Jack Klasey: Frank Morgan, WWII Local Hero

May 19, 2019

In spring 1941 Frank Morgan, of Kankakee, was shipping stockings for the Bear Brand Hosiery Co. In spring 1944, he was capturing German soldiers in Italy for the U.S. Army.

On May 23, 1944, a Chicago Tribune story on fighting between Allied and German forces near the coastal town of Terracina included a paragraph noting, “Prisoners were taken by an outfit commanded by Lt. Col. Frank Morgan, 321 S. Fourth Avenue, Kankakee, Ill.”

Morgan’s hometown newspaper, the Kankakee Republican-News, treated his exploit more extensively, stretching the headline “Kankakeean captures 200 Nazis” across its front page. The accompanying article read:

“An American army unit commanded by Lt. Col. Frank H. Morgan of Kankakee happened to be in the neighborhood yesterday just in time to hit the jackpot and nab over 200 German prisoners. His outfit, known as Morgan’s Doughboys, is fighting with the 5th army troops near Terracina, Italy, where the Germans counter-attacked yesterday after the Americans had partly taken the town.”

Morgan’s unit was advancing along a mountain road north of Terracina when soldiers from Germany’s 29th Panzer Grenadiers unit emerged from a tunnel through the mountain. They offered little resistance and were captured quickly. “There was some fuss, but they paraded out of the tunnel at just the right time,” one of Morgan’s officers told a reporter.

The German unit was being rushed from northern Italy to strengthen the defenses of Terracina against Allied attack. “The German high command has thrown all its reserves into a desperate effort to halt the Allied drive toward Rome,” reported the Tribune, “but the Allied armies smashed ahead again today all along the front.”

Two days later, Morgan and his unit were mentioned again in a Chicago Tribune report on the fierce fighting that led up to driving the Germans out of Terracina. “United States infantrymen smashed through deep-dug German defenses in the tombs and crypts of Cemetery Hill before Terracina, despite heavy mortar and machine gun fire, and captured this large coastal highway town today. The victory climaxed a three-day battle. ... Troops of Lt. Col. Frank Morgan, of Kankakee, Ill., led the march into town down the Corriere Della Sera — Street of the Night.”

The fighting in Italy would continue for almost another year. Rome, the capital city, was captured by Gen. Mark Clark’s 5th Army (which included Morgan’s Doughboys) June 4, 1944. Allied troops pushed northward in Italy as German forces continued their fighting retreat until May 8, 1945, when the war in Europe ended.

Frank Morgan’s war had actually begun nine months before the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A lieutenant in Kankakee’s Company L of the Illinois National Guard, he was called to active duty in March, 1941. The following year, he was assigned to the 85th Infantry Division, then training in Mississippi. Morgan was promoted to captain in late 1941, and to the rank of major two years later.

By the time his unit joined the fighting in Italy in March 1944, he had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and commanded the 337th Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion. During World War II, Morgan was awarded a Silver Star Medal for valor in combat and a Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf clusters.

He returned to Kankakee after the war and was reunited with his wife Beatrice and two children, Shirley and Jerry. He also resumed his career with Bear Brand Hosiery Co., where he had begun working at the age of 17. When Morgan retired in 1975 after 48 years with Bear Brand, he was the firm’s packaging consultant, based in Fayetteville, Ark.

In retirement, he was an active member of both the Retired Army Officers Association and Kankakee’s American Legion Post 85. Including both his active duty with the U.S. Army during World War II and his time as a member of the Illinois National Guard, Morgan had spent more than 20 years in the military. He retired with the rank of colonel.

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