"Courage is the best virtue. Without courage, then all the other virtues aren't worth anything at all."
• Geoffrey Morley-Moyer (above with Ray Duke), presenting the World War II diary of R.A.F. Flight Lt. Lewis Malone to his surviving nephew and great-niece at the R.A.F. Club in England, Aug. 8, 2002
One last mission
WORLD WAR II ROYAL AIR FORCE reconnaissance pilot Geoffrey Morley-Mower returned to England for one final mission.
The JMU English professor gained worldwide media attention when he traveled home to London to return the wartime diary of his flight commander to the dead airman's family. The tattered diary had passed from one member of the squadron to another over the years, and Morley-Mower - with help from historical researcher Ray Duke - was the first to try to track down the family of Flight Lt. Lewis Fry "Molly" Malone, who was killed in action in North Africa in 1941.
Duke located two of Malone's nephews, Tim and Michael Malone, and Morley-Mower met with them at the Royal Air Force Club in London. He told the two, "We made tremendous bonds with the people we were fighting with - good chaps who were all prepared to die."
Morley-Mower retains the dash and personal charm that led him to bluff his way into the R.A.F. in 1937, survive campaigns against the Wazirs of India and, later, to take on Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps in the skies over Egypt and Libya. While he readily talks about his combat assignments - the decorated war hero has published two compelling books about his exploits - he has, like most veterans who have seen more than their share of death and destruction, a tendency to minimize his own achievements. The decorated war hero received the Winston Churchill Finest Hour Award, presented by the Churchill Society last September.
"The job of a reconnaissance pilot was, of course, to gather information on enemy troop and equipment positions and movements," Morley-Mower says. "In order to do that, you had to fly slowly, often at low altitudes, and all the while hope you weren't shot down."
Unlike much more heralded fighter pilots, reconnaissance men couldn't just peel out of the way of danger and do battle from another angle. They had to stay a slow and steady course while the sky around them filled up with molten murder. Such work demanded unflagging resolve and nerves of steel.
"I volunteered for these revolting assignments because they forced me to be unflinching," says Morley-Mower. "The trick to combating fear was to keep flying."
After receiving the Finest Hour Award from King George VI at Buckingham Palace, Morley-Mower shared with the gathering of more than 100 people - including representatives of the Churchill family - the moment he knew he would willingly throw himself into the maelstrom of war. "I was listening to the radio - in India, in September 1940, 21 years of age - as Churchill made his great speech stirring the nation after Dunkirk and our lone struggle until Dec. 7, 1941. A passage is written on my heart. Hearing it, I said - like so many other people - 'OK, I'll die for my country.'
"That was what it was meant to do. It worked. That was Churchill's gift, to lead a nation into a terrible sacrifice. This is the passage that I remember: 'Here, in this strong city of refuge, whose walls enshrine the title deeds of human pro-gress, we await undismayed the impending assault. Be the trial long, or sharp, or both, we shall make no terms. We shall tolerate no parley. We may give mercy. We shall ask for none.'"
By Charles Culbertson