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Risky voyage leads to vital aircraft role

When Glenn R. Morris received orders to head over to Australia and work as an airplane engine mechanic, the 19-year-old imagined he would be part of a naval convoy.

In other words, he expected plenty of protection for him and his fellow service members bound for Down Under.

It did not turn out that way.

"We were shipped over in a troop transport that had about 1,500 on it and were unescorted at all times. So during the day, we ran slow because we didn't want to make that much smoke with the engines. We were afraid a submarine or anyone might pick us up," he recalls

"At sunset, we'd change course and run like crazy. You could feel the engines tremble because they were being run at maximum speed. Fortunately, no one was waiting for us. The only bad thing was those first few days with seasickness. We felt like we were going to die."

Morris, a graduate of Brocton Central High School in Chautauqua County, had been in his first semester studying mechanical engineering at the University of Buffalo when he was drafted and proved a natural for airplane engine repairs.

"I got a lot of satisfaction out of taking something so big and powerful, like an airplane engine, and fixing it. The Army had sent a group of us to Buick Civil Mechanics School in Flint, Mich. Buick manufactured the Pratt & Whitney engine that I specialized in. It was the R-1830, 14-cylinder, radial engine."

The engine powered the B-24 bomber and C-47 transport plane.

For most of 1944, Morris worked at an airbase in Darwin, Australia, serving with the 49th Air Depot Repair Group, attached to the 380th Bomb Group of the Fifth Air Force.

"It was not uncommon for a four-engine plane to come back running on only two engines," Morris says. "Lots of times, the engines were damaged by shell fragments from the enemy.

"If a plane had to make a crash landing, the propellers hit the ground, and we'd have to install new engines, if the aircraft was not scrapped. We had a special group that determined if a plane could be salvaged."

For Morris, the saddest moment of the war occurred when a B-24 crashed, killing most of the crew.

"I was a quarter of a mile away. The B-24 crashed on takeoff for a bombing run, killing nine of the 10 crew members. I had played the trumpet in high school, and at the cemetery I was recruited to be the bugler. I played taps over nine coffins, and let me tell you, that was not a fun thing."

Morris and his buddies sometimes found themselves running for their lives, especially at night when the air raid sirens cried out.

"We dug foxholes, but the creatures that went into them were deadly - snakes and scorpions - and that precluded us from jumping into those holes. We took our chances with running into the trees and high grass for cover, and we made out just fine."

After Australia, he was shipped to the island of Biak, which played a crucial support role in the liberation of the Philippines. And when the war ended in the summer of 1945, Glenn was promoted to crew chief and assigned to Clark Field on the Philippine island of Luzon.

"We repaired planes for the flights home," he says. "They came home by way of Hawaii. Some of the planes had never seen combat."

Morris says that by 1946, at the end of his military service, airplanes were in his blood.

"I decided not to go back to the University of Buffalo and instead went to Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa. But when I came back to Buffalo, I was told I was overqualified," he says, "so for 34 years, I worked at Bethlehem Steel on instrumentation for temperature measurements and controls."

Morris married Annette Klavoon, of South Buffalo, and the couple raised three children.

These days, Morris says, he often thinks back to his war service and realizes that he was blessed never to be wounded:

"I was one of the fortunate ones."

Glenn R. Morris, 88

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: West Seneca

Branch:Army Air Forces

Rank: Staff sergeant

War zone: Pacific

Years of service: 1943-46

Most prominent honors: Philippine Liberation Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal

Specialty: Airplane engine mechanic