By MARGARET MATRAY - Star-Tribune staff writer
War fronts: Worked in experimental weaponry and aviation mechanics for the Navy in Virginia, Maryland and the Panama Canal, 1941-1946. Also served in the Korean War.
After war: Married with two children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Worked for the Air Force as a civilian for 18 years in radio radar and electronics.
His words: When building experimental weapons, "They told us what they wanted, and we got together and figured out how to make it.Ē
On the Web: Watch more of Morganís story and see profiles of other veterans at our website, www.trib.com/honor
For a moment, consider Ed Morganís favorites, the Grumman fighters: F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F4U Corsair.
"Those three birds," Morgan explains, "were what stopped the Japanese."
He admired and studied them. They were thick and tough, withstanding even the heaviest anti-aircraft fire.
At naval air stations in Norfolk, Va., and Patuxent River, Md., he watched as propeller-driver aircrafts gave way to jets, an ever-changing evolution of birds.
He inspected enemy aircrafts and compared them to their American counterparts before most knew they were on base. A better aircraft with better weaponry was always in the works.
"Take the Jap Zero," he says. "It was faster and more maneuverable than our aircraft, but it wasnít built to take the beating that the Grummans were."
"Now the Messerschmitt," he says, remembering the German craft, "was a fine bird."
Morgan believes a lot of the planes he saw in those days were ones the public never knew existed. He wouldnít say his work was secret. But confidential, maybe.
"Iíll put it this way: Even if you were in the Navy, if you didnít need to know, you didnít get into our area."
Morgan came from a family of mechanics, one of three brothers to go to war. He was only 17, so his father signed the enlistment papers for him.
Morgan trained in aviation mechanics at the Ford Motor Plant in Dearborn, Mich. His first assignment took him to Norfolk installing radar on PBY-5s, American flying boats. He had never seen technology like it before Ė some antennas 8 and 10 feet long.
Morgan spent most of his time, though, in experimental weapons manufacturing, sheet metal his expertise. On base in Virginia and Maryland, he worked in a shop with 15 others, two or three men to a project. Morgan was one of three left-handed guys. Everyone called them the Three Musketeers, the Left-Handed Trio.
A separate naval squadron was in charge of testing new weapons.
"Ever seen a 50-caliber machine gun get so hot it bent the barrel?
"Thatís how they tested them, to find out how reliable they were. They just fired them until it practically disintegrated."
Morgan had no blueprints to follow. An order was given, and he had to figure out how to build it.
Morgan constructed gun mounts, bomb racks and equipment for strafing, or hitting ground targets from a low altitude. He converted the 30-caliber guns on F4Fs to 50 calibers. Once, he constructed a special gun mount -- twin 50-caliber machine guns -- for the nose of a B-24.
When an experimental weapon worked, the plan could be sent to a factory for mass production. If it ever happened for one of Morganís projects, he never heard. It was just his job to build a better weapon.
Morgan says he would like to have served in the South Pacific, to see those birds that ended the war. His brother, George, felt the same. He quit his job building parts for military machines so he'd be drafted. George was sent to the Battle of the Bulge. Morgan stayed in the U.S., but saw the significance of his own work.
"I was hoping I was doing something to help him live," he says.
The specifics of many successful projects escape him now. Itís been 70 years, so forgive him if he canít remember.
"I know one thing that wasnít successful," he says. "We made a cluster of rockets Ė I think it was seven rockets in a circle.
"And we could never get them synchronized so that theyíd fire at the same time."
Men from the gunnery took Morganís creation to the firing range. The rocket was supposed to shoot straight up into the air.
The gunnery reported the result to Morgan: "It went into the Chesapeake Bay."
The memory makes him laugh now.
"Never did much else with rocketry."
Morgan was eventually sent to the Panama Canal for aircraft repair. By the time he got there, the war was almost over.
He saw World War II from beginning to end, all those aircrafts constantly changing. In Morgan's opinion, American birds were always superior. He heard a story that even a small P-51 once shot down a German jet.
Morgan went to Korea, that time with the Air Force. He wouldnít say he ever saw any action himself, but he was close enough to hear the guns.
There one day, he saw a P-51 take a direct hit from a 5-inch shell. It blew a hole through the left wing, resting in the fuel cell. Morgan helped patch up the plane and send it to Japan. It never did explode.
Now that was a fine bird.
They Served With Honor
Some have said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day in United States. History dies with each one.
"They Served With Honor" is a special project by the Star-Tribune to collect stories from Wyoming World War II veterans. We will feature one story each week, from Veterans Day to Veterans Day.
The original article may be found in this Casper Star Tribune feature article