Sunday, July 28, 2013

TFH 7/28: 2d Lt. John C. Morgan, USAAF

John Cary Morgan was born on August 24, 1914 in Vernon, Texas. He graduated from a military school in 1931 and bounced between colleges and universities until 1934 when he dropped out. During his college days though, he did learn to fly. Into 1938, he was working in the Fiji Islands on a pineapple plantation. Later in that year, he returned to the United States and tried to join the Army Air Corps as a flight cadet, but was rejected for his poor education record.

Morgan went to work for Texaco, and was injured in an accident that resulted in him being declared "4-F" - unfit for military service - by the Selective Service System. With the world at war in 1941, if his own country wouldn't take him for service, he decided to find one that would. He journeyed to Canada and was accepted into the Royal Canadian Air Force in August, 1941. Morgan was trained as a pilot, and saw action with the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command over Europe.

On March 23, 1943 he was transferred to the United States Army Air Forces and put on his own country's uniform. On July 28, 1943 he took off as the co-pilot of a Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress belonging to the 326th Bombardment Squadron of the 92nd Bombardment Group (Heavy). It was his fifth mission with the unit.

John Morgan's actions after his aircraft was heavily damaged by enemy fighters before reaching the target saw him decorated with our nation's highest honor. If you think his citation sounds like a movie excerpt, well, you'd be right.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):

MORGAN, JOHN C. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 326th Bomber Squadron, 92d Bomber Group. Place and date: Over Europe, 28 July 1943. Entered service at: London, England. G.O. No.: 85, 17 December 1943. 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 B-17 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 semi-conscious 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.

If that story did indeed seem familiar to you, it's because Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr. used Morgan as the basis for the character of Lieutenant Jesse Bishop in their novel Twelve O'Clock, High! and the incredible movie that followed starring Gregory Peck, Dean Jagger, and Hugh Marlowe. Morgan's heroism is retold almost verbatim as the story of the fictional Lieutenant Bishop.

Morgan continued to fly B-17s in combat. On March 6, 1944 during the first large-scale Eighth Air Force raid on Berlin, he was shot down and was captured by the Germans. He became the only Medal of Honor recipient to later become a prisoner of war during World War II. He remained a prisoner until liberation by Soviet forces on April 30, 1945.

After the war, Morgan returned to civilian life and a job with Texaco. He returned to active service in the now United States Air Force for four years (1950-53) during the Korean War, but his application to return to combat service was denied. His last position was on the staff of the Air Force's headquarters and he retired as a Lieutenant Colone.

John C. Morgan died of a heart attack on January 17, 1991. He rests today amongst our nation's most honored dead at Arlington National Cemetery.

The 326th Bombardment Squadron was deactivated on February 1, 1963 and the unit designation has not been used by the Air Force since. The descendent of the 92d Bombardment Group (Heavy) is today the 92d Operations Group, flying arm of the 92d Air Refueling Wing. Their home station is Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Washington.

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