17 bombers from
the Mighty Eighth (Air Force) numbered 660 strong. They
were escorted by scores of P-51 fighters, making the formation a hard
target to miss.
The American airmen were confronted
in the sky by hundreds of German FW-190s and ME-109s. The heavens
were literally filled with airplanes, flaming tracers, exploding flak,
and occasionally, the distinctive white canopy of a parachute. The
date was March 6, 1944, and for the first time American bombers were
making a daylight attack at the heart of Hitler's Fortress Europe.
This was the mission everyone had
faced with a mixture of fear and anticipation. Before the war
began German Reichmarshal Hermann Goering
had proudly boasted, "No bomb shall fall on German soil."
On January 27, 1943, pilots of General Ira Eaker's Mighty Eighth
accepted Goering's challenge and dropped their bombs on enemy submarine
pens at the Wilhelmshaven Naval Base in northern Germany. Undeterred, Reichmarshal Goering reassured his nation that it was immune
to attack from afar. “No enemy bomber can reach the Ruhr. If
one reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Goering. You may call me Meyer.” he
On this date, after two days of
attempts that had been thwarted by poor weather, American pilots filled
the skies to drop more than 1,600 pounds of bombs on The Big
"B"--Berlin. Going in, every man knew it would be
rough, certainly one of the most dangerous air missions flown yet in the
war. Enemy fighters would duel to the death and to the extreme to
defend their capitol. Certainly Hitler's ground defenses would be
heavy, and the batteries would be manned by the very best gunners the Reich could muster.
The mission was akin in both danger
and in design to a mission flown by twenty-six B-25 bombers just two
years earlier when Colonel Jimmy Doolittle struck the heart of Japan,
proving to Emperor Hirohito that Tokyo was not immune to attack.
Ironically, it was Lieutenant General Jimmy Doolittle who now commanded
the Mighty Eighth and who directed this mission.
Doolittle had requested permission
to fly with his men. "I wanted to be be in on this first
effort and have the honor of being the first air commander to lead a
raid over all three Axis capitals," he wrote in his
autobiography. (Following the Tokyo raid, on July 19, 1943,
Doolittle had lead a bombing raid over Rome.)
Doolittle initially convinced General Harold Tooey
Spaatz to allow him to fly a P-51 on the Berlin raid, but on the day before
it was to commence, "Tooey changed his mind and said he couldn't afford to
risk the capture of a senior officer who had knowledge of invasion
plans. I have always suspected that when Ike (General Dwight
Eisenhower) heard about it, it was he who canceled the idea...although
Tooey never said he did."
If indeed it was General Eisenhower
who refused to let his top commander in the 8th Air Force fly the first
daylight bombing raid over Berlin, it was a wise choice. Everyone
realized the mission would be costly--and it was. Before the day
ended at least eighty American aircraft went down, including sixty-nine
In the lead B-17 Lieutenant
John C. Red Morgan felt his own bomber bounce with an
endless series of explosions that seemed to fill the sky. In
twenty-five previous missions he had never seen so much
anti-aircraft fire. To make matters worse, the German
gunners on the ground were indeed some of Hitler's best.
Their accuracy was taking its toll.
Morgan was nearing the target
and through his cockpit window he could look down to see the city
of Berlin 20,000 feet below. Men scurried about inside the Flying
Fortress to both defend it and to prepare for the bomb
run. Explosions continued to buffet the bomber and the rain
of shrapnel pattered against its skin, but this was nothing new
for a combat veteran like Lieutenant Morgan.
Twice before the lanky Texan had
been highly decorated for bringing home a shot-up Fortress.
Morgan knew these big bombers could handle a lot of damage and still
return safely home. For this reason he didn't bother to divert his
attention from the tasks at hand, even to secure his chest-pack
parachute in place over his uniform.
And then....it was too late!
The huge Flying Fortress
shuddered under a deadly blast from the ground that ripped through metal
and shredded control lines. Freezing wind rushed into the fuselage
through gaping holes and smoke billowed around the crippled
bomber. A fuel tank was hit and quickly caught fire. Morgan
fought to bring the bomber under control but the damage was too
severe. The intrepid airmen refused to give up his ship, even when
it began tumbling out of control and falling towards earth.
If not for the explosion,
Lieutenant Morgan might well have remained at the controls all the way
to the ground, struggling to save his airplane. Instead, the blast
opened up the big Fortress like a cavern and propelled Morgan
into open air. Somehow, as he felt his body being forcibly
ejected, he managed to reach out and grab his loose parachute and clutch
it tightly beneath his arm. Later, newspaper accounts called the
next few minutes: "one of the most spectacular free falls in
Plummeting earthward with flak
still bursting and his parachute still unsecured, John Cary Red Morgan
wasn't yet ready to die. "I didn't think I was dead,"
he recalled of that moment. "There was no question
about it. Strangely, when you are in that situation you are no
longer afraid. I have found that the unknown is usually the most
frightening." With the frigid wind whipping through his
uniform and restraining his movement, and while the ground continued to
rush ever closer, the intrepid airman set himself to the daunting task
of strapping on his chute and securing it in his chest harness.
With only about 500 feet of air remaining between him and imminent
death, the chute was in place and Morgan pulled the D-ring. Silk billowed above him, his
descent slowed, and the immediate danger
Floating almost peacefully
towards earth, however, more danger remained below. Lieutenant
Morgan had bailed out over Berlin and the Germans were waiting for him
to touch down. It was an ironic fate for a man who had been deemed
physically unqualified for military service by his own country, and had
then gone on to fly missions for three different Allied nations.
Morgan had proved his courage repeatedly through twenty-five missions,
only to fall into enemy hands on this, his twenty-sixth. What made
his situation even more unusual, on a mission less than a year earlier
Lieutenant had performed with such heroism that his nation had awarded
him its highest military honor.
Lieutenant John Cary Red Morgan
was about to become the first recipient of the Medal of Honor to be
captured by the enemy.
Flight Officer, US Army Air Force
Medal of Honor - 26 July 1943
Under the generally accepted practice
for recognizing home town heroes, John Morgan's Medal of
Honor would be accredited to the place where he entered
military service--London, England. The Lone Star
State would be quick to take issue with that practice in
this instance; John Cary Morgan was a "born and bred
John was born August 24, 1914, in the
small Texas Panhandle town of Vernon. The rural area
was known primarily for its agriculture, oil, and its
history as a stop on the early cattle trail of the old
West. The town was as typically-Texan as the smiling
boy that grew up there, a big kid with a shock of red hair
that gave him his nickname. "It was flaming
red in my flaming youth," he often recalled in
later years when that red hair turned white.
By the time Red Morgan finished
high school he stood six-feet, two-inches and weighed in at
over two hundred pounds. He had a zest for life, a
thirst for adventure, and a captivating smile that seemed to
fill his entire face. He also had a definite interest
in aviation that dated back to the age of four when he saw
an early barnstormer fly over his home in an old biplane in
Red's father, an attorney,
encouraged his son to further his education which the young
man attempted to do until his twentieth birthday in
1934. Along the way he attended the New Mexico
Military Institute, Amarillo College, West Texas State
Teacher's College, and the University of Texas in
Austin. The experience taught young Red but one
thing--education was simply not his primary interest in
life. About the only good thing he derived from the
shiftless early years was the chance to solo in an airplane
while he was a freshman at the University of Texas.
This was accomplished after only three and a half-hours of flight training.
The young man's father became
impatient with his son's restless efforts to find his niche,
and quickly put a damper on his flying. The elder
Morgan flew regularly on airplanes of the new and growing
airline system, and had great respect for airplanes and
their pilots. "He felt it took a super human
and a genius to fly those contraptions," John
recalled with a smile. "There was some
question in his mind whether or not I fit that
Late in 1934 in a bid for both
independence and adventure, twenty-year-old Red Morgan
headed west--far west! For the next three years he
enjoyed the exotic location of the South Seas, working in
the Fiji Islands on a pineapple plantation and in the gold
mines there. After three years in the tropics he
returned home in 1938.
Back in Texas, Red Morgan tried
to pursue his interest in aviation by joining the US Army
Air Corps. He was turned away because of his poor
academic record, so he found work in the oil fields and
began what would become a lifelong relationship with
Texaco. During the period he was working in the
fields, a fifty-five gallon drum broke free and the big
Texas kid moved quickly to try and stop it. In the
process he was severely injured. Though war was now
looming, because of the broken neck he suffered in that
accident, the Draft Board classified John C. Morgan as 4-F,
physically unqualified for ANY military service.
In 1940 the American public was still
divided on whether or not the United States should come to
the aid of Britain, which now stood alone against Adolph
Hitler and his growing Axis of aggression. Twenty-six
year old Red Morgan had no such questions and did
what scores of other young would-be combat aviators who
could not get into the US Army Air Corps did--he went to
Canada. He was quickly welcomed into the Royal
Canadian Air Force to begin training.
Getting into the RCAF wasn't all that
difficult for the young man classified 4-F in the United
States. "They (Canadian recruiters) didn't ask
me if I'd ever broken my neck and I didn't tell
was training with the RCAF in Canada on December 7, 1941,
when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor forced the United
States into World War II. The following summer he was transferred
to England to fly with the RAF and wear the distinctive
patch of the Eagle Squadrons. There he served
for nearly a year before the Eighth Air Force arrived in
England to begin combat operations. In the period he
flew more than a dozen air missions as a pilot sergeant with
Most of the American citizens who had
joined the Eagle Squadrons were absorbed into the US Army
Air Force upon its arrival in England, and John Morgan began
service with the Mighty Eighth's 326th Bomb Squadron,
92nd Bomb Group on March 23, 1943, as a B-17 copilot with
the rank of flight officer (though he held a rating as a
In three years the big Texan with the
broad smile and flaming red hair, the young man who had been
classified unsuitable for military service by his Draft
Board, had flown missions for three different Allied
Flight Officer Red Morgan flew four
missions with the 326th Bomb Group in the late spring and early summer
of 1943. Meanwhile the Mighty Eighth grew in strength
and numbers with an infusion of new aircraft and crews, allowing General
Eaker to consistently mount raids involving more than 100 bombers.
On a June 29 mission inside France the formation included 275
bombers. Less than three weeks later the first 300+ bomber mission
was mounted on July 17.
On one of those early missions F/O
Morgan managed to fly home in a badly battle-damaged Fortress,
earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. But things remained slow
through the month of July until the weather broke in the third week.
"Blitz Week," as
the intense series of bombing raids mounted in the last week of July
came to be called, started with a 2,000-mile raid against enemy
industrial plants inside Norway on Saturday, July 24. Of more than
300 Eighth Air Force bombers dispatched, only one was lost. At
that, the crew of the flak-damaged Flying Fortress managed to
land safely in Sweden where the crew was interned. The remainder
of the week that followed saw heavy damage inflicted on targets
elsewhere, including inside Germany itself. More than seventeen
major enemy industrial plants were heavily damaged, and the week-long,
around the clock combined effort of the USAAF and the RAF was costly to
the morale of the German population.
For the Eighth Air Force the cost
of Blitz Week would be high--eighty-eight bombers lost, more than
900 men of the Mighty Eighth dead or captured. The first
major casualties came on Sunday, July 25, when 323 bombers attacked
targets inside Germany. The following day, 303 more bombers were
sent against targets in northern Germany. It was the third
straight day of heavy bombardment and the seventy-seventh mission flown by
members of the Eighth Air Force since mission number one on August 17,
1942, nearly a year earlier.
For Flight Officer Red Morgan
it would be his fifth mission with the air force of his own
country...and his most challenging.
July 26, 1943*
The Eighth Air Force struck at targets
throughout Germany on Monday, July 26. The 92nd Bomb Group's target was
the Continental Gummiwerke A.G. Wahrenwalderstrasse tire plant at Hanover,
just 150 miles west of Berlin. The flight was led by Major James
Griffith of the 407th Squadron. Among the bombers assigned to the
mission from the 326th Bomb Squadron was Ruthie II piloted by
Lieutenant Robert Campbell. His copilot was Flight Officer Red Morgan,
one of the few men in the Air Force larger than the six-foot, 185-pound
The Fortresses departed their
airfield at Alconbury, seventy-five miles north of London, at 0850.
Campbell delegated takeoff and the first leg of the flight to his copilot, as
was his custom. F/O Morgan lined up in formation and headed out for the
long flight over the North Sea. A little over an hour later he sighted
the coastline of Holland where the flight would turn inland to navigate to
F/O Morgan had just turned control of Ruthie
II over to Lieutenant Campbell when the first wave of enemy fighters
appeared. More than 100 German FW 190s were poised to welcome the Flying
Fortresses with bullets and air-to-air rockets. Further inland the
ground gunners began to fill the sky with flak. It was obvious that this
third-straight day of Blitz Week bombing raids was going to be one of
the most dangerous.
Moments before land passed beneath the
inbound flight, the first wave of enemy fighters attacked from out of the
sun. An FW 190 raced at Ruthie II from the two o'clock
position, unleashing a deadly hail of machine gun and cannon fire on the
cockpit. Rounds shattered the front and side windows where Red Morgan
was seated as co-pilot, and one round penetrated the side window barely
missing Morgan's head.
Before Morgan could breath a sigh of
relief at his close call, he felt Ruthie II shudder and begin a steep
dive. Looking left he was horrified to see that the round that had
narrowly missed him had struck the pilot in the head. The dying
Lieutenant Campbell had slumped forward in his seat, his arms locked around
the control column forcing the bomber into a lethal plummet earthward.
In the nose below the cockpit, navigator
(2nd) Lieutenant Keith Koske both heard and felt the explosion that rocked the
pilot's station above him. He never heard Red Morgan's desperate
call for assistance however, as the blast had destroyed the bomber's
interphone system. Koske's sense of imminent danger was relieved when he
felt Ruthie II begin to pull out of the dive, and then he was too busy
to worry about anything further. A second wave of enemy fighters was on
the attack, guns ripping through the Flying Fortress.
In the top turret the gunner, Staff
Sergeant Tyre Weaver, took a direct hit. It severed his arm at the
shoulder. The critically wounded airman dropped through the hatch to
land at Koske's feet with blood streaming unchecked from the wound. The
navigator attempted to administer a shot of morphine, but the needle was bent
and he could not get it to penetrate. "My first thought was to
try and stop his loss of blood," Koske recalled later. "I
tried to apply a tourniquet, but it was impossible as the arm was off too
close to the shoulder. I knew he had to have the right kind of medical
treatment as soon as possible and we had almost four hours flying time ahead
of us, so there was no alternative."
Despite the heavy damage, enemy fighters,
and a sky filled with flak, Ruthie II was still in formation.
Koske assumed that the pilot's jerky and erratic flight pattern was simply evasive
movements, and that the mission was still a normal one. The bomber was over Germany, about twenty-five miles from Hanover. Knowing that
Sergeant Weaver had but one chance at life, Koske made a difficult but
critical decision. He adjusted the gunner's parachute and opened the
"After I adjusted his chute and
placed the ripcord ring firmly in his right hand, he must have become excited
and pulled the cord, opening the pilot chute in the updraft," Koske
recalled. Later, waist gunner Sergeant Gene Ponte gave a different
perspective on the near disaster from his vantage point further back in the
fuselage. Both Weaver and Koske's hands were soaked with the wounded
man's blood, which froze them together in the frigid air at 24,000 feet.
When Koske had pulled his hand back, he had forced Weaver to pull the ring
prematurely releasing the smaller pilot chute.
"I managed to gather it (the
pilot chute) together and tuck it under his right arm, got him into a crouched
position with legs through the hatch, made certain again that his good arm was
holding the chute folds together, and toppled him out into space." (If
the incident sounds strangely familiar to the opening scenes of the movie
"Twelve O'clock High, it is no coincidence. It is generally
believed that Ruthie II's mission of July 26 was the basis for that
entire sequence of events.) Six months later the survivors of that
mission learned that Sergeant Weaver was captured by the Germans shortly after
reaching the ground, successfully treated, and was being held as a prisoner of
war in Stalag Luft IV. He was later repatriated to his home in Alabama.
Meanwhile, in the cockpit, Flight Officer
Morgan was unaware of the drama unfolding below him. He had been forced
to make his own critical decision, and now found himself occupied in a
desperate struggle to save his airplane.
The dying pilot, crazed with intense
pain, fought incessantly for the controls. Morgan had held the big man
back with one arm, while regaining control of his aircraft with the other to
bring it out of its deadly dive. The erratic flight pattern that
Lieutenant Koske had assumed to be evasive maneuvers were actually Morgan's
attempts to control both the thrashing pilot and the flight of the bomber.
Morgan's calls for assistance over the
interphone had brought no assistance, and the guns in Ruthie II's waist
and tail had ceased firing despite the continuing enemy attacks, leading
Morgan to wonder if the crew had bailed out. Realizing the Fortress was
doomed, a lesser man might have opted to bail himself, but Morgan couldn't
know who might be injured below and unable to parachute to safety, so he
elected to remain in the copilot's seat. He found slight comfort when he
heard Koske's and (2nd) Lieutenant Asa Irwin's nose guns begin firing
again. At least he still had a navigator and bombardier.
The decision to continue the mission was
a matter of self-preservation. Morgan feared that if he broke away from
the formation in an attempt to hastily return to England, he would be a lone,
crippled bomber and easy prey to the flock of enemy Focke Wulf fighters.
There was safety in numbers, and his best option at survival was to remain
with his flight all the way to Hanover, and then home. With his
windshield shattered and his only visible means of position through the
overhead window, he navigated by flying beneath one of the other
bombers. Throughout the entire ordeal, he continued to struggle with the
dying pilot for the controls.
Enemy flak and fighters pounded the
formation all the way to Hanover, where the bomb bay doors opened so
Lieutenant Irwin could release his 500-pound explosives on the important
factory below. Then the formation turned to head for home, the shattered
Ruthie II still struggling to remain with the pack.
The flight had taken heavy casualties and
many of the bombers that managed to reach the North Sea on the
return home had to be ditched in the English Channel. (Over the next 24
hours, British air-sea rescue teams pulled sixty-five American airmen out of
John Morgan was still fighting to get his own Fortress
home when, fifteen minutes after leaving the enemy coast line behind,
Lieutenant Koske left his guns to check on the men in the
cockpit. What he found both shocked and amazed him. "Morgan
was flying the plane with one hand, holding the half-dead pilot off with the
other hand, and he had been doing it for over two hours!"
Morgan asked Koske to help him remove the
still delirious Lieutenant Campbell from the pilot seat. With his
windshield shattered, Morgan knew he would only be able to land the bomber
from the pilot's position,
assuming they even reached England. It took both men
half-an-hour to pry Campbell loose and drag him to the rear of the navigator's
station, where Lieutenant Irwin held him tightly to keep him from falling
through the open hatch that had mercifully sent Sergeant Weaver earthward for
That done, Lieutenant Koske went to check
on the other men. He found the long-silent gunners still at their posts
and unconscious from the loss of the oxygen system in the rear of the aircraft
after the first attack. Safely over the English Channel now, Morgan
dropped lower and the men were quickly revived, uninjured though suffering
from severe frost-bite.
The fuel tanks had been hit diminishing
what should have been an ample supply of aviation gasoline for the mission,
and the gauges were red lining even as Ruthie II neared the
coast of Great Britain. Tail gunner Sergeant John Foley, though in pain
from limbs previously frozen at high altitude, cranked the wheels and flaps
down by hand. From the pilot's seat, Flight Officer Red Morgan
brought his bomber safely home. Lieutenant Campbell died one and a
Red Morgan's ordeal in the cockpit of
Ruthie II on the Hanover mission reflected great courage,
determination, and near super-human strength. The dedicated flier never
saw himself as a hero. "There's no such
thing as a hero," he would say humbly. "I was pushed
into circumstances where I was forced to act. You can never say how
you're going to react to something until it happens, but I think most people
would have done the same."
Flight Officer Morgan simply returned to his
duties, continuing to fly missions. In August the Mighty Eighth
organized the 482nd Bomb Squadron, composed largely of hand-picked pilots, air
and ground crews, and officers. Morgan transferred to the 482nd where he
continued to fly combat missions. In November he was promoted to second
On December 17 in a special ceremony to
recall the heroism of John Morgan at Eighth Air Force Headquarters, General
Curtis LeMay presented the young Texan with the Medal of Honor. The
USAAF commander noted, "He flew like a homing pigeon to the target in
spite of the fact that he had every right and reason to turn back or bail
receiving his nation's highest honor, becoming the tenth airman and first
copilot of World War II to receive the Medal of Honor, Red Morgan
shared his story in his own words on the 9 p.m. BBC radio broadcast. The
accomplishments of the man who had been turned down for military service and
classified 4-F made him a hero to airmen of all three nations he had flown
General LeMay urged Red to return
home to a hero's welcome, where he could safely serve his country promoting
the Army Air Force to the American public. Lieutenant Morgan
declined. He believed that his job as an airman was to fight the enemy,
thus he continued to fly bombing missions--racking up a total of twenty-five
before his March 6 mission over Berlin three months later.
Normally, twenty-five missions marked the
magical number that sent any airman home, but changes in the Eighth Air Force
early in 1944 changed that as well.
Shortly after Morgan received his Medal
of Honor, General Ira Eaker was transferred from England to assume command of
the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces. It was a transfer the man who had
built the Mighty Eighth and proved the value of massive, daylight
bombing raids, protested to no avail. On January 5, 1944, Lieutenant
General Jimmy Doolittle flew to England to assume command of the Eighth Air
Force. One of the first changes he made, at the direction of Hap Arnold,
was to increase the number of missions before rotation home.
In the early days when bomber sorties
numbered only a few dozen aircraft, casualties had been heavy and airmen
considered that they had one chance in five of getting home. Those who
reached their 25th mission beat the those odds five-fold. By 1944 the
formations that flew against enemy targets numbered in the hundreds, and
though casualties continued to mount, the odds of survival had improved.
Doolittle also reasoned that crews with 25 missions were the most experienced,
and it was a waste of that experience to send them home prematurely.
Early in 1944 the mission benchmark was changed to thirty.
On March 5, 1944, in the Pacific Theater
half-a-world away, Colonel Neel Kearby was shot down near Wewak, New
Guinea. The loss of the American ace who had received the Medal of Honor
one month after Red Morgan touched off a new debate. Upon
learning of the loss of Kearby and fellow ace Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lynch,
Hap Arnold advised their commander General George Kenney, to reconsider
the policy that returned such heroes to combat. "Their loss may
become a national calamity," he noted.
Hap's observations quickly reached
the Mighty Eighth where Major General William Kepner, commander of the
8th Fighter Command, sent a memo to Doolittle noting: "A dead hero is
of infinitely more value for inspirational purposes than a live average
man. A LIVE hero is even better, but in order to achieve the hero status
the distinct possibility of the corps status must be accepted."
General Arnold's concern in the matter
related primarily to the fighter pilots, many of whom were now locked in
inter-squadron rivalries and the race to see who would emerge as World War
II's Ace of Aces. Little thought was given to the concept of
loosing a bomber pilot for, even before news of Kearby's death less than
twenty-four hours earlier reached England, Lieutenant John C. Morgan was
winging his way over Berlin on his twenty-sixth mission.
March 6, 1944
Morgan's unexpected ejection from his
B-17 and subsequent spectacular free fall that was halted only by his
amazing presence of mind and physical strength to secure his parachute,
ended on the ground near the German capital city. Landing only yards
from an enemy anti-aircraft battery, he was quickly captured. For
the next fourteen months the Medal of Honor hero of less than a year
earlier was interred in the North Compound of Stalag Luft 1.
Life was hard as a POW. Kenneth
Simmons related in his 1960 book Kriegie that:
"Each prisoner was
studied by several psychologists in order to learn his likes,
dislikes, habits and powers of resistance. The method of
procedure was then determined, and the machinery was set into
operation to destroy his mental resistance in the shortest possible
time. If the prisoner showed signs of fright or appeared
nervous, he was threatened with all kinds of torture, some of which
were carried out, and he was handled in a rough manner. Others
were bribed by luxuries. They were traded clean clothes, good
living quarters, food and cigarettes for answers to certain questions.
Those who could neither be swayed nor bribed were treated with respect
and handled with care in the interrogator's office, but were made to
suffer long miserable hours of solitary confinement in the prison
Through those fourteen months of
confinement, Lieutenant Morgan maintained his dignity and his
smile. A war-time photograph of the prisoners at Stalag Luft 1
shows the lanky Texan, though much leaner for the ordeal, dishing out
hot water from the kitchen in his compound. As always, the big
guy's face reflected a broad smile.
In May 1945, with the war finally
over, Red Morgan returned home and was discharged from military
service. He also returned to Texaco, where he was assigned to work
as an aviation representative in the company's Sales Department in
Chicago. There he met a young secretary named Chris Ziegler.
The two married in 1947 and raised one son.
In 1950 during the Korean War, Red
Morgan returned to duty with the new United States Air Force.
The hero of the previous war requested combat duty, but the Air Force
refused to risk the living hero once again. He remained in the
United States flying transports before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
In all, Red Morgan spent
thirty-nine years as a loyal employee of Texaco, his tenure with the
company broken only by two interim periods during which the patriotic
Texan served his country during time of war. A well-respected
member of the Medal of Honor Society, he once humbly noted:
"I have great respect
for the others who have the Medal, but I really don't think about
it for myself. I'm very proud to have it. Many good
things have come to me because of it.
"But I don't dwell on
"Frankly, I think it
would be boring for people to hear about it."
On January 17, 1991,
the seventy-sux year-old, white-haired gentleman who had once been known
as Red, died peacefully in Papillton, Nebraska. He was laid
to rest with other warriors of The Greatest Generation, in
Arlington National Cemetery.
Morgan's Medal of Honor citation lists his date of action as July 28,
1943. Based upon this author's research of 8th Air Force mission
chronologies and other documents, I believe the mission against Hanover
occurred on July 26, as also detailed by Martin Caidin in Flying Forts.
During time of war missions and dates often become confused, and such
errors in the official citations are not without precedent.
years after posting this story I received the following email from a
family friend of Red Morgan, which sheds light on the problem with Morgan's date of
action, as well as other interesting information about this American hero.
|I loved reading about "Uncle" Red -- he
was the brother of one of my mother's best friends, and in Texas
tradition was considered a calabash relative. While you got a lot
of the details dead on, there were a few other interesting facts
about Red that should get recorded.
One of the funnier things she (Morgan's sister) tells is about his academic career. She says that he
is a "distinguished alumni" of so many schools because
he kept getting kicked out. Red spent his tuition money at Texas
on flying lessons, which is what prompted his father to send him
to Fiji. (His father was the head lawyer for Texaco, and wrote a
lot of the first oil and gas law in the US.) On Fiji, he managed
to cause the first automobile wreck there, even though there were
only two cars on the island at the time.
My mother said that he was extremely reckless, but that is also
the quality that made him so brave -- and quick-thinking. That's
why his father did not want him to be a pilot -- the father
couldn't see him having responsibility for 30 or so other lives
with his temperament. That is also what makes his staying on board
the injured airplane and getting back to England so remarkable --
he proved everyone wrong.
The reason for the mix-up in dates is also an interesting
story. Red was on report, and confined to barracks -- and was not
supposed to fly on the mission at all. However, he snuck out and
went anyway, telling the replacement co-pilot the orders were
changed. When he got back, he did not tell anyone what had
happened, and was confined again, and there was some sentiment at
how he should be discharged. Then the brass started hearing
through the rumor mill about what exactly had happened. If you'll
note, the recommendation and citation took some time to be made.
However, the story was so remarkable, they felt that they could
not ignore it. They did adjust the date so on paper, it would not
reveal his ignoring his confinement.
He also did not know whether Sgt Weaver survived, until after
the war, and was extremely relieved.
We had other remarkable "greatest generation" stories
from our town -- but its very hard to beat Red Morgan's for the
drama, heroism, and personal growth.
Raid on Ploesti
Filled the Sky
Caidin, Martin, Flying Forts, Meredith Press, New
Doolittle, General James and Carroll V. Glines, I Could Never Be So Lucky
Again, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, PA, 1991
Frisbee, John L., "Crisis in the Cockpit", Air Force Magazine,
McLaughlin, B.G. J. Kemp, The Mighty Eight in WWII, University Press of
Murphy, Edward F., Heroes of World War II, Pesidio, 1990
"Texaco's Flying Pioneers", An American Hero-John C. Morgan, Texaco
Topics Publication, 75th Anniversary Issue, 1977
Tillman, Barrett, Above and Beyond, The Aviation Medals of Honor,
Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 2002.
On The Web:
A Great Site with information on Stalag Luft 1 where Red Morgan spent
fourteen months as a prisoner of war.
Part II - World War
A Very Special Thanks to Author/Historian Barrett
Tillman for his special assistance and creative support in the
development of this series.
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