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Killed over Borneo

October 23, 2019
Ted Heineman , The Town Crier

The following story involves an Air Force Lieutenant by the name of Henry Grant Morse who was killed over Borneo during World War Two. He was related to Turhand Kirtland who was the founder of Poland Village.

It was 4 a.m. on May 2, 1945 that three planes of the U.S. Army's 69th Bombardment Squadron were sitting on the runway revving up their engines for takeoff. Each B-25 pilot and five crew members had received briefing on their mission over the Japanese held Island of Borneo. The planes would takeoff and fly south along 300 miles of the northeastern coast of Borneo to the seaport city of Karakan. There the bombers would drop leaflets telling the Japanese soldiers to surrender and then fly west at tree top level for another hundred miles up the Malinau River to the City of Malinau. The mission target was the large oil storage tanks located at Malinau. These oil tanks presented a threat to the Allied Forces fighting in the jungles of south Borneo. With the morning sun just above the horizon it would be difficult for the Japanese to see the bombers approaching the target.

At 10:15 a.m. the three B-25 bombers climbed to 1,000 feet to make their bombing attack on the target. Pilot Lt. Rankin reported in a brief radio message that he was beginning his bombing run. After that message Lt. Rankin and his plane disappeared. The remaining two planes in the squadron circled for an hour over the target area without finding the missing B-25 and its crew. With fuel running low the search was abandoned and the two planes headed back to their base in the Philippines.

Article Photos

2d Lieutenant Henry G. Morse

Hours passed but no word was received of the missing plane or of its crew. The Base Commander declared the six men as missing in action and notified the airmen's relatives. The crew consisted of Radio Operator Sgt. Charles Burnette, Copilot 2/Lt. William Butler, Gunner Sgt. Harry Haugen, Navigator and Bombardier 2/Lt. Henry Morse, Engineer Cpl. Fred Pfau, and Pilot 2Lt. Charles Rankin, Jr.

In 1949 the wreckage of the missing B-25 bomber was discovered partially submerged in a jungle swamp near the City of Malinau. Military experts were sent to search the wreckage for the missing crew. The airmen's remains were recovered and shipped back to the United States. Being impossible at that time to identify each of the six crew members, they were buried in a common grave in the Zackary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.

However, this story does not end in a Kentucky cemetery but in the Poland Riverside Cemetery. It is here that the Veterans Administration placed a memorial headstone for Lieutenant Henry G. Morse. There is no mention of Lt. Morse's death in any local or county records. The Lieutenant's name does not appear on Poland's American Legion War Monument honoring all who died in American wars. Lieutenant Henry Morse remained unknown until Dave Smith, a member of the Poland Historical Society, started checking the genealogical records of the Morse Family of Poland, Ohio. He found that Lt. Henry Morse was related to Turhand Kirtland, the founder of Poland. In 1818, Elkanah Morse married Nancy Kirtland, the daughter of Turhand Kirtland. Also, Smith's research showed that the 23-year-old Lieutenant grew up in New Jersey and attended college in Oklahoma before joining the Army Air Force.

Today his memory is preserved on a small headstone in the Poland Riverside Cemetery next to the headstones of his parents and other members of the Morse family. The headstone simply reads Lt. Henry G. Morse, born July 24, 1921, "Killed over Borneo" on May 2, 1945.



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