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New Exhibit Honors 101-Year-Old World War II Veteran

SDPB / David Scott

There’s a brand new exhibit at  the South Dakota Air and Space Museum that honors one of the state’s World War Two veterans. Maurice “Morry” Crow was a turret gunner in a B-17 bomber and is now the recipient of one of the nation’s highest military awards.  

A newsreel brings the rumble of prop engines, the crack of anti-aircraft fire and explosions from  German flak cannons to life. But it’s all something Morry Crow lived. He’s  part of a  revered yet  shrinking generation of World War Two veterans.  

Friends, family and loved ones, gathered recently to celebrate Crow’s 101st birthday. He was inducted into the Distinguished Flying Cross Society as part of the celebrations.  

As  he watches old film footage of his unit in action, the veteran  speaks with a humility that has become almost trademark for his generation. 

“We all had a job – a job to do and actually when you get into combat you had to do a job for yourself, or you wouldn’t get back.”

Crow  served as a tech sergeant in the 8th Air Force.  In training he was told that only six or seven, out of a crew of 13, could expect to make it back. 

“I’m very lucky, you know, basically that – my best friend had to be at a different airplane than mine because we were the same rank and he was shot out of the ball turret over the North Sea.”

Crow survived 25 bombing missions over Germany and says there were close calls. 

“We were hit and had lost two engines and it never touched the co-pilot – the blast – in his seat, was never damaged at all. It blew me out, where I was, in the circle of my ammunition cans, and then when I got back to normal I was hanging there by my neck.”

His stories and thousands  like them are what organizations across the country hope to preserve. 

The Air and Space Museum and Ellsworth Air Force Base have a special connection to this history. 

The base trained B-17 crews for service during the war.  

Colonel David Doss is the current commander of the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth. He says the stories of those who’ve served have  important relevance today.  

“Our Airmen today, and really for every generation proceeding World War II stands on the shoulders of the giants that is Morry Crow and the many thousands and thousands and thousands of people just like him.” 

Doss says while technology and equipment changes, airmen and women serve today  for many of the same reasons Morry Crow did. 

Doss sees keeping that connection of service as vital to future generations. 

John Mollison is the Communications Director for the Air and  Space museum.  He says the mission to  preserve  these stories is  urgent. 

He compares the loss of a member of the Greatest  Generation to the burning of a library. 

“When these veterans pass, if their stories aren’t checked out they go up in smoke and it truly is, not only an honor, but it’s a duty for all of us to make sure that when we meet our elders, who’ve been part of important moments and important times, that we download them, that we listen to them, that we learn from them and apply them to the future.”

Mollison says that sense of humility and duty can make it hard to catalogue veteran’s  experiences  because many  aren’t looking for fame. 

Often,  it’s the veteran’s loved ones who help preserve their legacy.  

Kamala Brennick says Morry Crow is a long time family friend. She sees him as a surrogate grandfather . 

Brennick says he would rarely talk about his time in the war. 

“I remember finding a part of the parachute, maybe some pictures and he would never talkr about it. He just said ‘Yes, I was in the war.’ I think a lot of it was guilt, that he made it home and his – his crew didn’t. I remember people would say ‘Oh! You are a hero.’ and he would say ‘No, I’m not the hero. The ones that died over there are the true heroes.’”

But  over time Crow opened up about his service.  After Brennick  found an old scrap book his mother created, she was determined to preserve those memories. 

“Finally then, Morry would sit down and we did start talking through it, and he would explain the pictures and the articles. We found – he thought he had lost his purple heart and his distinguished flying cross medal and we found them in the bottom of a drawer one time and he said ‘I will never be without these again.’ So I made a shadow box and that shadow box sits in his apartment.”

Brennick sees Crow’s experiences as a window into a different time and way of viewing the world. 

She says there was a sense of determination and personal duty that many today  may not understand. 

“I have kids that are in their mid 20’s and – you know – my son says ‘Mom, I don’t think I could have done what Morry did,’ and I was like ‘You’re right.’ We just – you know, the sacrifices that they made for us are so important and I think we take it for granted. We live in such a different world. Not a bad world, but just such a different world.”

Brennick says after learning about his military service and experiences in combat, her family has a whole new picture of their longtime friend.  

She says these days they appreciate spending time together when they can. Morry Crow finds pleasure in the simple things like a cold drink on the porch or a game of cards with friends.