|Wayne Morris - American Actor. Courtesy of WDW|
Have you heard of film star Wayne Morris? If you answered in the negative, we had the same response. But after reading his story, I had to tell it. He is one of those little-known war heroes who played an important role in the Pacific during World War II.
|Actor Wayne Morris. Courtesy of Famous Fix.|
Bert DeWayne Morris was born and raised in Southern California and played football for Los Angeles Junior College. While acting at the Pasadena Community Playhouse, he was discovered and recruited by Warner Brothers Studios. Beginning in 1936, Morris played supporting roles in films with actors, such as, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Ronald Reagan, Eddie Albert, and Jane Wyman. Playing the second lead in Flight Angels, a story about pilots and stewardesses training for commercial airline service, spurred him into earning his pilot's license.
|Flight Angels (1940) Courtesy of Famous Fix|
Morris joined the Naval Reserve before Pearl Harbor and later became a primary flight-training instructor in Hutchinson, Kansas. With his acting career on hold, Morris had no intention of riding out the war in a comfortable position. He wanted to be in the thick of the action, so he asked his wife's young uncle, David McCampbell to get him into a fighter squadron. McCampbell was the commander of the VF-15 fighter squadron.
McCampbell told Morris to write a letter with his request, but because of his six-foot, two-inch height and muscular build, Morris was transferred to a patrol-bomber unit and assigned to Catalina amphibious aircraft based in Jacksonville, FL. The cockpit of a fighter plane was built for a person of average height and weight. McCampbell and Morris ran into each other in FL, and Morris repeated his request to be a fighter pilot. McCampbell made it happen, and Morris transferred to the "Fighting Fifteen."
Hellcat F6F which Morris flew from the USS Essex
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
In addition to learning to takeoff and land from a carrier deck and shoot down bombers while tangling with enemy fighters, Hellcat pilots were expected to bomb and strafe sea and land targets. All of these lessons were taught in a short time frame and were dangerous. During training, Air Group 15 lost a dozen pilots and crewman. The group deployed to the Essex in 1944.
With three other Navy pilots, Wayne Morris (second from Left) poses for a picture aboard their carrier
after a strike against Formosa in 1944. Courtesy of WWII in Color.
- Lieutenant Morris shot down his first Zero (Japanese fighter) in the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" off Guam on June 20.
- On September 9, Morris and two other pilots took down a Japanese patrol plane over Mindanao.
- The next day he led a group of fighters who attacked two airfields and destroyed camouflaged fuel dumps hidden in the woods.
- On September 13, Morris shot down another Zero.
- A few days later he and another pilot hit a docked Japanese submarine with rockets.
- On October 10, Morris led another group of fighters over Okinawa and sank an eight-thousand-ton freighter.
- He took out a Tony (Japanese fighter) during the same battle.
- On October 24, he shot down two Zeros that were escorting Japanese bombers attacking the American fleet.
Lieutenant Commander Morris participated in fifty-seven missions during his six-month combat tour on board the Essex. In total he was credited with downing seven enemy aircraft (five downs were needed to become an ace) and for sinking an escort vessel and a flak gunboat and helping to damage a heavy cruiser and a mine layer as well as the wins listed above. Morris was awarded four Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.
What was Wayne Morris most afraid of? "Every time they showed a picture aboard the Essex, I was scared to death it would be one of mine."
The actor turned soldier was one of twenty-six aces in VF-15. Together these aces shot down 310 enemy planes in combat and sunk or damaged half a million tons of Japanese shipping. Can you pick Morris out in this photo?
The Aces of VF-15 with their victorious scorecard at the end of their six-month tour of duty . Photo dated 12/1/1944.
Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command.
Morris played in over two dozen films before the war and another three dozen after, including a supporting role in Gary Cooper's 1949 aircraft-carrier film, Task Force. He went on to star in westerns, a 1957 WWI film, Paths of Glory, and played for television series.
In 1959 Morris visited his former commander and uncle-in-law Captain David McCampbell aboard the USS Bon Homme off the coast of Monterey, California. While watching air operations from the bridge of the carrier, Morris collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was forty-five years old. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Strange and Ocscure Stories of World War II by Don Aines. Skyhorse Publishing, 2020.
The Pasadena Independent newspaper, September 15, 1959.