Thursday, March 02, 2017

Assisting Lt. Col. George Morgan with his wardrobe

My cousin, Frank Mitchell, walked into the museum yesterday afternoon while I was working in the military section. So I yelled, "Come on back; I'm helping Col. Morgan get dressed." 

Which was stretching it --- but I was adjusting one of  U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. George C. Morgan's dress uniforms, displayed on a form that had been moved several times during the last year and had come slightly adrift.

Col. Morgan and his wife, Polly, then living in Turlock, California, gave the uniform in question to the museum during 1988, along with two beautiful examples of Air Force formal wear, mess jackets and trousers.

As it turned out, neither Frank nor I knew much about Col. Morgan, which is not surprising. He enlisted for World War II service during 1943 and never really lived in Lucas County again, although the Morgans did have many relatives here, including two of Polly's sisters, Isabel (Mrs. Earl H.) Wright and Bernice (Mrs. Herman) DeBok, both of Russell, and visited often as the years passed. 

So when I came home later in the afternoon, I decided to see what I could find out about Morgan --- and was delighted to discover that back in 2005, when he was 88, George had recorded an oral history that now is accessible online via the Library of Congress American Folklife Center. Follow the link and then click on "Interview (Video)" and you can watch yourself, although be patient --- the video, recorded at the Castle Air Museum, Atwater, California, is a little quirky.

After watching the video in a couple of installments (it's about an hour long), I pieced together the following --- in case you'd prefer to read rather than watch.


George was the only child of Fred  and Minnie Ellen (Granville) Morgan, born in the Oxford neighborhood northeast of Chariton on Feb. 23, 1917. His parents moved into Chariton some years later and Fred went to work in the Crozier Store, then located on the southeast corner of the square, but Minnie died during 1932 --- when George was 15.

George was a 1935 graduate of Chariton High School, but on his own because his father had recently remarried and moved to Ottumwa. So he went to work at Crozier's, too, earning $10 a week and paying half of that to a landlady for room and board. He later received a better offer from Western Auto during 1940 and went to work there.

On May 22, 1938, he married Polly Robuck, of Russell, and they settled down in Chariton, but after Pearl Harbor, George enlisted in the U.S. Army reserves and received training as a Signal Corps radio technician in Des Moines and at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. He was called to active duty on May 25, 1943, at Camp Dodge, then shipped for further Signal Corps training to Sacramento, California.

During early 1944, he completed navigation training as an enlisted man in Santa Ana, California, and applied for cadet status both as pilot and navigator in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The offer of a spot in Navigation Cadet Flying School at Hondo, Texas, came first --- and he was commissioned 2nd lieutenant/navigator there on Aug. 21, 1944.

After completion of B-24 Liberator crew training in Nevada, he shipped out for the South Pacific to join the 43rd Bomber Group during December of 1944, spending Christmas that year in a tent on a beach among the U.S.-occupied islands there.

His unit moved to Leyte, recently recaptured from Japanese forces, then to Clark Field and later on to an island near Okinawa. George flew more than 40 bombing missions during that year, concluding with the intensive campaign over Japan, but came through them all unscathed and headed home to Iowa during November of 1945.

In Kansas, however, while preparing to be discharged into civilian life, he decided to re-enlist, which turned out to be a surprise not necessarily welcomed by Polly when he arrived home in Des Moines (via taxi cab from Kansas) just before Thanksgiving that year. But that launched a career that would take the couple around the world and back and forth across the United States many times during the next 20 years.

George received orders for Japan (he had been expecting Alaska) during 1946 where he flew air-sea rescue missions, then reconnaissance missions. The Morgans' son, David, was born in Japan during 1948 and because George had experienced a few close calls, he decided to ground himself --- and did.

Back in the United States a year later, stationed in Illinois, he was caught up in U.S. efforts to reduce the size of its military force and involuntarily discharged. But he managed to re-enlist --- as a staff sergeant rather than as an officer --- and became a ground control specialist. On March 13, 1951, he was recalled, however, then re-commissioned 1st lieutenant and his flying status was restored.

Postings followed to Germany, France, Germany again and to many Air Force bases in the United States. The Morgans' daughter, Carol, was born in Germany during 1954.

He was promoted to captain/squadron commander during June of 1952, to major during September of 1958 and to lieutenant colonel in 1963. He retired during 1965 as a master navigator while serving at Castle Air Force Base with more than 5,000 hours of flying time to his credit.

Polly, who had made sure his family always was there, too, estimated late in life that they had shared at least 70 homes during his career. She had traveled by every means of transportation imaginable, from Liberty Ship to jetliner, to join him.


Polly worked in California as a court clerk in Stanislaus and Merced counties and George found civilian work after retirement from the Air Force as a commercial real estate appraiser.

They eventually settled down in Turlock, but as they advanced into their 90s moved to Antioch during 2009 and to Oroville during 2012.

At last, after 76 years of marriage, George and Polly died within three weeks of each other, Polly on March 19, 2015, age 96, and George, on April 13, age 98.

Their remains were interred at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery, Igo, where their joint inscription reads, "76 years, 2 hearts, 1 love."


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