CMSGT Doug Morrell Part I: “The Legend” in WWII
CMSGT Morrell rode along on bomber missions over Europe during WWII as a combat cameraman. He was called upon several times to replace gunners after they had been killed, and was shot down three times during his service.
Doug Morrell joined the Army Air Corps two years before World War Two as a combat cameraman. He completed glider pilot training, and was sent to the University of Southern California for a year to study film and photography.
Once the war started, Morrell accompanied crews on various missions all over Europe and Africa. It was his job to document the mission with film or photos so that the operation’s execution could be evaluated afterwards. He almost exclusively flew on bomber missions, and was called upon several times to replace gunners after they had been killed. As a result, he was provided with gunner’s wings despite never going to gunnery school.
On one mission, Morrell’s aircraft was shot down over the “Iron Gates” of Romania. As a navigator was bailing Morrell and a gunner out, he made a mistake that sent them miles away from where the rest of the crew landed. The two of them spent twenty-six days evading capture and walking across the mountains of modern day Kosovo and northern Albania. Eventually they reached the Adriatic Sea, where they paid a fisherman to take them to Italy where they could meet up with allied forces.
Morrell was later shot down in Romania again, but this time he was captured by German forces. He was kept in a prison camp for four and a half months before being rescued by the Russians. After that, he was sent back to the States.
These two incredible stories earned him the nickname “The Legend,” but his adventures were far from over. He was redeployed to Europe during the Cold War, spent five years in Panama documenting civic actions, and served in Korea and Vietnam.
In Vietnam, Morrell would be shot down for a third and final time, where he shattered a bone in his ankle on landfall. He landed in hostile territory, and radioed for help. Nine hours and one firefight later, Morrell was air evaced to safety. You can learn more about this story here.
After being shot down over enemy lines for the third time and escaping, Chief Master Sergeant Doug Morrell truly cemented himself as “The Legend. He was later awarded the Combat Camera Lifetime Achievement Award and the AIr Force Outstanding Civilian Career Service Award.
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Today, we’ll hear from Chief Master Sergeant Doug Morrell. Nicknamed “The Legend”, Morrell was a combat cameraman that accompanied flight crews during missions. It was his job to photograph or film the missions so that the operation’s execution could be evaluated afterwards. In this first part of his interview, Morrell recounts serving in WWII, including two times he was shot down over enemy lines.
When I started out, I was 12 years old. It seems kind of funny, but I was 12 years old, and a lawyer hired me as a boy to watch this man that they had a case against, because he was wearing this back brace. And so they put me up in a tree, in a treehouse, that is, and I watched him for two days. And finally he came out there and looked up and down the alley, and then he took his brace off and then he went in and got the bushel basket and dug the potatoes up and carried them away in the bushel basket. And I counted it all, and I got $10 for that. And that was my first documentation.
Combat, I went to LA, I went to ArtCenter in LA, and I took both motion pictures and still there. And then I went into the service, and the Marines wanted me... Or the Marines didn't want me, Marines didn't want me at all because I had a color deficiency. The Navy didn't want me because I had a color deficiency. So they says, "Try the Air Force, they'll take anything." So I went there, and they says, "Oh yeah, green-brown color deficiency, you can spot camouflages." So they put me right on flying status. And that was a year and a half, almost two years before World War II started.
So when the war started, why, we went up and shot AT-6s, five of them. We went all over the United States shooting those against the backgrounds of all the national monuments, and the New York skyline, the Miami Skyline, San Francisco skyline. And we went all over shooting this, and then they were used for recruiting films for the Air Force.
And then from then on, it was just whenever the war started, away we went, I was a combat cameraman. I had one year out as a combat cameraman. They put me in glider pilot training, and I had a year of training there, and they folded up the program, which is probably just as good for me because I'm alive today.
When I first went in the service, they sent me to four different studios. See, the Air Force had become pretty technical by this time... The Army, it was the Army Air Corps, and it'd become pretty technical and they had a need for training films. So, what had happened was that the need became so great that the studios over here couldn't handle the big influx of requests for training films. So the studios sent six Air Force, well, Army Air Force officers, to USC for training. And then they sent four of us to... Well, how do I say? We rotated between four studios, and we spent three months in each studio. And I couldn't do anything, no camera work, no anything, just sit there and watch. But I learned so much because I wasn't doing anything, I could see everything that was going on. So we had three months at each of the four studios and then we came back out, and by that time it was starting to heat up, the war. We hadn't gone into the war yet, it was just starting to heat up. And then I went back over here to Burbank, the old studios over there.
And from then on, that's when they put me back into glider pilot training, and I was trying to get back into camera again. But they did, they finally got me, when the glider pilot program folded up, they put us in as co-pilots on C-47s, and we were ferrying aircraft up to England. Well, up to Gander, Newfoundland, then they took them from there. Came back from that, we were put into combat at that time. They sent us in with B-24s, and we went over to Africa and then to Italy.
Most of our combat camera work was for operational evaluation. Now, we were told mostly to shoot the fighter passes and watch the fighter passes and see how they'd go, because the Germans were shooting down a lot of the bombers over Europe, see? So we were shooting the fighters and following them, well, we were in the B-24 Liberator, and it's a four engine bomber, open windows on the sides. That's where we had our station, which was the gunners, right and left gunner, and then we'd shoot out of either window. We were following the fighters, the German fighters had come in from the sun, and then they'd go through the formation. And if they didn't shoot anybody then, and a lot of times they would, but they'd go through the formation, then they'd come around and then they'd hit around behind us where it was out of sight. And then they'd come in from the back and they weren't watching. They were watching in the sun, see? They were watching for the fighters in the sun. So after they found this out from our films, we followed them back as far as we could and we see them turn, so we followed them back in again, and they were shooting at you all the way. So you're so busy, you don't worry about it, you're just shooting. But the next day, they shot down about 300 German fighters, just because of our films.
I had a still camera. It's a K-20 or a K-21. And I had either the Bell and Howell Eyemo, which, at our time, it was a single lens. And then pretty soon they went to a spider lens on it, turret. And it was a 50 millimeter, we shot 35 millimeter film, and it was a 50 millimeter lens standard, so we didn't have any zooms or anything. If the picture didn't fit, we had to back up until it did, see? So of course, most everything was set on infinity while we were up there, so it wasn't really too much about focusing.
But it was very, very short duration, we had 100 foot daylight loads, and it was a hand wound camera, and you had your own cranks, and these things were terrible. If you lost your crank, you were out of business. And you'd get up there and you had probably about 20 seconds maybe, I don't really remember, but it was around 20 seconds or so of 35 millimeter film going at 24 frames a second. And you had just a few minutes. You had about three minutes on a 100 foot roll. So we didn't shoot indiscriminately at everything, we had to shoot what we figured was going to be the best. So it was a lot different than shooting today with a video camera, where they can sit there and shoot a million minutes. And we had to pick out our shots very carefully, and almost anticipate what was happening.
You had to know what was going to happen. You can't go out there and shoot documentation not knowing what's going to happen. You have to find out what's going to happen. And they'll put you in a position. They usually put you in what they used to call Tail-End Charlie, which was on the last plane on the left-hand side or right-hand side of the formation. So we could also shoot these bases that we could see up there with a still camera. So when we'd go in on a target, the fighters wouldn't come in then, so you had to go down to another camera. It was an old K3B, it was called, it was a nine-inch square format, and a 12-inch focal length on it. And it's set in the bottom of the aircraft over the rear hatch, so when the bombs drop, and then you go back there and you catch the bomb hits with that. So you're just guessing, mostly, with it, and you're looking through the side and moving it with your hands.
But then we also had to shoot bombs going out the bomb bay, which was another thing, that was with the motion picture. And that was a little hairy, because there's a catwalk that's about this wide and you're out there, you have a parachute on of course, but even then you don't want to go out there with those bombs. Sometimes they had to go out and kick those bombs out because they were hung up.
The cameraman, we weren't members of the regular crew. We'd fly in a different airplane almost every time. And when an airplane got shot down from under us, why, I didn't know the crew, so it wasn't so bad that way. A lot of those guys trained together, and when they trained together, they got pretty buddy-buddy, and it was very friendly and close-knit crew. But I wasn't involved in that, so when five of them get killed or when you're bailing out... I didn't know them. I hated to see it happen, but it didn't bother me like it did the others.
I had 32 and two halves missions. That was in B-17s, Flying Fortresses, and the B-24s over there, the Liberators. I flew over... Well, it was Austria, let's see, Austria, Italy, Germany, France, Romania, Yugoslavia... Yeah, that was about it, yeah. Those were bombing missions areas.
But when it comes to being afraid, you're too busy. Yeah, you are afraid. If you weren't shooting, you'd really be afraid, I think. The pilots and the navigator and those others sit there that are... Well, the navigator had a gun, but the pilots sitting there, they're watching and calling out, "Fighters attacking," and everything. I think they had it a little worse than we did, because we were really busy. I'd be shooting the gun, shooting the waist gunner shooting, and then shooting over the waist gunner's shoulder, getting the fighter coming in, the fighter coming right over your head, and see the fire belching out of their guns. And it's kind of an, "Oh no, I wish I were somewhere else," but not really fear. I can't remember, really, fear during combat because I was so busy. And as long as you keep busy, you don't really feel so bad about it.
You get a rush. Yeah, you get a heck of an adrenaline rush, I'll tell you. Yeah, you feel it. That's another thing that kind of counteracts fear. You can do anything, you're indestructible. You feel like you're indestructible. If something hits you, it's going to hit you. But the adrenaline, yeah, especially when the fighters come in and you can see them blazing and they're going right over you like that. And the flak out there, yeah. You get the adrenaline. I think there are some people though, that got a blast out of it. But I tell you, you get a good feeling when you're shooting an airplane down. You get a heck of a rush. But of course, you don't see the guy you're shooting down. Well, one of them I saw, he'd bailed out and he just went on down. But when you see it, long as you see some smoke and some pieces of airplane flying off there, you get a rush out of it.
Well, when the flak comes up, you really know it. But see, the fighters are your main concern at first. Well, the fighters aren't going to come in when the flak comes up. In fact, they'll usually put up a different color flak burst. It had red and black and some white, but they put a different color burst up there, so that warned their own fighters not to go in, because they're really going to throw a barrage up there. And the flak goes up there like mad, there's usually an FW 190 sitting off to the side just out of our gun range, and he's flying right parallel with us, and he's radioing down our altitude and our air speed. So that makes the gunners down below very happy; makes us very unhappy. But every now and then, we'll fire off a burst, the gunners will fire off a burst at that guy, and he'll move away a little, but he still knows your air speed and your altitude, so they have that.
When flak hits, if it hits your airplane direct, you're going to go down. But when it hits near you, it explodes near you, they have proximity fuses. Well, they have it set on the ground for the altitude that that guy out there is calling down, so it'll explode up there. They send up this whole barrage and you can see almost a black cloud all over the target. In fact, in the bombing runs, they do what they call an IP target run, the IP being the initial point, that they will have a certain place on the map, that they'll turn over that point and then head into the target. This way, it kind of sets them off, but that sets it off so that the enemy isn't exactly prepared to come from that way. We might be coming this way and go clear around like that, then head in like that.
So when the IP target run goes up there, you can see this big cloud and you say, "Oh, I hope we don't go into that." Bore right straight into it, no change, no nothing, you just go right straight. Very severe turbulence from the flak burst, very severe. And you'll get shrapnel, there's about a 20, 30 foot spread of shrapnel that comes out with those. And there's been some funny things happened in that too, as well as fear. We had one radio man, he says, "I'm hit, I'm hit, I'm hit." And what had happened was he left his can of tomato soup, had a little heater, hot cup they call it. He had it plugged in and then he put water in it, and then put the can of soup in to heat it, see? Well, we got hit by fighters a little earlier than we planned. So here he is, and the can exploded and put this hot tomato soup all over him. He thought he'd had it. He said, he's hit, he's hit. That was sure funny.
But it doesn't get funny when the guys do get hit though. I've had a couple of waist gunners and the tail gunners shot out from under me, I might say, but he just fell right there by the gun. And you can't help him there at that time, you've got to get that gun going or you're going to get the whole crew. And one of those that I saw there, he was pretty well blown open. He got hit right in the chest with a 20 millimeter, even through the flak suit. So we had flak suits where... Heavy iron plates, and little iron plates about two inches... No, about one inch by six or eight inches, and they'd pack these things in a vest.
But you have to take over the waist gunner. When they taught me, the gunnery guy gets up there and he says, "Well, this is the gun." I says, "Yeah, well, that's nice." You pull this back, there's a big side on there. He says, "Well, this is a rad here and that's a rad there, and if you see the airplane out there and he looks about so far away, then you set this thing over and you put it like that." He says, "Okay." And that was my training for gunnery. But I did get two ME 109s and a half of a Ju 88, so that's in my records.
But the training, I couldn't believe it. When I came back to States, they says, "You're wearing gunner's wings." Well, we didn't have cameraman's wing or crew member wings. Says, "You're wearing gunner's wings. It says here you didn't go to school." And he says, "You can't wear them." And I says, "Well, I'm going to wear them." So anyhow, the officer came up, the clerical officer came up, and he says, "What seems to be the trouble?" He says, "Well, he's wearing gunner's wings and he hadn't been to gunnery school." And this was after we came back from prison camp. So anyhow, he says, "Well, you did shoot guns." I says, "Yeah, look in there. You see two ME 109s and the Ju 88 in my records there." He says, "Well," he says, "just let him go. Don't worry about it." They weren't going to let me have wings.
The army was raising hell because we were taken there. The air crews were getting the beds that came over from the States. And here the army had come back from 10 days in the front lines, and they had to sleep on the floor, more or less, on straw and stuff. So they had a big hullabaloo about that. So they took 10 machine gunners, .50-caliber machine gunners from the army, and they took 10 waist gunners from the Air Force and they traded places. If they completed 10 missions in the Air Force, they'd give them an Air Medal. And if they'd completed 10 days on the front lines, they'd get a combat infantryman's badge, the Air Force people.
So we had this one guy from Tennessee, he came up there, "Oh, y'all got it made. You've just got it made up here," he said. "Man, look at that. Just laying around, taking it easy." And we're flying up, this time was Wiener Neustadt, and it was pretty rough mission. So we fly up to the IEP and he's looking out to see those flak fields I was telling you about. He sees those flak fields, so he says, "What's that over there?" Says, "Well, that's an aircraft fire, that's flak." He said, "Oh." But he says, "We're not going there, are we?" It's about that time we turned right toward it, see, so when that flak started hitting, he got down there, we had extra flak suits and he was trying to cover himself up with everything he could. And he got down when we got back off the mission, in Italy we had these perforated steel plank runways and revetments and things. So he found a rock sticking up in one of those revetment holes there, and he leaned back and he threw it at that B-24 as hard as he could. And it went right, because it's a thin skin, went right through it. Well, left a big dent. He says, "You can take your damn air metal and stuff." He says, "You can just take it." He says, "But at least on the ground we can cover up with half of us. We can be on the ground and dig in and everything. Up here, you got nothing." So we got to keep the beds.
First time I was shot down was over the Iron Gates of Romania. They're on the Danube River where the current is so swift. It's at the northeastern tip of Yugoslavia, at the Romanian border there. And the current is so swift that they have to have tugs like they do in the Panama Canal. They had tugs to pull the barges up. These barges are oil barges from the Ploiesti area in Romania, and that's what the Germans run on, is that oil. The whole war machine runs on that oil, so that's why we were trying to get rid of that. We were bombing Ploiesti refineries, and bombing these routes that they take the oil up to Germany.
Anyhow, we got hit over the Iron Gates. We lost one engine and then another one was slightly damaged, so we lost power and we couldn't make it back over the Yugoslav mountains. So they had a safe area, all over they give you these safe areas. So if you're in trouble, you can bail out over there and they'll be either underground or partisans or somebody will help you there.
Well, this safe area was only about half a mile around and you had to bail out and hit it. So they bailed us out two at a time. We weren't burning or anything, we were just disabled, couldn't make it back. So we bailed out two at a time, and when they bailed me and the one that bailed out with me, one of the gunners back there, the navigator made a mistake and he bailed us out 180 degrees wrong, which put us about five miles away from the rest of them. And the rest of them were picked up that evening by the partisans brothers. C-47 came over from Italy and took them back over. And we spent 26 days walking across the mountains, right across Kosovo, by the way, that's what's now Kosovo. And across Northern Albania to the ocean. And then I bribed a fisherman there to take us over to Bari, Italy across the Adriatic in a fishing boat. Well, Albanian fishing boats are not the sweetest smelling things in the world. And every time that we had airplanes come over, he'd put us down in the bilge. And the bilge had fish entrails, fish heads, oil, gas, everything was down there, and it stunk terribly. And a boat would come near, we'd go down the bilge, and the airplanes were always going over, so we were spending a lot of time in that bilge. We got back to Italy, it took us a couple of days to get the smell off of us. But anyhow, we made it back finally. But it was a lot of survival across those mountains.
When we walked back across there, we tried to stay, I'd say, about a hundred yards below the crest of the mountains, so we wouldn't silhouette ourselves up against there. If there was a civilized area over there, or were houses, were farms or something, we'd go over on the other side. But we'd also stay on the side so we could watch, in case somebody was after us or something. But we'd make fires in the daytime, never at night. And we always made it with…
This kid that was with me was from Boston. He'd never been out in the woods before. He's strictly a town boy. And he almost got us captured several times. But he's a woodsman now, because I got after him. And we'd build these fires out of very dry wood, never any green to cause any smoke. Very small fires, and only when we needed. We'd snare animals. See, we had our parachutes, so we took the parachutes' shroud lines and made snares and stuff. So we snared a lot of rabbits and things like that. But it was still a survival situation. Then you always had to go down and get water, so that was another thing. And we didn't have any canteens. We should have. We bailed out, we should have had our canteen with us when we bailed out, but we didn't, we had taken it off, put the flak suits on.
No, too bad, if we had the cameras of today, it would've been wonderful. We could've had a little pound quarter, sure, we could have taken care of it. But you taking out a 20, 30 pound camera, or even a five or 10 pound camera, it's just too much for you. Besides, things are burning... Well, that time they weren't burning. But when things are burning, you don't want any part of a camera, except to shoot some pictures, yeah.
Well, the second time we were on a mission to the Ploiesti oil fields. And this was one of the roughest missions in the whole war, actually. A lot of people hadn't heard about Ploiesti, but it's in Romania, big refineries there, furnishing probably 70 or 80% of the Germans oil for their machines. So oil, gas, most of it came from Ploiesti. And that was the big raids, and this was at a time where we were flying there every day against Ploiesti, and there'd be, probably, maybe a thousand bombers, which sounds kind of large, but it was large. Today we have three or four bombers go, maybe two. And then it was a thousand of them, and 2000 fighters up after him.
Anyhow, we were on this mission to Ploiesti, and we got hit. Well, after we dropped our bombs, we got hit by flak on the way out, got hit by flak, and we had to drop out of formation because we couldn't keep up with the formation. Formation's your big protection, you're protected in there because there's all those guns, and in any one of the bombers, you have a nose gun, you have an upper turret, you have a ball turret down below, you have the two waist guns, you have a tail turret. And so you got a lot of guns there in protection. You take 36, usually 36 bombers to a group, and maybe 45 groups, 40, 50 groups going. So that's a lot of firepower. Well, when you fall out like we did, fall out of formation. We turned back, we were going to try to head down for Turkey or somewhere, because we're 800 miles behind our own lines. So we were heading, probably, for Turkey.
Well, we got hit by about six ME 109 fighters. They came in and racked us and racked us and racked us and racked us, and then finally set us on fire. Well, we noticed a couple of the guys up front had bailed out, we could see him down below going by with a chute, so we said, "Well, we better get out of here." So I says, "There was a fire up there," I was going to go out the bomb bay, so I opened up the door and hear this big old batch of fire comes out of the door. And funny, first thing I could think of, "Oh, I better get that fire out." So I picked up this little fire extinguisher that you pump like that. I picked it up, and I opened that door, and I looked at it and I says, "Oh no, that's not doing anything. I'd better get out of here."
So I went out, lifted the camera off. You got the other two waist gunners out first, and the tail gunner, they all went out. And then I went out, and about two seconds later, the airplane exploded. And you could feel it. I was only out a little ways, I could feel the explosion when it went. Might wonder why I was taking care of getting these guys out. This was the first time, this was their first mission. And they put me up there once... Well, usually they put me up there as an old troop, so I can kind of watch what's happening. And in cases like this, in cases like that, I know what to do.
So we got these guys out, I went out, blew about... I delayed probably to about 11,000 feet. We were about 22,000 feet when we were hit. So I delayed to about 11,000 feet. I could hear this motorcycle coming up when I opened my chute a little while later, I heard this motorcycle down there. And here it is over flat wheat fields in Romania, southern Romania, and this motorcycle's coming up the road. And I looked down at it and it's headed right for me. So it had a sidecar on it. So I pulled down on the right-hand risers, right-hand risers, and that shoots me over, that spills the air out like that, shoots you over about a couple hundred yards. And I look down and he'd parked over there and parked right under me again. So I went the other side, spills the air, goes over there, about 2-300 yards. He starts up the motorcycle, goes over there, back and forth. And so when I hit the ground, they collapsed my chute for me and had guns on me. So I wasn't about to evade that time.
But he was a German Luftwaffe officer. And he took me... Was kind of worried, they took me down in this motorcycle. I was in the sidecar, and the sergeant was on the motorcycle driving, and the lieutenant was behind him. So he gets my parachute, folds up my parachute, and sticks it in the back of the- There's kind of a back compartment on the sidecar.
They take me over to this guy's girlfriend, and she happens to be a Romanian, and speaks perfect English. And when she first saw me, and he told her I was a downed airman, so she says, "You're very cruel people." I says, "Well, why do you think we're cruel?" She says, "Well, we know that you're released prisoners from Alcatraz and Sing Sing, and that you get a thousand dollars for each mission that you fly over here." I says, "Well, these guys are going to owe me about $30,000, because I've never heard of such a thing." And I tried to put her straight with that, but the German propaganda machine had told them things like that, so they wouldn't have any feelings for us, being sorry or something.
Anyhow, we had some cold lemonade and some cookies. And then they took me into Bucharest. Well, they stopped outside of Bucharest, and then they picked up another one of my crew members. They made us walk in, and they're walking under the... Romanian guarded in the daytime, the Germans guarded at night, but they put us under a German guard, and walked us through the streets, and the people are spitting at us, and hollering at us, and they're throwing anything they could, trying to get in and kick us, everything else. We didn't know if we were going to get through that or not.
But they took me to Romanian headquarters, the Luftwaffe headquarters in Romania, and they searched me and found a frame rate calculator in my flying suit. So they knew I was a cameraman. Well, they also knew cameramen were working under intelligence. So here I am, supposed to know a lot of stuff, so they keep me in there. They keep me in the place. The guy says, colonel came in, he says, "What are you doing here?" I says, "I'm waiting for my buddies to pick me up." He says, "Oh, you think they will?" I says, "Oh yeah, they'll be over anytime. Looks like they already got you." He had a cane and he was a pilot. He had a cane, got shot down the day before. So he motioned to this guard over there, and the guard came up and whacked me in the face, right across here, like that, with a butt of a rifle. Loosened up all the teeth and shifted the nose around a little. So I learned not to smart off anymore.
Then they put us in prison camp. We stayed there for four and a half months, till we were released by the Russians coming in. And of course we went around town for a long time, had a ball. Really had a good time, after we were released, because they said that they didn't want us to be held prisoner like that. They just had to because the Germans had made them do it. So anyhow, they tore the bomb bays out of about six or seven B-17s, Flying Fortress, put plywood in the bottom, and came over and picked us up over there. I was in the last plane going out, was lucky they found me because I was having a ball around town. So Bucharest, we were in… The prison camp was a hospital area in Bucharest. So anyhow, we got back to Italy and debriefed, then they sent us back to the States.
I had some friends in prison camp with me. There was four or five cameramen in that prison camp with me there in Romania. See, if it's important enough to document, it's important enough to defend, and that's one of the reasons we get caught. Take four or five of them, we only had about 15 or 20 working over there. We never even got to see some of them. And we're always going back, forth between these different bomb groups where they know this bombing raid is going over a particular place. So they know something, they check the route they're taking, and if they see something they want documented, why, they'll do it.
In prison camp in Romania, I was terrified for a while, when I didn't know what was going to happen to me. And they had me in a one-meter square box, and kept me in there for days at a time, and then dragged me out. That's because they knew I was a cameraman, they knew I worked for intelligence, and they thought I knew something. So that was the Germans in Bucharest at the Luftwaffe headquarters. And they kept me in this box in the basement, and every five or six days, they'd bring me out and interrogate me again. But I still didn't know anything. Finally they put me in prison camp with the rest of the guys. But I spent the first 30 days there in Luftwaffe headquarters.
The guy that captured me, with the motorcycle and the thing, when he walked around behind that thing, he took out his gun and checked it, and walked around behind me. I says, "Oh, oh." But not really terrified, I can't say that. Maybe I'm just too easy going to get terrified. But no, there's nothing to worry about ever. The only type of thing you have to worry about, somebody's got a gun up to your head and ready to pull the trigger, then it's the time to worry. But it's too late then, so what the heck? So why worry beforehand? I think prison camp did me a lot of good, because I just don't worry about anything anymore. It doesn't do any good.
We have a Romanian POW... Well, it's called Former Prisoners of War in Romania organization. We have a reunion every year, different place every year. Like this time it was at Philadelphia, last year it was down at Newport. Next year it's going to be in Phoenix. So we have a ball there, but they're getting less and less and less all the time. But the cameramen... In fact, I don't even remember any more cameramen still going to that reunion. So I don't know.
People wonder what good documentation is, what good does it do, shooting these pictures? Well, I saw, at Wiener Neustadt, I was looking out the waist window, we were bombing a Messerschmitt factory there. I was looking out the waist window, and in the woods out there, I could see this regular shape, like a building out there, like a factory building or something. And yet out here in the open was a factory building, it looked like. So I says, "I know there's a factory building there, because with my green-brown deficiency, if a tree is dead for three or four hours, it shows up on me, I can tell it right off the bat that it's not a live tree." So this was a camouflaged area, and it turned out- they didn't believe me.
So, next day I took infrared camera with me. I had to readjust the focal length on the thing and everything to take infrared film, but we did have infrared film. So I shot this Messerschmitt factory, this area I thought, then took it back. Oh man. They got all excited, it was, just exactly like I said. So here's about $7 or $8 worth of film at that time, one guy's salary, which was about 150 bucks a month or something at that time. And I got a whole Messerschmitt factory to my credit, see. Well, nobody did anything for it. I never got anything out of it, but they did go out and bomb the right place, and that helped a lot. But the Germans had put all this fake stuff out there, and we'd bomb it every now and then, wondered how they built it up so quick, and here it was all canvas and everything else.
Another time we were going up across Venice, and I saw, down along the shoreline there, I saw what looked like a couple of submarines in there. So I always took my infrared camera after that. So I shot these two submarines down there, and it didn't look like it. I told one of the waist gunners, I says, "Look at that, you see that sub down there?" "No, where?" And anyhow, I shot it with a camera the next day, and got the coordinates from the navigator to say where it was. And the next day, they sent out a Wimpy and got two of those things. So I've had two submarines, a Messerschmitt factory, two Me 109s, and a Ju 88 to my credit. But there's documentation for you. It can be used for operation evaluation, even, in that case, it was used like reconnaissance. So it's very, very important. Besides, where would you get these good pictures of World War II if you didn't have us guys?
When you see an airplane blow up and everything, it's not that bad as you see a guy blowing apart down on the ground, see. Well, there was a lot of that stuff that combat documentation did too, so the guys on the ground. And a lot of that wasn't released for quite a while, until they finally says, "Well, we got to get these people jolted to see what this war is like." So they started showing bodies, and started showing them all torn apart and everything.
The combat documentaries that we see now, could you just imagine not having those around anymore? People say, "Well, what do we need all that for?" They'd say, actually, sometimes when I'd go to the briefing, and they'd say, "Well, you're having a cameraman." "Oh, what do we need a cameraman up there for?" And it really ran that way. A lot of times they don't want it until afterwards. They say, "Well, why didn't you get pictures of it?" But they never think of planning it in there. Except intelligence did, because intelligence needed that stuff. But it's very important.
But historically, it's invaluable, just priceless. And there's a lot of it there. A lot of it, most of the best, has been taken and done over and over and over again in films. Most of the best. Well, you don't want to show any of the stuff that's no good. But it's very, very important to have the people realize what the heck's going on. We've never been bombed. We've never had a war over here after the Civil War. And a lot of the people, they really need sometimes... I think one of the best things that happened is when Saving Private Ryan came around. That really helped a lot. People say, "My God, did they have to go through all that during the war?". It's too bad we didn't have audio with it. That would've been something.
That was Chief Master Sergeant Doug Morrell. Next time on Warriors In Their Own Words, we’ll hear about his service during Vietnam, and how he was shot down a third time over enemy lines.
Thanks for listening to Warriors In Their Own Words. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.
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Warriors In Their Own Words is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, in partnership with The Honor Project.
Our producer is Declan Rohrs. Brigid Coyne is our production director, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer.
Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.
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