Archive for December, 2018

Trails in the Sky.

I’m at the keyboard this morning thinking of a friend who came into my life only twenty years ago, and who left it a week ago, at the age of 97.

Earl Montgomery Morrow was exactly 50 years older than me, so I can’t say I knew him as well as some, but I knew him on a level enough to realize what his life represented, and what we all lost last Saturday. He called me up, you see, in the summer of 1998. I had been interviewed for the local newspaper in which I explained the project that I had created at the high school where I worked to interview the veterans of World War II, and put the students in touch with their stories.

He said, “I just had to call you and ask—why are you doing this? Why are you interested in our stories?” And that was the start of many visits to the high school where I was teaching.

Earl Morrow in the author’s classroom, May 2011. Credit: Robert H. Miller

I gravitated towards our World War II veterans in those years. He was only the second B-17 pilot that I had ever known. Later I would meet other crew members around his dining room table.

Twenty years after our first meeting, in retrospect, he gives me hope for the youth of our nation. He had his own flaws and failures, I am sure—he was flunking out of college when the war came—but he had the determination of a stubborn young man to know what felt wrong, and do what felt right. So against his parents’ wishes—he told his father he wasn’t going back to school—he set off for war at the age of 20. He got into the fledgling Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Corps and proceeded to shoot a cow while on guard duty one night when it would not ‘HALT!’. He got serious then, determined not to wash out, but was told by an instructor on his second day at flight school that he would never make it. Earl asked him why, and the instructor told him he was afraid of the airplane. Earl persuaded the instructor to take him up one more time, to make him or break him. They rolled, looped, dove, flew straight up and then straight back down, touched the wheels down on a big truck going down the highway, and buzzed a farmer working below so low that the man threw a hammer at them and it went over the top of the airplane. Two days later he was soloing, never afraid of an airplane again.

After months in the classroom and on the airfield, he graduated into the pilot’s seat of a multi-engine B-17 bomber. Flying with his new crew before heading overseas, he had to make an emergency landing in a midwestern state during the dead of night. He came in so low that a light came on in a house right below the plane. He circled around, got the plane down, and they waited for parts to be flown in to repair the hydraulics. The incredulous major tasked with flying the parts in asked who the hell landed that crippled plane on that tiny airstrip at night. After that, his crew respected his ability as a pilot. He was all of 22 years old.

For his first mission overseas, he flew in the co-pilot’s seat with a veteran crew with the 457th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force flying out of Glatton, 40 miles north of London. All of his 17 combat missions were over Lower Germany. On this first one, he saw these little puffs of black smoke—exploding flak shells. The war becomes personal when people are shooting back at you. He would have his own airplane, but in those 17 missions, he only flew it three times. The rest of the time it was being put back together from battle damage.

He got grounded once. In his own words, he “tore up two airplanes one morning—wrecked them while taking off”, trying to avoid a collision with a command tower. “The night before, someone came in and landed and took a building off its foundation. The colonel said, ‘Next time there is an incident, it’ll be pilot error, one hundred percent’, and sure enough,” he recalled, “it was me!” But he took full responsibility for the mishap, at age 23.

At age 23, I had a history degree and was back in school for teaching. At 23, Earl Morrow was nursing his crippled B-17 across the English Channel when German flak barges opened up and knocked out another engine. He gave the order to throw everything they could out into the sea, praying to make it over the Cliffs of Dover and to an emergency airfield on the coast. Clearing the cliffs, another plane was on the runway, but he brought it in on one engine, a true ‘wing and a prayer’. His men kissed the ground, and they counted over 100 holes in the fuselage. Earl could not even power the plane off the runway.

Crew photograph. Front row far left-Earl Morrow. Far right-Sam Lisica.
Courtesy Earl Morrow.

They rested for a week, and on the next mission they were served real eggs for breakfast—a sure sign that many of the crews would not be coming back from this target, a heavily defended synthetic oil refinery. German fighter planes swooped in after the bombs were dropped and the group turned to head back to England. Earl gave the order to bail out after mortal 20mm rounds hit the cockpit and the plane was on fire. He crawled back up to the cockpit when he realized that the plane might go into a dive, and forced the controls to keep the plane climbing. As he jumped, the plane exploded. He lost three of his crewmen and friends that day, Nov. 2, 1944.

On the ground, he was captured with the lead navigator for the mission, Jerry Silverman of Long Island, New York. Years later I can hear Silverman chastising Earl with a chuckle, when Earl refused to hand over his pilot’s wings to his German captors on the ground. Jerry said that the “big dummy could have gotten us both shot”. Earl responded that he felt he had to push back, so the Germans would show them some respect. They relented.

At age 23 at Christmas 1944, Earl and his fellow prisoners of war were trying to survive in the frozen German stalag system. At age 23 at Christmas in 1984, I was trying to figure out how to survive in the classroom, having made it through my student teaching internship. But I would soon hit upon the simple idea, to put kids in touch with the World War II generation, which would go on to create massive ripples in awakening the past. And Earl would be one of my first ‘co-pilots’ in that endeavor, but he had to survive the war first.

In late January, 1945 as the Red Army closed on Germany in the east and the western Allies were hammering at the West Wall, Hitler himself ordered the mass evacuation of Stalag Luft III to prison camps west of Berlin. Over 100,000 Allied airmen and officers were forced to walk in the most brutal winter conditions of the early 20th century for weeks, dying of dysentery, hunger and exposure and at the hands of guards who killed those no longer able to keep up. Earl himself sat down, disoriented, until a fellow prisoner pummeled him to keep moving. And then Earl was called upon to drag his own disoriented bombardier to his feet; when asked to identify Earl, Sam Lisica said, “I know you! You’re the best damn pilot in the world!”

A few months later, liberation came in the form of General Patton’s Third Army. Earl liked to tell the story of how he was not as mobile as the rest of the men, due to a knee injury, as they rushed towards the center compound of the sprawling camp. As the German guards in the towers disappeared and a flying wedge of tanks and the command jeep with the general appeared, Earl ducked around a building and came out just as the general passed and snapped off a salute to him, which was returned by Patton. Then the fabled general was gone.

Earl Morrow, Sam Lisica, Jerry Silverman. July 2001.
Credit: Author.

Five decades later, in 1998, I was now an established history teacher. I was sitting around Earl’s dining room table with Sam and Jerry, reunited through the efforts of Earl’s daughter Jessica to celebrate Earl’s 80th birthday here in Hartford, New York, where I now live near that farmhouse where Earl grew up. Earl’s wife Jessie puttered in the background putting up with their banter as I drew the stories out of them, listening to them alternate between seriousness and teasing, laughing together at the funny times, expressing sorrow at the loss of crew members and friends, and wonderment at having survived at all. They basked in each other’s company, and I basked in their presence. Today I thank God that I had the had the presence of mind to record all that, and later I included Earl and his friends in my books.

Sam died in 2006. Jerry died in 2008. Jessie, Earl’s wife, passed in April, 2011. Later, I had Earl back to the high school for Memorial Day ceremonies and veterans’ reunions, where I even got to introduce the granddaughter of General George S. Patton to him. That was a highlight for me, and I hope that gave Earl some comfort as he grieved for Jessie and his friends. “I’m the last one”, he said. But they also gave me and my students hope and inspiration, and I’m sure their examples, as kids themselves thrust into the most cataclysmic events in the history of the world, encourage us all to take a long look at our own efforts to recognize what feels wrong with the world today, and to step up to do what feels right.

Earl M. Morrow, World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.,
June 2016. Photo: Jessica Morrow Brand.

I was sitting at a book show on Saturday, staring out the window between talking to my readers and telling his story. I checked my phone, and saw that he had passed. I have interviewed hundreds of veterans and Holocaust survivors, and this is the hardest part of my own legacy to the world. A numbness washed over me, but it was replaced by a burning sensation, an all-knowing goodness that enveloped my heart with warmth as I read the words written by his daughter Jessica:

What a wonderful gift I was given to hold his hand when he drew his last breath. He meant everything in the world to me. Somehow, I am quietly comforted knowing he was met by a woman with her arms folded, stomping her foot, with a big smile on her face. Heaven gained another hero today.

Heroes indeed. And I am reminded of the continuity passed on by Earl and his generation in another quote that surfaced just this morning as I sat down to write, from my past readings, this simple one by the musician Paul Stanley:

I am here because of those who came before. And I will go on because of those who come after.

Life goes on. But it is up to us all to remember such a life as the one lived by my friend Earl Morrow.


(Here are the two books I wrote that Earl Morrow appears in. If you wish, you can get them here.)

Obituary for Earl Montgomery Morrow

Earl M. Morrow, 97, of Hartford, passed away on Saturday, December 8, 2018 at the Slate Valley Nursing Home in Granville.

Born on June 27, 1921 in West Pawlet, VT, he was the son of the late Robert and Carolyn E.(Adamson) Morrow.

Raised in Hartford, NY, Earl was valedictorian of Hartford Central School Class of 1939.
Earl served in the USAAC as 1st. Lieutenant Air Craft Commander of the B-17 during WWII. Based in Glatton, England, he completed 17 missions but was shot down over Merseberg Germany on 11/2/44 and taken Prisoner of War. Surviving 3 POW German stalags, he was liberated in May 1945 by General Patton.
Upon returning to the states, he continued his distinguished flying career first transporting Roy Acuff and the cast of the Grand Ole Opry around the country and then to a 30 year career in Chicago with American Airlines, retiring as a DC-10 Captain.

Besides his parents, he was also predeceased by his wife Jessie Morrow who passed away on April 8, 2011 as well as his siblings Robert Rising Morrow Jr., Roberta Morrow Pekins, Everest Mansfield Morrow and Arthur Emerson Morrow.

Left to cherish his memory include his daughter, Jessica Morrow Brand (R. Scott) of Carmel, Ind.; his grandchildren, and the loves of his life, Natalie Morrow, Lilah Claire and Earl Montgomery as well as his other children: Carolyn Morrow Vdorick (Ted), Kenneth Morrow, Barbara Morrow Klein (Tim) and son Drew, and several nieces and nephews.

Friends may call from 10am to 11am on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 at the Hartford Baptist Church, Main St. Hartford.

Funeral Services will be at 11:00am on Tuesday, following the calling hour at the church.

Burial with military honors will be at 1:00pm at the Gerald B.H. Solomon, Saratoga National Cemetery.

Arrangements are in the care of the M.B. Kilmer Funeral Home, 123 Main St. Argyle, NY 12809. For online condolences and to view Mr. Morrow’s Book of Memories, please visit http://www.kilmerfuneralhome.com.





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I did an interview recently for ManyBooks.Net.

Put these on your holiday shopping list and don’t forget to check out my own book specials over at my signed book page. Use code TAKE5 for a limited time; hardcover sets have arrived!

5 Books About World War II – Recommended by Matthew Rozell

MATTHEW ROZELL is an award-winning history teacher, author, blogger and speaker. He has been featured as the ABC World News ‘Person of the Week’ and has had his work filmed for CBS News, NBC Learn, the Israeli Broadcast Authority, the New York State United Teachers, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Most recently, he is the recipient of the New York State Education Department’s Yavner Teaching Award for Distinguished Contributions to Teaching the Holocaust and Human Rights. We have asked him to pick his five favorite books about World War II and did an interview to get his insights.

Matthew Rozell

You are a highly respected historian and have won numerous awards for writing and teaching history. But I was wondering which historians inspire you?

David McCullough, Rick Atkinson, Donald L. Miller, Cornelius Ryan, Thomas Childers, Stephen Ambrose are some of my picks.

You are the author of two books on World War II: The Things Our Fathers Saw and A Train Near Magdeburg .  What is it that makes you particularly interested in World War II?

Actually, it is ‘A Train Near Magdeburg’ and 4 volumes (in a planned 8) for ‘The Things Our Fathers Saw’:

I was born sixteen years after the war ended, and I grew up in the company of men and women who fought in World War II. Probably like most kids my age, I had no idea what they did, and like most kids, I did not think to ask. Some of my teachers in school were veterans of World War II, but I don’t remember anyone ever specifically launching into a story about their time in the conflict. It’s also possible that they did, but I was not paying attention.
In the late spring of 1984, all of that would change. On television I watched as the 40th anniversary of the Normandy landings was being commemorated over in France. Thousands of American veterans joined their Allied and German counterparts for a solemn tribute and reunion tours of the battlefields where they had fought decades earlier. Many of these men would have now been just hitting their stride in retirement. It was also the first time in nearly 40 years that many would be back together to ruminate on their reawakening past. And here it was that I woke up and was moved.
I returned to my high school alma mater in 1987 as a teacher of history. I found myself spending a good chunk of time each spring lecturing enthusiastically about World War II, and it was contagious. There was a palpable buzz in the classroom. All the students would raise a hand when I would call out for examples of grandparents or other relatives who had served in the war—frequently two hands would go up in the air. Every kid had a personal connection to the most cataclysmic event in the history of mankind—and in the late eighties, many of the soldiers, airmen, Marines, and sailors who came home from the war were still with us.
Building on that blossoming interest, I created a simple survey for students to interview family members. I had hit upon something that every teacher searches for—a tool to motivate and encourage students to want to learn more, for the sake of just learning it.
I was haunted, though, by one survey that was returned. When asked to respond to a simple question, a shaky hand wrote back in all capitals:


He was right—nobody can interpret history like those who were there. Maybe I took that as an unconscious push to bring the engagement into the students’ lives even more personally. Young people who despised school stopped me in the hall to voice appreciation after listening to the veterans who came to our school to speak.
Shortly after the 50th anniversary of the end of the war we initiated a dedicated project, and young people fanned out into the community and collected nearly 200 stories, forging bonds and bridging generational divides, bringing happiness and companionship to their elders. They became ‘collectors of memory’ and these students of history had a hand in creating new history, adding an important tack on the scholarship of World War II that would have probably otherwise been lost. In that regard, the books in my series are unlike most other World War II titles on the bookshelves today. But The Good War by Studs Terkel was a catalyst.

The Good War

You said that your first choice,  “The Good War” – An Oral History of World War II –  by Studs Terkel is the book that set you on your path.  Please tell us why.

It was a collection of stories that were told by the persons themselves, about how WWII effected their lives. Some were famous, many were not, just ordinary people talking about the war that shaped their lives, and the world. And it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize!

This book not only focuses on the soldiers, but also how ordinary Americans at home experienced WWII.  What were your thoughts on this?

These are the untold stories that we need to hear today. Someone said that when an older person dies, it is like a library burning down. These stories, our history, are lost forever.

Terkel interviewed and recorded 120 people in his research for The Good War. You did something similar when you researched your book.  Why is this a good approach?

He was my model. His book- and he wrote many, many others where the common men and women spoke for themselves- was required reading for many of my students.

Before Their Time

Your next choice is Before Their Time: A Memoir by Robert Kotlowitz  (Author).  What did you find so compelling about this book?

It was first person, it was heartfelt: like Terkel’s book and my other picks, it epitomized the tragic nature of all war.

Kotlowitz is not your typical “hero” one so often reads about in War stories.  He survived the massacre of his platoon by playing dead.  Why is it important to also hear from “heroes” like him?

In writing nearly half a million words in my books, the word ‘hero’ does not appear at all. Every soldier I talked to will tell you that the heroes did not come home. But Kotlowitz is a hero to me because he chose to write about his experiences through the lens of the pain of war. He exposed soldiers’ weaknesses and regrets by writing about himself, and I think that is an important lesson. How do you talk about the trauma? Most veterans who came home did not. He made the effort, and I’m sure it was therapeutic for him, just as getting veterans in their twilight years to open up to teenagers.

Goodbye Darkness

The next pick in line is Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War by William Manchester.  What are your thoughts on this book?

Manchester, a respected historian, was writing about his 19-year-old self, fighting in the Pacific. He went back and retraced his steps. It is an interesting book, and again, therapeutic for him. I think it is so important for people who have never had the experience of combat to read.

This book not only deals with the battle in the Pacific, but also with the PTSD the author struggled with, 23 years later.

Yes. Again, I’m sure it was therapeutic.

Some of the most haunting tales in the book are on how the civilians, the islanders avoided being captured by committing suicide. We have heard many more stories like this from WWII. Why, do you think did the other side see the Allies as such monsters that they would rather take their own lives than fall into our soldiers’ hands?

In the case of Marpi Point, on Saipan, or other places like Okinawa,  Japanese propaganda was totally responsible. Americans were going to torture rape and murder any civilians after the battles.

with old breed

Tell us more about your next choice:  With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge.

Eugene Sledge was a mild-mannered young man from Alabama who enjoyed a career after the war as a professor of ornithology. He never hunted or picked up a gun again after the war. One of my older friends marine Dan Lawler, was in the same company with him in combat at Okinawa (both men are in my first book on the War in the Pacific.) He said he used to tease Sledge-whose combat nickname was ‘Sledgehammer’- by calling him ‘Rebel”.

This book is a very brutal account of the reality of war.  Some readers say that it made them understand why family members who had fought in the war refuse to talk about it. Why do you think it important to also read books like this, without any sugar coating or false patriotism?

Sledge’s memoir of combat-notes for which were written on pages of his pocket Bible- has been lauded by combat veterans as the most real personification of conditions of war. Near retirement, Sledge was haunted by recurring nightmares of his time in the war. He wrote the book-or as he stated, it was like it was being dictated to him- feverishly. The nightmares subsided, and he began to hear from some of his old combat buddies, like my friend Dan Lawler.

Helmet for my pillow

Your next choice, Helmet for My Pillow is lauded as one of the top reads covering America’s Pacific War. Do you think it deserves that title?

Yes. Again, the experiences of a combat Marine, warts and all, written by one who went on to become a respected journalist.

Some critics say that Leckie seems to have a great resentment toward leadership and authority, and it shows in this book.

I admire a man who can be his own man, who can question authority, suffer the consequences perhaps, but make his point.

The book focuses mostly on the experiences of the Marines during WWII, but also highlights the times in-between battles – the drinking and womanizing.  Why is it also good to see this side of the war?

I suppose it is because that was the way it was for him, and them.

Both From Parris Island to the Pacific and With the Old Breed were used in the HBO miniseries The Pacific.  Did you watch the series?, if so – what did you think about it?

Yes, I own it, and it was good enough that I even used parts of it in class with my students who were old enough. I would also recommend Ken Burns ‘The War’. Burns also profiled Eugene Sledge and his friends.

Any last thoughts on why learning about the experiences of people who lived WWII still matter today?

Another World War II memoirist once wrote, ‘Ignorance and apathy are the greatest dangers to freedom.’ I agree, but as a lifelong history teacher, and now author, I contend that it begins with people simply not being exposed to the history to begin with. For how could one not be drawn into these stories, the human drama, the interaction and the emotion that goes into putting an ideal first? After sitting at their table, how could you not give weight to what they have seen, and where they think we are going, as a people, as a nation? I saw this spark kindled time and again in my classroom, when we got to hear from real people who had a front row seat, who acted in the greatest drama in the history of the world. I think it is important to have them tell you themselves, about the world they grew up in, the challenges and obstacles placed on life’s course, and how a generation of Americans not only rose to the challenge but built the country and the freedoms that we enjoy today. They truly saved the world. Be inspired. Share their stories; give them voice. Lest we forget.

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: http://bit.ly/MR-bio
TEACHING HISTORY MATTERS blog: www.teachinghistorymatters.com
FACEBOOK: http://bit.ly/MAROZELLfb

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George H.W. Bush seated in a Grumman TBM Avenger, circa 1944. USN photo, public domain.

George H.W. Bush was the last president to be a World War II veteran. Regardless of your politics, he was a class act, and served his country in a variety of high-ranking positions.

Bush was a naval aviator in the Pacific during World War II; during an attack on a Japanese island radio station, his plane took flak, was set afire and later crashed in the ocean. He finished the mission first and bailed out and was picked up by a U.S. submarine in the vicinity, but several men on the mission were captured and later executed by the Japanese. Later, he remarked, “Why had I been spared and what did God have [planned] for me?” And we know the rest of the story.

A few years back my friend Judy had the opportunity to be in his presence. She wrote today:

“A man of virtue and integrity. May he rest in peace in Heaven and may his family find comfort in knowing he lived a life that was focused on others. I remember a few years ago seeing him at one of his favorite restaurants in Perkins Cove, Maine. The admiration of all was evident as he was wheeled away in his wheelchair to his speedboat to go home. He was beaming with appreciation of the crowd’s cheering.” 

In these busy times may we stop and pause to recognize the great ones who are leaving us or have left us, the men and women who saved the world and hammered out the framework of the 20th century. George H.W. Bush epitomized such character and we hope that his life will be a lesson for all Americans. Godspeed, President Bush.

A nice article in the New York Times about his final days.

‘I Love You, Too’: George Bush’s Final Days

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