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Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado

John Cary
Red
Morgan

"Hitler built a fortress around Europe, 

but forgot to put a roof on it."

President 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 boasted.

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 bombers.  

 

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 history."

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 was behind.

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.

 

John C. Morgan
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 Texan."

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 1919.

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 description!"

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 them."  

Morgan 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 the RCAF.

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 pilot.)  

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 nations.

 

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.

 

 

 

Mission To Hanover
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 Campbell.

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 Hanover.  

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 escape hatch.

"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 the water.)  

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 medical treatment.

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 half-hours later.

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 lieutenant.

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 out."

 

After 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 for. 

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 cells."

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 the past.  

"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.

 

*John 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.

**Two 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.

Best,
Wendy

 

 

Raid on Ploesti

 When Heroes Filled the Sky 

Sources:
Caidin, Martin, Flying Forts, Meredith Press, New York, NY, 1968
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, January 1984
McLaughlin, B.G. J. Kemp, The Mighty Eight in WWII, University Press of Kentucky, 2000
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.

Stalag Luft I OnlineRecommended 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 2

Wings of Valor
Home Page

Introduction

Day of Infamy
When America needed Heroes
Pay Back
The Tokyo Raid
Harl Pease
Too Young to Fly MacArthur
Kenneth Walker 
Reprimand or Medal
Hamilton and Craw
The Banker & The Soldier
Airmen on the Ground 
Jack Mathis
Bombardier Brothers
Snuffy Smith
You don't have to be a saint
To Become a hero.
Sarnoski & Zeamer
1 Plane - 9 Heroes
TWO Medals of Honor
John C. Red  Morgan
Medically Unqualified
Morally Determined 
The Ploesti Raid 
When Heroes Filled the Sky 
Ralph Cheli 
Leadership by Example
Sacrifice by Design
Neel Ernest Kearby
The First Top Gun
Raymond Wilkins
The Last Survivor
Forrest Vosler 
Blind Determination 
James H. Howard
 
"I seen my duty and I done it!" 
Lawley, Truemper, 
& Mathies 
Coming Home the Hard Way
Ed Michael
Until the Last Man Comes Home
Leon Vance
Burden of Command
David Kingsley 
The Ultimate Sacrifice
Donald Pucket  Darrell Lindsey  Richard Bong 
Horace Carswell  Robert Femoyer  Gott & Metzger 
Frederick Castle  Thomas McGuire  William Shomo 
Henry Red Erwin
The Courage to LIVE
Raymond Knight   
A Very Special Thanks to Author/Historian Barrett Tillman for his special assistance and creative support in the development of this series.

Part I
World War One
Coming in November 2006

Part III
US Air Force

 

 

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