Chief Joseph W. Morgan was born to William and Sarah Morgan on March 9, 1891. He was a native St. Louisan who had civil defense in his blood with his father serving as a Fire Lieutenant and both sons following in his footsteps as Fire Chiefs. He was married to Marie Leonard and had one daughter, Lorraine and two sons, William and Joseph. The family lived at 4317 Wallace Street in the Bevo Mill Neighborhood.
Chief Morgan joined the St. Louis Fire Department in 1913 at the age of 22. He advanced his career the hard way through work and meritorious performance of duties. After serving his country in World War I as Fire Chief Inspector in Funston, Kansas, he rejoined the St. Louis Fire Department. In 1921 he was elevated to Lieutenant and assigned to Engine Company Number 41 located at Eleventh and Lucas Avenue. Two years later he was promoted again to command an Engine Company at Twelfth and
Spruce after receiving the highest rating ever achieved in a Fire Captain Efficiency Board examination. At the request of Mayor Becker, Morgan was appointed Fire Chief in July 1941.
His accomplishments were many and laid the ground work for practices used today within the Fire Department. Listed below are several of his most worthy endeavors:
of a fallen hero. He was later buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
Chief Morgan was a true St. Louis hero and his legacy should be preserved for eternity.
“The memory of such a man should long be honored in the community not only out of gratitude, but as an inspiration to others. And in the case of Chief Morgan, an especially fitting memorial suggests itself at once.”
- Editorial - The St. Louis Star Times - March 24, 1943
By any objective measure, January thru March 1943, ranks amongst the most important three month period in American history in the twentieth century. Overseas, several epic battles took place that would later turn the tide in favor of the Allies in World War II. Domestically, historic events and happenstances conspired to make this ninety day period truly remarkable indeed.
As the calendar turned from 1942 to 1943, the initial enthusiasm experienced by a nation thrust into war gave way to the horror and grim reality of the consequences of engagement. In the European Theater, one of the bloodiest sieges in the history of warfare, the Battle of Stalingrad, ground to a halt on February 6. The six month conflict left in its wake a casualty total of an estimated 1.8 million military and civilian deaths. Although Hitler’s war machine would remain a potent force for months to come, the German army never fully recuperated from the catastrophic loss of man and machine suffered on the eastern front.
In the Pacific Theater, U.S. air, naval and ground troops led allied forces in their first major strategic offensive assault on Japanese combatants. This heroic six month struggle in the mountainous and jungle terrain of the Solomon Islands would later be known as the Battle of Guadalcanal, and would serve as a harbinger for latter day military engagements in Korea and Vietnam. In the skirmish at Guadalcanal, U.S. troops fought off pestilence and disease, and frequently engaged the enemy in nighttime hand-to-hand combat. On February 9, allied military forces declared the island of Guadalcanal secure, but not before over 40,000 belligerents died, sixty seven naval ships destroyed, and over 1,400 aircraft lost.
At home, America’s thirst for visual images of world events and the conflicts overseas were sated by newsreels presented at motion pictures theaters. Five minute long film segments consisting of footage flown in from across the globe appeared as documentary ‘shorts’ shown at theaters prior to the screening of main feature films. And while newsreels captured images of war, as well as President Roosevelt’s historic eleven day meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Casablanca in January 1943, in less tempestuous times, those newsreels might have recorded other historically significant events that took place in the first ninety days of 1943.
In the field of entertainment, on January 23, Duke Ellington broke the color barrier by becoming one of the first individuals of color to appear as a headliner at Carnegie Hall in New York. On February 6, a young singer from across the Hudson River in Hoboken New Jersey, Frank Sinatra, began his meteoric rise to stardom with his initial appearance on the iconic radio program, “Your Hit Parade.”
In sport, on February 12, baseball star and future Hall of Fame outfielder, Joe DiMaggio, the son of immigrant parents labeled as “enemy aliens” by the U.S. government, enlisted into the US Army. To fill the entertainment void left by servicemen departing to go overseas to serve in the military, on February 20, P.K. Wrigley and Branch Rickey chartered the nation’s first All-American Girls Softball League.
In military-related news, on January 5, William H Hastie resigned his position as civilian aide to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, in protest over the continued segregation of armed forces in the military. Ten days later, on January 15, construction workers completed work on the world’s largest office building, an odd-shaped building in Arlington County VA that would later be known as the Pentagon.
Elsewhere overseas, in Africa, during the first eighty days of 1943, Allied troops in Africa, fresh off their November defeat of German troops at El Alamein, and a February battle at the Kasserine Pass, continued their tenacious pursuit of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. By mid-February, the tide on the Allies’ military endeavor in North Africa turned when soldiers from the U.S. 18th Army Group, and the elite English 8th Army, outflanked the Desert Fox at the Mareth defensive line on the Tunisian border. Left with little military machinery, dwindling supplies, and physically depleted troops, on March 9, Field Marshal Rommel relinquished his post as commander, and returned to the Homeland, citing personal health concerns. Less than two months later, the last remaining remnants of the Armeegrupe Afrika surrendered to Allied forces
Seemingly everywhere, chaos, death, destruction and abject suffering was the order of the day. On February 5, a disaster in Mine #3 in Bearcreek Montana, claimed the lives of seventy four coal miners. Several weeks later, 173 civilians perished in London, during an air strike by the Luftwaffe. Although an assassination attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler ended in failure on February 26, to the north in Poland, Hitler’s grand design dubbed “The Final Solution” continued to run its macabre course, and on March 5 1943, Nazi officially declared the Krakow Ghetto “liquidated” of Jews.
It is against this historic backdrop that the tragic events of March 20 1943 played out.
At 8:30 that morning, the phone rang at the south-side home of St. Louis Fire Chief Joseph W. Morgan. Earlier that day, a general alarm fire had broken out in north St. Louis, and Chief Morgan was notified that a driver was being dispatched to the Morgan home on Wallace near Morganford to pick up the Chief to transport him to the scene of the fire. The journey to that blaze was to be his final mission.