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First Name: John

Last Name: Morgan

Birthplace: Vernon, TX, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: Cary

Date of Birth: 24 August 1914

Date of Death: 17 January 1991

Rank: Lieutenant Colonel

Years Served: 1941-43 (Canada), 1943-45, 1950-53 (USAF)
John Cary Morgan

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


John Cary 'Red' Morgan

Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Forces

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Lieutenant Colonel John Cary "Red" Morgan (24 August 1914 - 17 January 1991) was a U.S. Army Air Forces (and later Air Force) pilot. He received the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions during a 1943 bombing run over Germany during World War II. His bombing run also inspired a character in the novel, and film, Twelve O'Clock High.

John Cary Morgan was born on 24 August 1914 at Vernon, TX. The son of an attorney, Morgan graduated from a military school in 1931 and then attended several colleges, including Amarillo College, New Mexico Military Institute, NMMI, West Texas State Teachers College, and the University of Texas at Austin. While at Texas, he learned to fly aircraft and, in 1934, dropped out of college. He worked in the Fiji Islands as a foreman on a pineapple plantation until 1938, when he returned to the U.S. to enlist as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps. However, because of his poor education record, he was refused enlistment. Working at an oil-drilling site for Texaco, Morgan suffered a broken neck in an industrial accident, and as a result was later classified 4-F by the Selective Service System.

In August 1941, Morgan joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, and after completion of flight training in Saskatchewan, Ontario, and RAF Church Lawford, England, was posted as a Sergeant Pilot with RAF Bomber Command. On 23 March 1943 he was transferred to the U.S. Army Air Force as a Flight Officer and assigned to the 92nd Bomb Group's 326th Bomb Squadron, RAF Alconbury, England.

Morgan, on his fifth mission, was co-pilot of a crew flying the B-17F (42-29802) to a target in Hanover, Germany, on 28 July 1943, when he participated in the mission for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Morgan's experience began as his group formation neared the German coast. The B-17, nicknamed Ruthie II, was attacked by a large number of FW 190 fighters and had part of its oxygen system to the gunners' positions in the rear of the aircraft knocked out. The first burst of fire also smashed the cockpit's windshield, damaged the interphone, and split open the skull of pilot Lt. Robert Campbell. The pilot's upper body slumped over his control wheel, causing it to start out of control. F/O Morgan seized the controls on his side and by sheer strength pulled the plane back into formation.

The disabled pilot continued to try to wrest the controls away from Morgan and smashed at the co-pilot with his fists, knocking some teeth loose and blackening both his eyes. Meanwhile, the top turret gunner was also seriously injured when a 20 mm shell tore off his left arm at the shoulder. He fell out of the turret position, and was found by the navigator bleeding to death. The navigator parachuted the gunner out the aircraft in a successful effort to save his life.

Unknown to Morgan, the waist, tail and radio gunners became unconscious from lack of oxygen and were threatened with death by hypoxia. Morgan, unable to call for assistance because of the damaged interphone, had to decide whether to turn back immediately or try to fly all the way to the target and back within the protection of the formation. He also had to decide whether or not to subject Campbell to hypoxia by cutting off his oxygen to disable him. In spite of wild efforts by the fatally wounded pilot to seize the controls, Morgan chose to complete the mission and not cut off his pilot's oxygen supply.

For two hours he held position in the formation - flying with one hand, fighting off the pilot with the other. At length the navigator entered the flight deck and relieved the situation. The navigator and bombardier secured the dying pilot in the nose compartment of the airplane. F/O Morgan's B-17 reached the target at Hanover and successfully dropped its bombs. With all his fuel gauges reading empty, Morgan landed the bomber at RAF Foulsham. Lt. Campbell died an hour and half later, and the five surviving gunners recovered from various degrees of frostbite. The B-17 was declared damaged beyond economical repair and never flew again.

Medal of Honor

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.

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.

F/O Morgan transferred to the 482nd Bomb Group in October 1943 to fly B-17 H2X radar aircraft and was promoted to Second Lieutenant in November. He remained on combat duty, flying in all 25½ missions. On 6 March 1944, Morgan was the pilot of a B-17 leading the first major USAAF attack against Berlin when he was shot down and captured, held in Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany, for the remainder of the war. He was the only person to become a POW after being awarded the Medal of Honor.

In 1948 Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr. published their novel Twelve O'Clock High and used Morgan as a model for a primary character, Lt. Jesse Bishop. The wording of his actions appearing in his citation was used as dialogue in the script to describe the actions of Bishop under similar circumstances, and like Morgan, Bishop's character was awarded the Medal of Honor and later became a POW. The circumstances also became a featured part of the 1949 film adaptation.

Post-War Life

After the war, Morgan returned to work for Texaco in California selling aviation fuel, and during the Korean War, took a leave of absence. Called back to active duty from 1950-1953, he applied for combat duty but the Air Force refused his request. He instead flew cargo planes in the United States for two years, spent his final active duty service in the office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force.

He retired from the Air Force, a Lieutenant Colonel.

When questioned about his valor and heroism, Morgan replied, "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."

Death and Burial

Lieutenant Colonel John Cary "Red" Morgan died on 17 January 1991 of a heart attack. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 59, Lot 351.

Morgan is survived by his only child, Sam Morgan, who himself was a military man all his life. Morgan also has 4 grandchildren of which 3 are serving in the military and all have spent time in the Gulf Wars.

Honoree ID: 1551   Created by: MHOH




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