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Red Morgan remembered: A 92nd Bombardment Group Medal of Honor recipient

  • Published
  • By Dan Simmons
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Historian (Retired)
As we approach the end of July, I am reminded of a truly remarkable event in the heritage of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing that occurred on July 26, 1943. The lineage and honors of the 92nd ARW dates back to the 92nd Bombardment Group of World War II, a B-17 Flying Fortress unit that displayed extraordinary heroism over the skies of Nazi-occupied Europe.

One of the heroes of that legendary group, 2nd Lt. John C. "Red" Morgan, earned the Medal of Honor as a B-17 copilot during a bombing mission over Germany. As is normally the case with Medal of Honor recipients, the story of how Morgan earned the medal is unbelievable, sounding more like a Hollywood script than an actual mission. In fact, the story of the fictional Lt. Jesse Bishop in the movie "Twelve O'clock High" was based on Morgan's mission in the "Ruthie II." I could try to recount the story, but I feel it is best if you just read the citation printed below.

Citation: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, while participating on a bombing mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe. Prior to reaching the German coast on the way to the target, the B-17 airplane in which 2nd Lt. "Red" Morgan was serving as a 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 arm around it. 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 other 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, Morgan made his decision to continue the flight and protect any members of the crew who might still be in the ship and for two 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 Morgan on this occasion resulted in the successful completion of a vital bombing mission and the safe return of his airplane and crew."

The pilot died shortly after the landing in England, but every other crew member survived. Morgan was presented the Medal of Honor by Lt. Gen. Ira Eaker on Dec. 18, 1943, and was directed to fly no more combat. But Morgan did not heed this guidance and volunteered for several more missions, including the first raid over Berlin on March 6, 1944. On that day his B-17 was shot down and he became a prisoner of war until May 1, 1945. Morgan died in Papillion, Nebraska, on Jan. 17, 1991, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.