Monday, December 24, 2018

No such thing as a Hero*

Thanks for all the good wishes yesterday.  I had a brief epiphany driving home Friday.  I'd been worried that this retirement would be like the one from the Air Force.  A complete change in my life.  Leaving a career I loved, leaving the place I lived with little likelihood that I'd have regular interaction with Friends I'd made.

The epiphany was that, in reality, this was more like my switching jobs at the Pentagon.  In stead of robbing peter to pay paul on the Air Staff, (a job I hated), I'd switch my loyalties to the Joint Staff and handle current operations (a job I was more suited for).  I'd still get to see the people I wanted to see and avoid those I didn't.

Which is where I'm at on this retirement thing.  I enjoyed working with and for the 98% of the staff that were "good folks", but the 15 or so people that were/are total jerks made the job suck.  The new job, working with and for Mrs J and her honey-do list, sounds like fun.  And the perks are much better.  I'll still see the folks I care about and will avoid those I don't.

So.  No más on the retirement posts.  It makes the working stiffs on the editorial staff feel bad (you know who you are); and we can't have that.

But I still have responsibilities posting on Monday's, irrespective on whether that Monday is something such as....I don't know.....Christmas Eve.  And Ebenezer Sarge hasn't had HIS epiphany with the ghosts of Christmas....Yet.
Bah Humbug, juvat! I ain't afraid of no Ghosts!Source

So, we'll go with an old standby.

This story is fairly fascinating in its twist and turns.  

John C. Morgan was a Texan, who had learned to fly while at UT-Austin (hisssss!).  While working on an Oil rig had broken his neck which classified him as 4-F for the draft.  In August of 1941, the war was going hot and heavy, but we weren't involved (officially) yet.  Not eligible for the draft, Mr. Morgan joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Sergeant Pilot with RAF Bomber Command.  In March of '43, the transferred to the US Army Air Forces.  

Which caused a conundrum. 

Bomber Pilots in the Army Air Force were officers, and he was enlisted.  Necessity being the mother of bending all rules, he was designated a Flight Officer (F/O) (I'm certain with no boost in pay,  allowances or privileges) and assigned as a co-pilot in a B-17.

On July 261,  He is flying on his 5th mission, a bombing mission to Hanover, Germany.  During the run-in to the target, the formation is attacked by FW-190s and his B-17F is hit.  His pilot, Lt Robert Campbell is hit in the head, splitting open his skull.  He slumps forward against the controls, pushing the aircraft out of formation.  With his left hand, F/O  Morgan, pulls the injured pilot off the controls while simultaneously flying the bomber back into the comparative safety of the formation.  

At this point, there is no radio or intercom, so determining the status of the bomber is nearly impossible, which is ...

The top turret gunner has been hit by a 20mm shell which tore off his left arm, leaving him bleeding profusely.  He has fallen out of the turret eventually being found by the Navigator.  Believing him to be bleeding to death, the navigator bails him out.  He is captured on landing, but survives the war.

The attack has also destroyed the oxygen capabilities in the rear of the aircraft.  The waist and tail gunners are unconscious due to hypoxia.

The badly injured pilot has regained consciousness and is fighting F/O Morgan for the controls.  F/O Morgan has to use his left arm to fight and keep the pilot away from them.  

He has the option of turning around and going home which would leave him defenseless against any further German attack. Or he can continue to fly to the target with the formation.  He chose the latter.

2 hours later, the navigator and bombardier enter the cockpit and restrained the pilot. The formation, with F/O Morgan's B-17,   reaches Hanover and drops their bombs then returns to Britain.  With fuel tanks empty, F/O Morgan sucessfully lands the bomber.  Lt Campbell is rushed to the hospital, but dies shortly thereafter.  The gunners recover from frostbite, and the turret gunner, though a POW, survives the war.

F/O Morgan is promoted to Second Lieutenant and awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

 On his 26th mission, he is shot down in an attack on Berlin and captured by the Germans, becoming the only person to be captured after being awarded the Medal of Honor.
According to this Source this is his bomber going down

Repatriated after the war, he returns to the US and resumes work in the Oil industry,  Recalled to Active Duty during the Korean War, he applies for combat duty, but the Air Force assigns him to Cargo aircraft.  After the war, he serves in the Reserves, retiring as a Lt Col.

Lt Col Morgan passed away in 1991.  He is survived by his son, a retired Air Force Officer and 7 grand children, three of whom are serving in the Army or Marines.

*The title of the post comes from his answer to a question about valor and heroism. 

" There's no such thing as a hero. ... 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."
I'm not sure that is true, but I would hope so. 

Col Morgan's 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 2d 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. 2d 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, 2d 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 situation.
The miraculous and heroic performance of 2d Lt. Morgan on this occasion resulted in the successful completion of a vital bombing mission and the safe return of his airplane and crew.
Rest in Peace, Warrior!

1. His citation says 7/28/43. The AF Historical Support Site shows the change to 7/26/43


  1. Unbelievable, fighting a wounded pilot, fighting to stay in formation with flak and fighters coming at you. Gets the MoH and then gets shot down and captured. An amazing man. Thanks for telling us about him Juvat.

    1. My pleasure. I wonder how the Medal of Honor affected his status as POW. With the Germans there might be some chance of being treated with respect. I don't know if that would have been the case in the Pacific. Pretty darn sure it wouldn't have in Korea or Vietnam. Not much honor in socialist regimes.

    2. Having a MOH would have singled him out negatively in Japanese hands. They were big on making examples of people.

      Unless he got handed to the Gestapo or sent to a regular army prison, he would have done okay. The Luftwaffe was pretty good about honoring ranks and awards equivalency. One of those things that made fighting them so much more 'civilized.'

      In Korea, Vietnam, or after, it would have been him dragged through the streets, beaten half to death, forced to confess. Truly no honor in fundamentalist regimes of any stripe.

    3. Re: making examples...Especially ones who surrendered.

      I think you're right on all above.

  2. This mission of Lt Col Morgan puts to shame ANYTHING Hollywood could imagine. Continuing to fly the bomber not knowing who was still in it, keeping formation and dropping bombs on target, dealing with his pilot.........ya....... a true Warrior. That top gunner was a very lucky man also.

    1. 12 O'Clock High was used at ARMY Command and Staff as a training aid for Leadership. I had watched the Movie and the Series as a kid growing up, but didn't perceive the nuances contained therein until Leavenworth. Got my own copy now and watch it regularly. Thought in this case they did a pretty good job of reenactment. Without the actual carnage of flying real missions of course.

    2. I thought that also.
      Virtually the opening scene.

    3. Excellent point Juvat, watched that series as a kid also and have the movie dvd, completely slipped my mind.

    4. Ed, Yep. Think I'm overdue for another viewing. After I watch that Christmas Movie "Die Hard".

    5. We saw 12 O'Clock High both in NROTC, and in a DH leadership course. Enjoyed it very much both times.

    6. The Nimitz is certainly on my list of possibilities.

  3. Lt Col Morgan's heroism was the basis for the opening scenes in the movie "12 O'clock High".

    As noted, the pilot on the Berlin Mission was Major Fred Rabo. Having lived in Chico, CA for 30 years, I had the honor to meet Fred more than once. As I understand, the ship exploded, and Fred was blown clear but knocked unconscious. He came to while falling and pulled his ripcord, landing in a lake.

    Here is some more about Fred and the crew.

    Both John Morgan and Fred Rabo are mentioned in this book---

    1. Looks like I've got another title for my ever growing Kindle library.

  4. " There's no such thing as a hero. ... 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."
    No. The heroes are the ones who stand up. The others stand down.

    1. I like that statement. Gonna file it away for future reference.

  5. Thank you for making known to me this fine American.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

  6. I think your wife and the 4-legged employees of Ranco Juvato will be much better for you to interact with. Enjoy the transition to the new life.

    1. Well.....Horse's ass is not an unearned connotation, so dealing with our two is sometimes more difficult. But other than that, you're on target. (Much like Lt Col Morgan)

  7. I learned about him while in high school. The struggle with the pilot is the sort of thing one remembers. Badger Paw Salute!

    1. Yeah, that would have been tough to reconcile after the fact. The "what if I'd..." would haunt I'd think.

  8. I guess I thought that MOH awardees were taken on the War Bonds tour circuit so hearing that he was captured was interesting to me. 4F to MOH- great man and nice topic for a post (although all awardees probably are). Sorry to hear you're unemployed again. Maybe the Nimitz Museum can use a good docent.

    1. I also thought the 4F to MoH connection was interesting. Additionally, the Wikipedia source says that one of his grandkids has fought in every war or near war since Desert Storm. Well done, Sir!

  9. Every single one of the decorated Veteran's I met while on the Iowa said the same thing.

    I was just doing My job......

    The Greatest Generation indeed.

    1. I think that's a common response and not solely from WWII vets. I use it when I get the "Thank you for your service" comment. Or alternately, "Thank you for hiring me",

  10. Damn, that's one heck of a story. Roughnecks for the win.

    Juvat, the Queen Of the World and I would like to wish you and yours a very merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you, Sir!
      Same to you and yours, and a Happy New Year!

  11. Enjoy working for your new boss. You are not really retired, you have just changed bosses. And like you said, you have much better perks with your "new" boss. ;)

    May you and Mrs J have a lovely and blessed Christmas. Will you be getting together with your daughter and now SIL? Enjoy!!

    1. Just finished unwrapping presents with MBD and SIL. Had to do it around noon our time, so Little Juvat and DIL could Skype in and open presents "with" us. So, all things considered, it was a pretty great Christmas. Hope your's was also.

  12. From Christmas past--

    1. Great Story, RHT. Brave Men doing their duty in an extraordinary manner under near impossible odds. Rest in Peace, Warriors!

  13. I knew I had read about John C. Morgan from somewhere. Have a blessed Christmas everyone!

    - Victor

    Part 1 because of the 4,096 character limitation.

    From Fortress Without a Roof by Wilbur H. Morrison:

    F/O John C. Morgan, who served a tour of duty with the RCAF, now was assigned to Col. James S. Sutton's 92nd Group. July 26 he flew as copilot in Lt. Robert Campbell's Ruthie II as it headed for Hannover to bomb the Continental Gummiwerke A.G. rubber plant.

    Navigator Keith J. Koske saw the first FW-190s as they made a pass at their formation. He and the others were shocked when they felt a terrific explosion rock the bomber. A second later, top turret gunner Sgt. Tyre C. Weaver fell into the nose section and collapsed on the deck. Koske saw with horror that the gunner's left arm had been blown off at the shoulder; he was covered with blood. He tried to inject morphine into Weaver to dull his pain, but the needle of the syringe was bent. Undoubtedly, the bent needle saved the sergeant's life because he needed his wits about him for what was to follow. When Koske tried to fasten a tourniquet to Weaver he saw it was impossible because his arm had been torn off too close to his shoulder. Koske acted quickly, knowing the terribly wounded gunner must have immediate medical attention if he was to survive, and that he couldn't possibly live the four hours it would take the plane to get back to England. He adjusted a parachute on the gunner, opened the escape hatch, and placed the chute's rip cord in Weaver's right hand. In his agitation, the gunner pulled the cord, which opened the pilot chute in the bombardier's compartment. Koske gathered the billowing pilot chute, tucked it under Weaver's right arm and positioned him in a crouch with his legs through the hatch. Once he was certain Weaver's good arm was holding the chute folds together, Koske toppled him out.

    He noted with satisfaction that ball-turret gunner James L. Ford reported Weaver's chute had opened.

    Incredibly, Weaver survived after falling twenty four thousand feet and landing twenty-five miles west of Hannover, where he was picked up and given immediate medical attention by the Germans. For him, the war was over; he was incarcerated in Stalag Luft IV until 1945.

    Koske went back to man the nose guns, but there were no more frontal attacks, The German fighters were concentrating on the tail.

  14. Part 2:

    Copilot Morgan had taken the plane off from its English base, and now the pilot, Lt. Campbell took over. The first fighter pass had knocked out the oxygen system for the waist, tail, and radio sections. Now, cannon shells smashed the windshield on the copilot's side, hitting Campbell in the head and splitting his skull open. Campbell fell forward over the wheel, with his arms wrapped around it in reflex, causing the bomber to nose down.

    From his side, Morgan grasped the controls, using all his strength to pull the plane out of its steep dive. The semi conscious pilot was a six-footer weighing 185 pounds, and Morgan had a hard time pulling back the controls because of the weight of the pilot's body on them. He couldn't call for help because the intercom was out. What he didn't know at the time was that with the aft oxygen system out, the rear gunners were suffering anoxia at twenty-four thousand feet and were losing consciousness. Morgan thought they had parachuted. He was frantically trying to maintain control of the bomber by brute strength as the pilot, barely alive, tried instinctively to grab the wheel. They were still in formation and Morgan fought these efforts because they were weaving crazily in and out of formation. He expected a collision any second. The windshield in front was shattered, and his visibility was so limited by the blinding inrush of wind that he didn't dare leave the formation. He knew that once he did, they would be a sitting duck --- and a wounded one at that.

    Somehow he stayed with the formation to the target, holding back the pilot with his left arm while trying to fly one-handed.

    Bombardier Asa J. Irwin released the bombs, and the navigator crawled into the pilot's compartment to see how things were. Koske was shocked to learn the true situation.

    "Get Campbell out of his seat!" Morgan yelled.

    Koske asked the bombardier to help him and it took the two of them thirty minutes to get Campbell out of his seat and into the bombardier-navigator compartment where Irwin had to hold him to keep him from slipping out of the open hatch.

    Morgan miraculously brought his B-17 across the English coast with fuel gauges showing empty. The plane had been so riddled that much of the fuel from ruptured tanks had been lost en route home. Once the plane was down to a lower altitude, tail gunner John Foley revived and manage to crank the wheels and flaps down by hand.

    Morgan's heroic efforts to save Campbell proved futile because he died shortly after they landed. Morgan's courage received due recognition later when he was given the MOH for his heroism. (A year later, Morgan's luck ran thin when he was blown out of a bomber over Berlin and ended up in a German POW camp.)

  15. This was part of the story in "Twelve O'clock High", I figured it was make up for the movie.
    Very interesting.


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