By Jim Buice
The Clemmons Courier
Frank Morgan doesn’t consider himself to be a hero.
But judging from the reaction he received in last Wednesday’s Rotary Club of Clemmons breakfast meeting at the Village Inn, those attendance weren’t buying it.
“You may not think you’re a hero, but we think you are,” said Paul Johnson, club president, after Morgan, a World War II veteran and POW who was part of a recent Triad Flight of Honor trip, spoke to the group.
“We’re a vanishing breed,” Morgan said. “There aren’t many left. I understand we’re losing 1,200 a day. I’m the only one left of my crew.”
Morgan, 85, traveled with about 100 veterans from Greensboro to Washington on May 22 for a tour of the memorials through the Triad Flight of Honor, a service project of area Rotary clubs created to honor their sacrifice and service to the country.
“It was just great,” Morgan, 85, said. “We walked down the corridor at the airport, and we were greeted by all scores of people. It was carefully orchestrated in every way. All of our needs were met. We visited all the memorials, and when we came back, the same was true. We started at 6 in the morning and didn’t get home to 10 at night. I was near dead when I got home, but it was worth it.”
Morgan, who was principal of Clemmons School for 33 years and has been a longtime member of Clemmons First Baptist Church, entered the service at age 18. He had already started college at Mars Hill.
“I was one of the youngest ones to go in,” said Morgan, whose father served in World War I. “I guess you could say I was somewhat of a pacifist at the start, but as I matured, my viewpoint change. After I learned what Hitler and his forces had done, I couldn’t wait to get in. I couldn’t imagine anybody wanting to kill anybody else, but when you found out they were after you, you better get them first.”
After the war was over, Morgan completed his bachelor’s degree in English at Wake Forest before going on to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to do his graduate work in Education. During that time, he also married Helen, his wife of nearly 60 years.
Morgan remembers fondly coming to Clemmons to begin his career and start a family — they have three children and a grandchild. But like many veterans, he never sought the spotlight for war deeds.
“When I came to town in 1951, I was determined when I got in this high school I wouldn’t rest on any laurels,” Morgan said. “I wouldn’t let anybody know I had ever been in the military because I was here to teach English in the high school. And I tried to do just that.”
And he did, transitioning from being a teacher to a longtime principal before retiring in 1984. He then proceeded to do volunteer work in a number of areas “to give back.” However, his little secret about serving in World War II and being a POW got out a few years back.
“It became known a few years ago that I had a history,” Morgan said. “So the town manager decided they needed to get me a medal, so they invited the Congressman down.”
He said he had spoken before in the third person in general terms, but getting into the “first person” and talking about himself to the Rotarians was a first.
Morgan, who was a radio operator and gunner in the Air Force, relayed a story about a “typical day” during his time in World War II. It was March 23, 1945, and he was flying out on a B-24 Liberator at 3:30 a.m. over the North Sea in formation with 10 500-pounds bombs on board.
Morgan was equipped with all the necessary equipment, including a parachute with one side connected to the harness, just in case. Then suddenly, at an altitude of 26,000 feet, the aircraft suffered a direct hit over Munster, Germany. Morgan knew he had to bail out if he could escape but eventually was ejected from the plane. He was just hoping he could maneuver to open his parachute. It did, and he ended up in what he called a farm yard, where he was captured.
Of the nine men in the plane, only Morgan and two others got out of the aircraft.
“I looked death in the face and it didn’t bother me at all then, but I get all weepy about it now,” Morgan said.
After being captured, he never thought he’d get out alive. He and others were placed on a forced march, living in barns with no food or medicine for six weeks until they were liberated on May 2, 1945.
“We starved to death,” he said. “We were full of lice and fleas. We were living a day at a time. The horrors of not knowing and fearing extermination were constant. We never thought they’d allow us to be repatriated. We thought they’d kill us first.”
Now, 65 years later, during the season of Memorial Day to remember those U.S. soldiers who died in military service, Morgan is thankful for his own survival and the good life he has enjoyed.
“We counted our blessings,” he said. “It’s good therapy after all these years to talk about it and get it off my chest. But I must say one thing. The heroes were on the ground. We were giving air support for those boys. I’m no hero.”
Many would beg to differ.