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CDR George Edward "Ted" Morris, Jr. Retired Coast and Geodetic Survey

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George Morris (in uniform)The following is a living-history interview with Commander Morris concerning his experiences in World War Two. It was conducted by Ted A. Morris and Ted A. Morris, Jr., on October 30, 1994 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Commander Morris is the brother of Ted Morris' father. The interview was edited to eliminate the interviewers' questions, place details in their proper chronological order, and to make minor corrections for the sake of clarity. Otherwise, the words are those of Commander Morris.

Commander Morris was born to George Edward Morris of Minnesota, and Isabel Mavor Scott of Ontario, April 5, 1906, in Regina, Saskatchewan during a family stay in that area. The family returned to Minnesota, where Commander Morris attained the rank of Eagle Scout in 1925 and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1927 with a degree in Civil Engineering. He joined the U.S. Coast Survey after graduation, because, he said, "It paid twice as much ( $2,000 per year) than any other job I could get." He was married December 26, 1932 to Katherine Schroeder of Washington D.C.

Following several assignments, including peninsular Alaska, where he surveyed portions of the Inner Passage and Glacier Bay, he and his family were assigned to the Philippines in March, 1939. Their son Scott was born at Sternberg Hospital in Manila on November 19, 1941, the last American to be born there before the Japanese invasion. "Kay" and the children, Scott and three-year old Mary Ann, were captured by the Japanese in Manila. When Scott turned one-year old, they were interned in Santo Tomas Concentration Camp until liberated by American Forces in February, 1945.

Commander Morris was captured by the Japanese on Corregidor when it fell on May 9, 1941, and was held as a prisoner of war in the Philippines, at Mojii, Japan, and Inchon, Korea. He was liberated by American forces in September of 1945 at Inchon. He was reunited with his family at Washington in November, 1945.

After the war, Commander Morris continued service in the Coast and Geodetic Survey, including a tour surveying the country of Liberia. He retired from the Coast Survey in 1958, and taught college mathematics in St. Petersburg, Florida until 1974. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and is a member of patriotic organizations including the National Order of the World Wars, and Sons of the American Revolution, and volunteers his time at Bay Pines Veterans' Center in St. Petersburg.

 

Well, what would you like to hear first of all? I'm George E. Morris, Jr., and was a Lieutenant, Senior Grade, with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey out in the Philippines in December, 1941. When the war broke, I was Executive Officer of the ship "Research." There were two Coast Survey ships in the Philippines at the time, the "Fathomer" and the "Pathfinder." The "Research" originally was called the "Pathfinder," and it was built in '98 for Alaska. The Coast Survey built a newer ship they wanted to call "Pathfinder," so the old ship became the "Research." The "Research" was a two-masted sailing schooner. It had been built with the idea of operating in cold weather and had a big tumblehome. The only thing above the upper deck was the pilot house. Everything else was below decks. When I first went out to the islands in '29 and '30 the ship had been in the Philippines for some time, and the masts were still there and the booms were still in place. When I went back in '39, the booms had been replaced with strongbacks which were used for stretching awning over to keep the sun off the deck to make it a little cooler down below.

It was a good-sized, steel-hulled ship; we had a crew of 80 men and nine officers. Except for myself, the commanding officer and the engineer, they were all Filipino. We had seven or eight Filipino cadets on the crew who were training to take over our operations when the Philippines gained its independence.

We had an annual repair season for the ships when we completed minor repairs, and we were in Manila for winter repairs. We were at what was called Engineer Island, which had one of the best machine shops in the Philippines, run by the Philippine government. We'd haul out the ship, clean the bottom and make any hull repairs which were necessary. Principally, we'd complete any engine room repairs that required machine shop repairs that we couldn't handle aboard ship.

There were five officers with the Coast Survey there in Manila at the time: Captain Cowie, Lieutenant Commanders Egner and Shaw, Lieutenant Junior Grade Stirni, and myself

Captain Cowie was killed in a bombing raid early in the war. The Coast Survey had the only copy of the nautical almanac in the Philippine Islands for the coming year, and Captain Cowie had made arrangements with the Philippine government printing office to duplicate this for the use of the Navy. The day he was killed, he wanted me to go with him to get these duplicates. We each had an official car and a driver. We got these cars by going into the car dealers and taking the cars and giving them a slip of paper for it. We used the cars to go running all over town doing different errands. I didn't see much use to the errands, though I suppose we were making a showing to the public that we were doing something. Anyway, I asked Captain Cowie, "What should I do with my car?" He said "Well, you'd better keep your car." And so I didn't go with him. They bombed the building that the printing room was in while he was in there, and he was killed.

Lieutenant Commander Egner, as the ranking officer, then took charge of the Coast Survey there in the Philippines. When Egner moved up to director, I moved up to Commanding Officer of the "Research." Lieutenant Commander Charley Shaw was in Stotsenberg Hospital there in Manila. He had been down in Jolo and got tangled up with a native and cut up. Lieutenant Junior Grade Stirni was aboard the "Research."

After Christmas, the Japanese began bombing Manila, and a small bomb hit the launch we had moored alongside the' gangway of the "Research." The launch caught fire, but fortunately the standby crew aboard the Research was able to put the fire out, and the only damage was from where the fire had warped some of the side plates. We inspected very carefully below the waterline and could find no leaks.

During the night after this bombing, I was at home in our apartment in Manila, and one of the crew members came and said that the Army had given them orders to take the ship out, either to Corregidor or into deep water and scuttle it. So I went down to the ship. We just had the nightwatch crew aboard at the time, about one third of the crew. We were under power from the pier, so we got up steam and I took the ship out and cruised slowly down Manila Bay waiting for daylight to cross over to Corregidor.

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