Morris Marks - 2nd Lieutenant
- Air Medal with V (for valor) (Somalia)
We are extremely grateful to Del Marks for providing an exceptional number of artifacts and memories about two of our honorees - his classmate and friend, Galen Dean Grethen, and his uncle, Morris Rusch Marks.
Morris was born on June 14, 1915, along with his twin brother, Warren, to Wilford and Julia Marks. Morris and his five younger siblings grew up on a farm north of Lake Park, Iowa. He often helped his father with work on the farm, but even from a young age, Morris dreamed of becoming a pilot.
Morris and his twin brother, Warren, were opposites in many ways. Warren was studious and smart, while Morris had the gift of gab. His nephew, Del, describes him as someone who had the most fun in life. He loved to make his friends laugh.
Morris and Warren graduated high school in 1933. Warren won a scholarship at the Iowa State Fair and immediately enrolled at Iowa State to start his journey to become a Veterinary Surgeon. But since this was the time of the Great Depression, Morris waited another year before he could afford to enroll at Iowa State.
In the meantime he worked on the family farm. Morris knew education was important
, especially since both of Morris’ parents had college degrees and many other family members also attended Iowa State. Morris enrolled at Iowa State in the fall of 1934 in Veterinary Medicine, which he studied for three semesters. He struggled academically and left the college, but returned to try studying Business instead. That course of study didn’t prove much easier for Morris, but while trying to find his way in college, Morris joined the ROTC, and he really enjoyed that. He left Iowa State in 1939, helping his father on the farm back home until he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in April 1942.
That summer, Morris began his pilot training, which took him all over the United States. He received training at Santa Ana, California; Tucson, Arizona; Marfa, Texas; Moses Lake, Washington; Rapid City, South Dakota; and Kearney, Nebraska. While in training, Morris kept a personal journal. A copy of that journal, is on display in Gold Star Hall and it can be viewed after the ceremony. In the journal, he provides insight into the extensive exams and training required to become an Air Corps man. Notes also show that Morris kept himself in shape, as he discussed going to the gym and kept track of how many push-ups and chin-ups he could do. Morris felt extremely proud upon completion of his training; even though he didn’t succeed academically, he was happy to have found redemption as a pilot.
In September 1943, ten men, including Morris, were brought together for the first time at the Rapid City, South Dakota Army Air Base. Here they got to know each other, and during a three-month training period they were transformed into a solid bomber crew. After their arrival in England, they had another period of two months in which they trained as a crew and prepared themselves for their missions above enemy territory. On January 30, 1944, they had to abort their first mission because of engine problems before they reached the Dutch coast. In the first half of February, they flew five successful missions at targets in France and Germany, from which they returned safely.
On February 21, 1944, the “Marks crew” took off on their 6th bombing mission to Brunswick, Germany in their B-17, called the San Antonio Rose. As they approached their target, they came across German fighters and one engine was shot by flak. As the plane began vibrating vigorously, the crew decided to drop their bombs and start reducing power. They soon started losing altitude, but the vibration was increasing. The plane was flying at around 24,000 feet when they got hit again, dropping them to 14,000 feet where the vibration stopped completely. The “Marks crew” then planned to hide by flying through cloud cover until they could get back to England. After about 45 minutes of soaring through the clouds, when the San Antonio Rose reached Holland, the clouds became patchy, and the crew started zipping from cloud to cloud. Eventually, an expanse of clear blue sky meant the crew was now in view of German fighter planes, which began shooting at them, eventually setting the plane on fire.
In an excerpt of a letter to Morris’s mother, one of the survivors, Charles Barnthson, wrote her a description of these last moments:
“We got into the clouds at 12,000 feet and started back. We flew for about three quarters of an hour and we were over Holland when we ran out of clouds. Right then we were attacked by 12 or 15 enemy fighter plans, at least. It was so quick that we hardly had a chance to bail out. I was standing between Lt. Marks and Lt. Derenburg, the co-pilot. One of the planes hit our controls and they froze with the plane in a climb. We knew the plane would soon stall out, and the only thing for us to do was to abandon ship. By this time, we only had two good engines anyway. Lt. Marks gave the order to bail out and I turned to put on my parachute. I was ready to leave the ship when I looked back. He was getting out of his seat and motioned for me to go ahead. Naturally, I believed him to be coming right behind me. I opened my chute immediately and then maneuvered it so I could see the ship. I waited and watched, but only one man ever came out. He was Sgt. Glover, the right waist gunner. Mrs. Marks, I want to tell you straight. I know you heard other stories, but I watched that ship until it hit the ground and only one chute, besides myself, ever came out. There is no doubt in my mind that I was the first man out, and I know that Sgt. Glover and myself were the only ones to get out. What happened to the other fellows, I can’t tell you. I know we were riddled by bullets and I believe most of the boys were killed before we realized our fate."
The two soldiers in the letter, Staff Sgt. Charles Barnthson and Sg. Barclay Glover, were captured by the Germans and spent 14 months in German prison before being set free. Flight Officer George Amberg, who was the bombardier, was thrown from the plane and died that day. The other seven soldiers, including pilot Morris Marks, were engulfed in the flames as the B-17 San Antonio Rose crashed into a meadow.
The crew members were officially listed as “missing” February 1944 and Morris was officially declared killed in action on October 5, 1945. He was 28 years old.
In 1946, the American Recovery Operation found unexploded bombs that belonged to the San Antonio Rose. Furthering their search in the marshy Polderlandt, they found pieces of the stricken bomber that had sunk nearly 25 feet. On August 24, after nearly two weeks of dredging, the remains of three crewmen were recovered, and
was one was assumed to be Morris.
The three crewmen are buried together at Ft. McPherson National Cemetery in Maxwell, Nebraska. Morris was posthumously awarded the Air Medal, which was presented to his mother.