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
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
" 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
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
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
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
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.