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Lt. John C.
92nd Bomb Group - 326th Bomb Squad
Congressional Medal of Honor
Shot down March 6, 1944
Stalag Luft I - North 1 Compound
Crisis in the Cockpit
By John L. Frisbee, Contributing Editor
Air Force Magazine -Published January 1984
The copilot, John Morgan, had
two alternatives: pull the plug on a wounded friend or fight him for
control of the stricken B-17
At mid-1940, with war
raging in Europe and the United States sure to become involved, it
looked as though John Morgan was never going to be an Army flyer. The
6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound Texan had been classified 4-F by his draft
board as a result of an earlier accident in which he had broken his
neck. But the Royal Canadian Air Force, more interested in willing
warriors than in medical history, welcomed Morgan into its
pilot-training program. A year later, he was in England, wearing the
RCAF uniform but flying bombers for the Royal Air Force.
In May 1943, Morgan transferred to the US Army Air
Forces as a flight officer and was assigned to the 92d Bomb Group's
326th Squadron, based at Alconbury. Sixty days later, on July 18,
Morgan sat in the right seat of a B-17 as copilot for 1st Lt. Robert
Campbell, a huge, muscular Mississippian, as they climbed out over the
North Sea, and headed for Hanover and one of the most remarkable
bomber sorties of the war.
Before the bomber stream reached the Dutch coast,
it came under heavy attack by Luftwaffe fighters. The intercom of
Morgan's plane was shot out, the tail, waist, and ball-turret guns
ceased firing, a cannon shell shattered the windshield on the
copilot's side, and a machine-gun bullet struck pilot Campbell in the
head, splitting open his skull. Campbell, semiconscious and in a
crazed condition, fell forward, locking his arms around the control
Morgan knew that if the B-17 dropped out of
formation it would be easy prey to German fighters. Flying with his
right hand, he dragged Campbell off the controls, holding him back in
the pilot's seat with his left arm. The wounded pilot continued to
fight instinctively for the controls as Morgan maneuvered back into
formation. He now had two alternatives: pull Campbell's oxygen mask
off, which, at 26,000 feet, would have been fatal to the wounded man,
or fight the crazed pilot for control of the B-17 as long as his
strength lasted, hoping that another crew member might come up to the
cockpit and help. He chose the latter alternative.
Once again enemy fighters came in. As they pulled
up over the riddled B-17, the top turret gunner fell to the floor, one
arm shot off at the shoulder. Morgan's navigator, Keith Koske, unable
to apply a tourniquet, got the gunner into a chute and pushed him out
the lower hatch, believing correctly that the minus 50-degree F. cold
would stop the bleeding. The gunner survived, was cared for by German
surgeons, and was repatriated in late 1944.
The navigator, bombardier, and engineer were aware
from the B-17's erratic flight that something was wrong in the
cockpit, but all were too busy fighting off attackers to leave their
stations. For two hours, John Morgan held formation, all the time
fighting to keep the irrational Campbell off the controls. Finally,
after bombs-away, navigator Koske came up to the cockpit and, shocked
by the grisly scene, helped Morgan get Campbell out of the pilot's
As the formation let down over the North Sea, the
gunners Morgan had believed to be dead appeared on the flight deck.
Their oxygen system had been knocked out in the first fighter attack
and they had been unconscious until the bombers descended to lower
altitude. Campbell died minutes after Morgan landed the battered
bomber at an RAF base near the English coast.
On Dec. 17, 1943, Lt. Gen. Ira Eaker, Commander of
the Eighth Air Force, presented 1st Lt. John C. Morgan the Medal of
Honor in recognition of his heroic acts over Germany that July day.
General Eaker directed Morgan to fly no more combat. But Morgan
decided that if the war was not over for the Allies, it wasn't over
for him. He volunteered for several more missions, including the first
Berlin raid of March 6, 1944. On that day, Morgan's war against Nazi
Germany came to an end. His B-17 was shot down and he remained an
unwilling guest of the Luftwaffe until V-E Day.
Morgan must surely be the only draft-classified 4-F
to serve with the air forces of three nations, fly 26 combat missions
(he says it really was only 25 and a half) with the RAF and the AAF,
earn this country's highest decoration for valor, and spend 14 months
as a POW. No American who survived World War II paid his dues more
fully than that tough, tenacious Texan.
John "Red" Morgan dishes hot
water from a field kitchen
in the North I compound at Stalag Luft I
Congressional Medal of Honor Citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above
and beyond the call of duty, while participating on a bombing
mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe, 28 July 1943.
Prior to reaching the German coast on the way to the target, the
B17 airplane in which 2nd Lt. Morgan was serving as copilot was
attacked by a large force of enemy fighters, during which the
oxygen system to the tail, waist, and radio gun positions was
knocked out. A frontal attack placed a cannon shell through the
windshield, totally shattering it, and the pilot's skull was split
open by a .303 caliber shell, leaving him in a crazed condition.
The pilot fell over the steering wheel, tightly clamping his arms
around it. 2nd Lt. Morgan at once grasped the controls from his
side and, by sheer strength, pulled the airplane back into
formation despite the frantic struggles of the semiconscious
pilot. The interphone had been destroyed, rendering it impossible
to call for help. At this time the top turret gunner fell to the
floor and down through the hatch with his arm shot off at the
shoulder and a gaping wound in his side. The waist, tail, and
radio gunners had lost consciousness from lack of oxygen and,
hearing no fire from their guns, the copilot believed they had
bailed out. The wounded pilot still offered desperate resistance
in his crazed attempts to fly the airplane. There remained the
prospect of flying to and over the target and back to a friendly
base wholly unassisted. In the face of this desperate situation,
2nd Lt. Officer Morgan made his decision to continue the flight
and protect any members of the crew who might still be in the ship
and for 2 hours he flew in formation with one hand at the controls
and the other holding off the struggling pilot before the
navigator entered the steering compartment and relieved the
The miraculous and heroic performance of 2nd Lt. Morgan on this
occasion resulted in the successful completion of a vital bombing
mission and the safe return of his airplane and crew.
The following article is reprinted from
Texaco Topics Publication, Special 75th Anniversary Edition
( Published in 1977)
Texaco's Flying Pioneers
| An American Hero
John C. Morgan
John Cary Morgan worked for Texaco for 42 years,
with 37 of those being in the Aviation Sales Department. He was awarded the
Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism aboard the Ruthie II. John was
later shot down over enemy territory in the first daylight bombing raid of
Berlin. He spent the final 14 months of the war in a German prison camp. The
book and eventual movie classic "Twelve O'clock High", is thought to be
loosely based on the Mission of the Ruthie II. John Morgan passed away in
1991, a real life American Hero.
John C. "Red" Morgan's life story sounds like
the script for a Hollywood adventure movie. But nothing in a movie based on
his adventures would be fictional. The story would relate the exploits of an
aviator whose courage in the United States Army Air Corps during World War
II earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The film would make it clear that this former
Texan has had a passion for airplanes and the open, endless sky since he was
This past April, John, who is Division Manager
- Los Angeles in the International aviation sales Department, marked his
39th anniversary with Texaco. He joined the Company in 1938 as a truck
operator at the Oklahoma City Sales Terminal.
At six feet, two inches, and 210 pounds, John
Morgan is a powerfully built man who today looks younger than his 62 years.
His head of thick white hair (once "flaming red in my flaming youth") gives
him a very courtly appearance.
For a man who was recently inducted into the
Colorado Historical Society aviation Hall of Fame and is honored in many
university aviation displays and also one at the United States Air Force
Academy, John Morgan is an unassuming, gregarious individual who exudes
warmth and friendliness. He seems, in fact, to become a little embarrassed
when he is asked to talk one more time of his wartime heroism.
"There are very few heroes," he tells a
visitor. "Under the circumstances I think most people would have done the
same." Here is what John says "most people" would have done:
By mid-July, 1943, young Flight Officer John
Morgan had already received the Distinguished Flying Cross for safely flying
home a B-17 bomber that had been damaged in a raid over France. On July 26,
little more than a week later, John was the co-pilot on another B-17, one of
600 in an attack group from England with a mission to destroy some railroad
yards in Hanover, Germany. Over the English Channel they were attacked by
The first burst of machine gun fire from one
fighter shattered the windshield for the cockpit and mortally wounded the
pilot. Bursts from more enemy fighters wounded several other crewmen and
knocked out the B-17's communications system and all but one of its machine
guns. The oxygen system for the rear of the plane was also disabled, leaving
five crewmen there unconscious.
John struggled to regain control of the plane,
which was in a nose dive because the pilot, dying from a head wound, had
slumped against the controls. The mortally wounded pilot lived almost four
hours and instinctively fought John for control of the aircraft all of that
John chose not to abort his mission, even
though he might have been able to request a fighter escort back to England.
It would be four hours before the bomber force
completed its mission and returned to base. Through those hours, John
Morgan, barely able to see through the shattered windshield, handled the
many jobs meant for two men at a B-17's controls. All through those hours,
enemy fighters attacked continually, and heavy flak from ground batteries
exploded in deadly black puffs around the plane.
Four months after this flight, 29-year-old John
Morgan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His B-17 was never
flown again. General Curtis E. LeMay, in his autobiography, Mission With
LeMay: My Story, paid John this tribute: "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."
John was given the opportunity to be sent home
after receiving the Medal, but he chose to stay with his unit. Eight months
later, on March 6, 1944, he began his final mission: the first daylight
bombing raid over Berlin. This was one of the biggest raids of the war,
involving more than 1,000 airplanes.
"I was flying in the lead aircraft," John says.
"We had just reached the target area when we were hit by flak, which
resulted in control damage and fuel tank fire. The aircraft tumbled out of
control, and subsequently exploded."
John was blown out of the plane minus one
important item-he had not been wearing his chest-pack-type parachute. In the
chaos, he just had time to tuck it under his arm. As he dropped 20,000 feet
out of the flak-filled sky over Berlin, he frantically worked to snap the
chute onto his chest harness. Finally, at approximately 400 to 500 feet
above the ground, it was snapped on, and the chute was opened. John had
unintentionally accomplished what newspaper accounts later called "one of
the most spectacular free falls in history."
"I didn't think I was dead," John muses about
that fall. "There was no question about it. Strangely, when you are in that
situation you are no longer afraid. I have learned that the unknown is
usually the most frightening."
Captured approximately "10 seconds" after
landing in the middle of Hitler's Berlin, John spent the final 14 months of
the war in a prison camp.
John has been fascinated with flight since he
was a four-year-old boy in Vernon, Texas, and watched a barnstorming pilot
in an old biplane zoom over his home. He had all of three and a half-hours
of flight instruction when he made his first solo flight as a University of
Texas freshman in Austin. His father, an attorney, was not exactly thrilled.
"My father had been a regular passenger in the
early airline days," drawls John in a soft Texas accent, "and he felt it
took a super human and a genius to fly those contraptions." He pauses.
"There was some question in his mind whether or not I fit that description."
After attending several different Texas
colleges, John decided school wasn't for him. So, at age 20, he went off to
the Fiji Islands, where he supervised laborers on a pineapple plantation and
cannery and later worked in a gold mine.
When he returned to America in 1938, he joined
Texaco where he remained until he entered military service in 1940 in the
Royal Canadian Air Force. He transferred to the United States Air Corps in
May, 1943, while in England.
When he was released from the service after the
war ended, John returned to Texaco as an aviation Representative in the
Sales Department in Chicago. While there he met a young Texaco secretary,
Chris Ziegler, who became his wife in 1947.
During the Korean War, John took a leave of
absence from his job to serve six months as Deputy Assistant Secretary of
the Air Force and was recalled to active military duty in 1950, serving
He still holds a commercial pilot's license but
doesn't use it. Occasionally, he says, he will go up "for a spin" with pilot
friends. When he gets together with other pilots, the talk usually centers
on current developments in aviation.
"I have great respect for the others who have
the Medal [there are 286 living recipients], but I really don't think about
it for myself," he says. "I'm very proud to have it. Many good things have
come to me because of it. I've met interesting and fine people and been
privileged to work in aviation and for Texaco for most of my adult life."
"But I don't dwell on the past. Frankly, I
think it would be boring for people to hear about it."
John Morgan is anything but boring. After
spending time with him, a visitor comes away with the feeling of having had
the good fortune to meet a real-live American Hero.
John C. Morgan is buried in Section 59 of Arlington