HARLINGEN — It was just a field then, a wide field with a single shack.
However, that’s all Col. John Ross Morgan needed to train aerial gunners for World War II. These were the crew who manned the machine guns on bombers.
It was known then as Harlingen Army Airfield, and that’s where he became the commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces Harlingen Aerial Gunnery School.
Decades later, Valley International Airport stands at the location, but Col. Morgan still holds a commanding presence there. And now he has a visible place in the airport itself, thanks to a bronze bust unveiled yesterday afternoon.
Four generations of Morgan’s family gathered at VIA yesterday for the unveiling of the glistening bronze bust.
His son, Donald Morgan, a 1954 Harlingen High School graduate, spoke about his father’s service during World War II.
“Col. Morgan was given his choice of going to Washington or coming to Harlingen to build an airfield for training aerial gunners,” said Donald Morgan, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel.
“He chose to come here to Harlingen and I know he was always happy with that decision,” said Donald, 80.
Initially, only Col. Morgan and a civil engineer were dispatched to create the project.
“The movie ‘Aerial Gunner’ was shot at the Harlingen gunnery school and is probably one of the few visual depictions of aerial gunnery training,” Donald said.
“Aerial Gunner” was filmed in 1943.
Stirling Morgan, 19, had traveled from Oklahoma for the ceremony honoring his great grandfather, whom he never actually met. Still, he felt touched by the recognition.
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