Testimonies from the Midwest

 

1st Lt. Morris Magnuson, 23 Fighter Squadron, 36 Fighter Group, 9th Air Force

 1st Lt. Morris Magnuson     Division patch       Photo of Morris Magnuson

 

Morris Magnuson was born on February 14, 1921, at Springfield, South Dakota. Morris was working at Vega Aircraft as an aircraft inspector at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He shortly thereafter enlisted as a cadet in the United States Army Air Corps. This is his story.

Service Record: After months of waiting for a slot in the cadet program, I was assigned to Santa Ana Air Base for pre-flight training. Then I went to Visalia, California, for primary training, on to LeMore, California, for basic training, and then successfully completed training at Luke Field in Phoenix, Arizona, where I  received my silver wings and commissioning as a second lieutenant. After graduation I was assigned to transition training in the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt with subsequent assignment to the 9th Air Force in England and a trip across the Atlantic on the converted Queen Mary. I then received refresher training in Scotland, and was subsequently assigned to the 36th Fighter Group stationed at Ashford in Kent, southeast of London about 70 miles.

I flew many missions from Ashford on bomber escort, dive bombing, strafing, and hits on a variety of military bases and equipment. I flew over 70 missions against the enemy in France, Belgium, and Germany.

Camp Encounter: On his 80th mission, Capt. Magnuson was shot down in enemy territory. The same day his parents received the Western Union telegram telling them of Morris' MIA status, his mother received the Easter lily that Morris had ordered previously ordered for her. The following information comes from a Sioux Falls Argus Leader article authored by Steve Young about Capt. Magnuson's time spent as a German POW.

" On March 14, 1945, a cold, gray and damp morning, he was flying his 80th--and final--mission, leading a squadron in an attack on a German airfield when ground fire hit his plane.

At that point, Magnuson was far behind enemy lines. There was no way he was going to fly back. So he desperately maneuvered his crippled craft low over the trees, staying aloft as long as he could before finally parachuting to earth.

After stashing his chute in the woods, Magnuson started heading west, knowing that safety awaited him on the other side of the Remagen Bridge 100 miles away on the German-Belgian border. But the Germans were looking for him, so he scurried back into the forest and took cover under heavy brush. 'They were beating the bushes all around me,' he says ... 'but they didn't find me. I couldn't believe it.'

The escape kit he grabbed before jumping out of his plane contained little more than a few dollars, a collapsible water bottle, a rubber mat, and a single candy bar.

By his own estimation, it would take eight days to cover a hundred miles. So he broke the candy bar into eight pieces--enough for one meal each day.

He walked by night. By day, for the most part, he hid under heavy brush in the woods, getting a few hours of sleep before the cold would wake him. And then he would sit there, quietly shivering until darkness came....

After six nights, he was only one mile from Remagen Bridge and the safety of the Allies. With a pistol in one hand, a club in the other, he started out on the last leg and ran right into a German patrol. 'They had guns, and there were five or six of them,' he says. 'Discretion being the better part of valor, I gave up.'

His captors took him to the German town of Wetzlar and interrogated him for several days. From there they marched him and two others to Nuremberg. And again, after a few days, they were moved--this time on a 150-mile journey to Mooseburg [sic] outside of Munich.

At one point, they walked through a town that had just been hit by bombers like the kind Magnuson flew. Fires still burned in the streets. And an angry crowd watched with bricks in their hands as the American pilots passed. 'I thought for sure we were going to get stoned,' Magnuson says.

Later between Nuremberg and Mooseburg [sic], the prisoners were put on a train. They were passing through a town 10 miles into the journey when Allied P-47s began bombing them, and everyone had to scramble off the cars to save their own lives.

Afterward, Magnuson was forced to join Jewish slaves to help put out the fires and move the rubble off the tracks. One of the slaves had been hit by the bombing attack and badly injured. A guard came over, handed his rifle to another laborer and ordered him to kill the Jewish slave and put him out of his misery. 'It was right there in front of me,' Magnuson remembers. 'That's one of my most vivid memories. We didn't need any encouragement to work hard after that.'

In Mooseburg [sic], he and other prisoners were incarcerated at Stalag 7A. Magnuson still has the dog tags he was given by the Nazis when he arrived there, tin rectangles with the words Stalag 7A etched into them, and his prisoner number, 145826.

He remained there about six weeks before the Allies liberated the camp on May 5. He had lost 30 pounds since the morning his plane was shot down and weighed a mere 120. 'Shortly after they took over the camp, the Red Cross came in with fresh doughnuts,' Magnuson says. 'We stuffed our mouths with them and got so sick. They were too rich.'"

Awards: Capt. Magnuson was awarded the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 13 oak leaf clusters, European African Middle Eastern Service Medal with 5 bronze stars, and two Presidential Unit citations: Sept. 1, 1944, the Belgian Fourragere; and April 12, 1945, the Luxembourg Croix de Guerre.

US officers with a stove

US officers with a stove, Moosburg

USAF officers in overcrowded camp, April 1945

USAF officers in overcrowded camp, April 1945; photos courtesy of  http://www.moosburg.org/info/stalag/bilder.html

After the War:  Capt. Morris Magnuson was discharged on November 30, 1945. He had this to say about his experiences after the war:

After my release from a German Prisoner of War camp in May of 1945, I returned about a month later for a joyful reunion with my family and future bride. A part of the summer was spent on leave and the rest of the time I was sent for rest and recuperation at an Air Force facility at Santa Monica, California. On November 25, Edith Sogn and I were married at Lands Lutheran Church south of Canton, SD. After some time in Washington state and in South Dakota I enrolled at South Dakota State in Brookings and graduated from there in 1953 and later obtained my master's degree.

My first teaching job was in Volga, South Dakota, where we lived for three years before moving to Brandon, SD, where I taught agriculture, shop, and math classes while serving as the guidance counselor. I then served as high school principal and in 1963 was appointed superintendent of the newly formed Brandon Valley School District where I served until 1974. I was appointed Executive Director of the School Administrators of South Dakota, an organization of school superintendents, business managers, and principals of the state. This was a comparatively new organization  and it involved traveling throughout the state as well as lobbying and representing school administrators in Pierre during the legislative sessions each year.

In 1979 I was appointed as Assistant Superintendent in the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education in Pierre as Director of Curriculum and Instruction. In this capacity I worked with teachers and administrators throughout the state and visited most of the schools in discharging my duties. After three years I resigned to become interim superintendent at Chamberlain, South Dakota, where I served for one year before retiring at the age of 61 in 1982.

We had looked forward to retirement with time for family and traveling. We have visited all 50 states and have enjoyed travel in many foreign countries including England, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Poland, Russia, China, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, as well as the Central American countries plus Canada.

Volunteering has been a big part of our lives during retirement and includes church related work and organizations, Meals on Wheels, AARP activities, which included 15 years as an instructor for the 55-Alive Safe Driving classes. We have enjoyed relatively good health.

We have three children, all living in Sioux Falls. Greg is a medical doctor; he and his wife have three sons. Daughter Barb, a registered nurse, is married to Rich Hennies and they have a boy and a girl. Youngest son, Lee, is a lawyer and he and his wife Jean have a boy and two girls. With eight grandchildren we have the opportunity to take in many athletic events as well as school programs and activities.

In 1999 we moved to the retirement community of Trail Ridge in southwest Sioux Falls where we have a very nice apartment and enjoy the friendship of the approximately 140 residents who live there. God has blessed us over the years as well as now!

 

Advice from a WW II Veteran to Today's Youth:

Go to church, respect and obey your parents, work hard at anything you do and get as much education as you can.

 

The following was received by Capt. Magnuson at the time they were liberated from the German prison camp.

 

Surgeonís                                                                    APO 562

Bulletin                                                                      1 May  1945

To Our Camps

Take the Doctorís Advice

The Medical Department welcomes you -- with an armful of pills and paregoric! You have just been liberated from your enemy, the Germans. It is up to you now to liberate yourselves from your new enemy, -- your appetite and your digestive system.

After eating here several times you may begin to wonder what the score is, why the medics won't let you gorge yourself with doughnuts and hotdogs complete with mustard and sauerkraut about which you must have dreamed for months. You may begin to wonder why the mess supervisors won't let you come back for seconds when you are still hungry. There's a reason for it!

Most of you have been on a starvation diet for months. A regular diet consisting of coarse German bread and watery soup when taken over a period of weeks and months does something to your stomach, digestive system, and entire body. You have lost tremendous weight, there have been changes in your digestive system, your skin, and other organs. You have become weak and susceptible to diseases. You almost all have the G.I.'s.

The reason is that you lack vitamins and you have lost the proteins so necessary in building healthy, solid tissues, and muscles. The lining of your stomach is sore, delicate, inflamed, and irritated. Your stomach has shrunk.

If you overload that weak, small, sore stomach of yours you will become acutely ill. Your belly will become swollen and painful. You will have cramps and your diarrhea will be much worse. Some of you will have to be hospitalized and even become very seriously ill. You must overcome this terrible craving of yours and curb your appetites. You must realize that to become well quickly and get back to normal, you must eat small feedings and at frequent intervals until gradually you can once again tolerate a normal diet.

The food you will be served is good and you will get more than enough. If you get hungry between meals, go to the Red Cross for cocoa and egg-nog. Just don't drink too much. The first kitchen that you will go to will feed you soft, bland, non-irritating food. Your next kitchen will give you a diet which approaches normal. Know this for your own good.

The Medical Department advises you to obey the following rules and build yourselves gradually to the point where you can once again eat anything you want and as much as you want, without getting severely  ill:

1.      Eat only as much as you are given in the chow line.

2.      Don't  come back for seconds.

3.      Take the vitamin pills that are given to you in the mess line (and swallow them).

4.      Go to the Red Cross for egg-nog or cocoa between meals if you get hungry. Don't  drink more than one cup.

5.      Don't overeat. If you overload your small stomach you will get sick.

6.      Don't eat candy, peanuts, doughnuts, frankfurters, pork, rich gravies, liquor, spicy foods, or anything that you know will make you sick.

7.      There are three dispensaries in each of the three areas where you will bivouac. As you move from area to the other, go to the dispensary in that area. Sick Call will be held between 0800-1700 hours. After that come only for an emergency. If you have trouble see your Medical Officer. He will be glad to help you.

For the Camp Surgeon:
Wallace W. Bixby
CWO, USA
Adjutant

The cemetery of the POW camp  Stalag VII A is situated south of

The cemetery of the POW camp  Stalag VII A is situated south of
Moosburg in Oberreit; photo courtesy of http://www.moosburg.org/info/tour/obereng.html

http://www.centaf.af.mil/