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Veterans share memories of service abroad

Bill Morgan

Bobby Grant

BILL MORGAN

Bill Morgan was among the lucky ones.

He was one of the 19,217 Marines that were wounded and survived the six-week battle for Iwo Jima.

Nearly 6,900 Marines didn’t.

Morgan was one of the 10 children of the late W.L. and Ardella Morgan, and the family moved from Oklahoma to Hockley County in 1931.

The Morgans rented two labors of land southeast of Arnett.

Bill Morgan was 16 years old when he dropped out of high school to help his father farm. An older brother, James, was drafted into the Army in 1942 and W.L. Morgan needed help.

Two years later, Morgan enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He was not yet 18 years old when he arrived at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in March 1944.

“I just thought it was the thing to do,” he said. “If you didn’t have a uniform on, girls wouldn’t talk to you.”

The young men, many in their teens, underwent eight weeks of boot camp. That was followed by two weeks on the rifle range and for Morgan, who couldn’t swim, two weeks learning to swim.

Their drill instructor had served on Guadalcanal.

“He told us, he said, ‘If you’ll listen to me and do what I do and do what I say, you might survive.’ ” said Morgan.

The Marines then spent two months additional training in what was called “Tent City.” More training followed and the Marines boarded the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier, in the fall of 1944.

They arrived at the island of Maui where they trained and waited for the arrival of the Fourth Marine Division.

The division had been bloodied in fighting at Saipan and Tinian and new Marines were needed for their ranks.

 Morgan and his comrades referred to the veterans of the Fourth as “The Old Salts.” Many of them were in their mid-twenties and were considered old next to the new arrivals. Morgan was 18.

The reinforced division went to Pearl Harbor, where they took on supplies and needed equipment.

The leathernecks were informed that they would be going to Iwo Jima.

They sailed by troop transport and arrived off the coast of the island in February 1945.

The U.S. Navy had been blasting the island with naval gunfire and aerial bombing for a month.

The first wave of Marines went ashore after 7 a.m. the morning of Feb. 19. Morgan was in the second wave that day.

“There were dead Marines all over the beach and in the water. Landing boats shot up,” Morgan recalled.

He also remembered the famous flag-raising scene that occurred on Feb. 23.

Five Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman were photographed raising the flag over Mount Suribachi that day.

A rifleman, Morgan and his fellow Marines spent each day fighting the Japanese, who were hidden in hundreds of caves and bunkers.

“Most of it was hand-tohand combat,” he said, adding that the Marines and Japanese soldiers often threw hand grenades at one another.

Morgan and a buddy with a flamethrower were walking when an enemy soldier came out of a cave. He fired his rifle, striking Morgan in his left arm. The bullet passed through his arm.

Morgan’s war ended that day. He had been on Iwo Jima 13 days.

He was evacuated to a hospital ship. Three days later, the ship sailed for Guam. The wounded Americans spent two weeks there before traveling to Honolulu and a Navy hospital.

Eight weeks later, he boarded another ship and arrived in San Francisco. He then traveled to Camp Pendleton, where he was waiting to be reassigned when the war ended.

He was with an MP battalion when he was discharged on April 30, 1946.

He returned to Texas and became a member of the “52-20 Club.” As a veteran, he was entitled to receive $20 a week from the government for 52 weeks.

“I didn’t do a heckuva lot,” he said. “I worked a little bit. I just kind of played a little bit.”

Morgan went to work in the oil fields and worked on drilling rigs in Texas and California. He later sold sewing machines and worked in the home improvements industry.

He also lived in Missouri and Oklahoma City before moving back to West Texas years later.

His wife, Dorothy, died in 1979. The couple had no children.

Today, the 88-year-old service veteran lives at Lynwood Nursing Home. He occasionally plays bingo and otherwise leads a quiet life.

He said that, despite the death and misery that stalked all Marines at Iwo Jima, he always felt that he would survive the war.

“All the time, I always figured I’d make it through,” Morgan said. “I guess all that hard training that I endured and paid attention to is probably what saved me.”

BOBBY GRANT

Bobby Grant missed the Korean War but he saw the impact of the conflict afterwards.

One of the eight children of Austin (AP) and Addie Pearl Grant, he grew up on a cotton farm near Whitharral.

After graduating from Whitharral High School in 1952, he and a buddy went to Howard Payne University to see about playing football.

Grant, who played four years for the Whitharral Panthers, had an offer to play football at the university. The West Texas farm boy learned that he might receive a scholarship to play for Howard Payne, but he would probably be on a traveling squad and would have to work while in school.

He returned home and worked for his dad in the fall of 1953. He also worked for the coop gin in Whitharral.

West Texas was in a drought and money was tight at the time. Grant made a decision to join the military.

“I went in because we were pretty much broke,” he said. “I told my dad, ‘I think I’m just going to the service and get out of here.’ ”

He, a friend and another fellow went to the U.S. Navy recruiter in Lubbock. They were told that they would be put on a waiting list. They went to the Air Force recruiter and learned they could join.

Grant and his friend traveled to Amarillo where they took physical exams. He was accepted but his friend was turned down because of a hole in one ear drum.

He entered military service on April 10, 1953 and went to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for basic training.

The training was demanding and the drill instructors laid the law down for the recruits.

“The first thing they tell you is who’s boss and do this or that, or they’d hang us or shoot us,” Grant said. “We were in a war. They really made a believer out of me.”

His drill instructor was a “spit and polish” sergeant who turned the trainees into airmen ready to acquire new skills and responsibilities.

After eight weeks of basic training, Grant was sent to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois. He was trained as an aircraft electrician.

He completed his training and got leave before traveling to California. The airmen boarded a ship in November 1953 and sailed west. The ship made several stops before docking in Japan a month later. Grant then caught a flight to South Korea.

While the war had ended five months earlier, the country remained devastated.

“The country was wiped,” he said.

Of his first trip to Seoul, he recalled, “There wasn’t one building that you couldn’t see through – not one.”

Grant was assigned to the 319th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Suwon, about 22 miles from Seoul.

He worked on the F-94B, an all-weather fighter equipped with an after burner and the first plane of its type to have radar.

“We were the only squadron in the Far East that had night fighters and we had radar,” he said.

Chinese and North Korean pilots in Migs still buzzed the skies around the 38th Parallel, and the U.S. Air Force kept jets aloft to patrol the skies over land and sea.

The daily routine could be daunting.

“We had to keep them flying and some days you’d work nights, because you didn’t have any choice,” he said. “You had to steal off other airplanes and we would do that.”

The men slept in metal Quonset huts that were heated by oil. Guard duty was an onerous chore in the winter of 1953-54.

“That’s as close as I’ve ever come to freezing to death,” he said of the bitter Korean weather.

One day a pilot flew his F-94B into a mountain. A helicopter flew to the scene. It was hovering over the wreckage when an explosion sent flames and debris skyward. All of the men aboard it died.

A jet was coming in one night but the pilot radioed that his landing gear wouldn’t come down.

Men on the ground sprayed foam on the runway to reduce the chance of a fire breaking out.

“I never saw as much foam in my life. I remember seeing that plane come through that stuff and knocking that foam,” Grant said.

After the plane stopped, Grant ran to it and shut down all electric power, preventing a possible explosion from fuel. The pilot and his radioman survived.

Grant and his fellow servicemen occasionally visited a nearby orphanage, where they distributed candy to the children there.

He got a month of R&R while in Korea and spent it in Japan. He stayed in a hotel for American military personnel near Mount Fuji.

“The hotels and everything were first class,” he said. “You ate at tables that had pretty table cloths.”

Grant and his unit left Korea in September 1954 and were stationed at Johnson Air Force Base in Japan.

He returned to the United States in March 1955 and married his steady girl from high school – Shirley Mitchell.

Grant was then assigned to Florida and served at two Strategic Air Command bases. He was discharged in April 1957.

He went to work as an electrician for the Chance Vought company near Dallas. He was part of an experimental crew that traveled to California, Maryland and other destinations where pilots tested the new aircraft that were being built for the military.

While in California, he met famed test pilot Chuck Yeager.

He quit in 1960 and returned to Hockley County, where he farmed for 40 years.

Now 81, Grant suffers from deafness, a result of servicing jet aircraft without ear protection.

He and his wife still attend annual reunions of his old squadron from Korea. Most of his old buddies have passed on.

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