Sergeant Morton Carlis (1924–1944)

Morton Carlis circa 1943 (Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware, enhanced using MyHeritage)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Delaware, Pennsylvania, New JerseyShoe company worker
BranchService Number
U.S. Army Air Forces32754502
TheaterUnit
Mediterranean 346th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 99th Bombardment Group (Heavy)
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple HeartEuropean strategic bombing campaign

Early Life & Family

Morton “Morty” Carlis was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 10, 1924. He was the son of Samuel Carlis (1895–1985) and Frances “Fannie” Carlis (née Berger, 1900–1959). His father had been born in Slonim (then in Russia, now Belarus), emigrated to the United States, served stateside in the U.S. Army during World War I, and become a U.S. citizen. Carlis was Jewish.

Morton had an older brother, Alfred Carlis (1920–1982) and a younger sister, Marilyn Carlis (later Shapiro, 1926–1998). The family moved to Pennsylvania after Marilyn’s birth.

The Carlis family was recorded on the census on April 18, 1930, living at 108 West 3rd Street in Chester, Pennsylvania. Samuel Carlis was working as a merchant, and according to his obituary, began working at Berger’s Plumbing & Heating Supplies in Chester the same year. The Carlis family was living at 2425 Upland Street in Chester as of February 5, 1934, when Samuel Carlis applied to Pennsylvania for a bonus for his World War I service. A December 2, 1934, article in The Delmarva Star stated that Morton Carlis was performing in a Chanukah program at the Adas Kodesch Hebrew School in Wilmington. It seems likely that the Carlis family had returned to Wilmington by that point, but it is possible that they just continued to attend synagogue there. Carlis was also listed as participating in a Purim play at another Wilmington congregation, Chesed Shel Emeth, in an article printed in The Sunday Morning Star on February 21, 1937.

By the time of the next census, the family had moved to South Connecticut Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At that time, Samuel Carlis was working as a salesman for a heating stove company. Morton Carlis was listed as having completed one year of high school by that point. His family apparently returned to Pennsylvania soon after, since an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer stated that he graduated from West Philadelphia High School.

By the end of 1942, Morton Carlis had moved back to Delaware to live with his maternal grandparents, Samuel A. Berger (a furniture salesman, 1877–1951) and Elizabeth Berger (née Greenberg, 1882–1964), and their children at 413 McCabe Avenue in Wilmington. When Carlis registered for the draft on December 18, 1942, he was working at the Mary Jane Shoe Company at 709 Market Street in Wilmington. The registrar described him as standing five feet, six inches tall and weighing 128 lbs., with brown hair and eyes.


Military Career

Carlis was drafted. Although his enlistment data card is missing or could not be digitized, a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Military Affairs document stated that Carlis entered the U.S. Army on March 18, 1943. That date is probably accurate, since a March 23, 1943, article in the Wilmington Morning News announced that he was among recent selectees from Wilmington Board No. 2. After a brief period at Fort Dix, New Jersey, he arrived at the U.S. Army Air Forces Miami Beach Training Center in Florida.

Around April 4, 1943, he wrote a letter to Mollye Sklut (1906–2006). A Wilmington woman, Sklut wrote to Delaware’s Jewish servicemen. In turn, their letters to her were printed in a newsletter, the Y Recorder. Private Carlis’s letter read in part:

Mollye this army life is really great, I love it. In 11 days I have gained 10 pounds. Its marvelous. The only thing I don’t like is getting up 4:45 in the morning. […] This place is really beautiful. It looks like something out of a technicolor movie. And the water is so warm it feels like you are taking a bath when you swim.

Morton Carlis, probably in Florida (Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware)

Around April 26, 1943, Carlis wrote to Sklut again:

I have turned in my application for aviation cadet, now I am waiting to be called for my physical and mental examination. It has me on needles and pins. It is the first time I have wanted anything so badly in my life.

Indeed, an article printed in Journal-Every Evening on May 31, 1943, stated that “Following completion of his basic training, Private Carlis will transfer to the aviation cadets as a flying candidate.” As an aviation cadet, he would have trained to become a pilot, bombardier, or navigator. It appears that he did not pass that training, but was able to qualify as an air gunner and radio operator.

Carlis may have been assigned as radio operator to a B-17 crew led by 2nd Lieutenant Robert H. Flake (1920–1944), although all that is certain is that Carlis flew all three of his combat missions with Flake. (See Notes section for more information.) Carlis apparently went overseas to Italy around the fall of 1944, where he was assigned to the 346th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 99th Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the Fifteenth Air Force.

A 346th Bomb group B-17 taking off from Tortorella, Italy (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, National Archives via Fold3)

The 99th Bomb Group had been flying missions in the Mediterranean Theater since March 31, 1943. With the capture of southern Italy, the group moved to Tortorella Landing Ground near Foggia at the end of 1943. That brought targets in Germany and the Balkans into range. On December 16, 1944, the 99th Bomb Group celebrated its 300th mission with separate parties for officers and enlisted men. At the time, men in his unit had to complete 50 combat missions before they could rotate back to the United States.

According to records compiled by the 99th Bomb Group Historical Society, Sergeant Carlis flew three combat missions. Two were part of the Allied oil campaign intended to bring the Nazi war machine to a halt. His first mission took place on December 18, 1944, during a raid against the synthetic oil plant at Odertal, Germany. His aircraft turned back prior to reaching the target, presumably for mechanical reasons. His second mission was against a marshalling yard at Linz, Austria, on December 20, 1944. Antiaircraft fire (flak) was heavy but inaccurate.

99th Bomb Group radio operator training in the fall of 1944 (Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency)
99th Bomb Group enlisted men eating Christmas dinner (Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency)

The 99th Bomb Group’s mess served a turkey dinner on Christmas. The following day, December 26, 1944, Sergeant Carlis and his crew took off from Tortorella in a B-17G (serial number 44-6663). There were 11 men aboard, including a photographer. The target was a synthetic oil plant at Blechhammer, Germany. The mission report stated that although no German fighters intercepted the bombers, “flak was intense, accurate, heavy, both tracking and barrage.”

Shortly after noon, Carlis’s plane was hit by German antiaircraft fire. According to a statement dated December 28, 1944, by an eyewitness, 1st Lieutenant Morris S. Wood:

Just after the target[,] aircraft was evidently hit by flak and its number 2 [left inboard] engine caught on fire.  It pulled out to the right of our formation about 500 yards and flew in that position for about five minutes.

Wood observed what he believed to be a parachute from a member of the crew. The B-17 then

started into a slight dive as though the pilot was trying to blow out the flames.  The dive became steeper until it reached about a 70 degree dive and at about seven thousand feet below us the plane broke [in two] at the ball turret.  As this happened 3 men were thrown clear and their chutes opened.  A few seconds later 2 more chutes came out of the forward section and was possibly the navigator and bombardier.  Just before the aircraft hit the ground and exploded, an object which appeared to be white came out and was probably a chute, although it could have been a piece of wreckage from the plane.

Although Lieutenant Wood thought that as many as seven members of the crew bailed out, there were only two survivors. They were captured but were liberated at the end of the war in Europe.

Polish civilians saw plane crash and burn near Marklowice. The nine Americans killed in the crash were buried in a common grave by Polish civilians at a cemetery in Marklowice on or around December 28, 1944. After the war, on September 5, 1947, Sergeant Steven Dzubnar, an investigator with the F.F.C. Polish Detachment, arrived in Marklowice looking for the bodies of fallen Americans, and was guided to the gravesite by Polish civilians. Sergeant Dzubnar was only able to identify one of the men at the time.

Diagram from Sergeant Carlis’s Individual Deceased Personnel File illustrating the cemetery in Marklowice, Poland, where he and eight others from his crew were buried in 1944 (National Archives)

On November 1, 1947, Sergeant Carlis was buried as an unknown (X-6769) at the U.S. military cemetery in Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgium (Plot FF, Row 1, Grave 15). The only possession recovered from his body was a Silver Dollar. He was subsequently identified from dental records combined with a laundry mark on his drawers listing the last four digits of his service number. His body was disinterred on November 30, 1948, and repatriated to the United States, where his funeral took place at Raphael-Sacks Memorial Chapel in Philadelphia on May 25, 1949. Curiously, although his obituary and a Pennsylvania veteran’s burial card indicate that Sergeant Carlis was to be buried at Montefiore Cemetery in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, his headstone is at the Jewish Community Cemetery in Wilmington, where his parents, siblings, and maternal grandparents were also buried after their deaths.


Crew of B-17G 44-6663 on December 26, 1944

The following list was adopted from Missing Air Crew Report No. 10939 with grade, name, service number, position, and status (killed or captured). 

2nd Lieutenant Robert H. Flake, O-775301 (pilot) – K.I.A.

1st Lieutenant John E. Reese, O-825384 (copilot) – K.I.A.

Flight Officer Harold E. Mitchell, T-129967 (navigator) – K.I.A.

Staff Sergeant Frederick G. Weiss, 11091422 (togglier) – P.O.W.

Sergeant Paul T. Varley, 35610039 (flight engineer) – K.I.A.

Sergeant Sherwood T. Griswold, 19207119 (assistant engineer) – K.I.A.

Sergeant Morton Carlis, 32754502 (radio operator) – K.I.A.

Sergeant Clyde S. Plants, Jr., 33920754 (assistant radio operator) – K.I.A.

Staff Sergeant Marle D. Smith, 37358757 (waist gunner) – P.O.W.

Sergeant Theodore T. Gilson, 32928404 (tail gunner) – K.I.A.

Sergeant Seymour Apt, 33322055 (photographer) – K.I.A.


Notes

Movements & Crew

Unfortunately, there is limited information available about Carlis’s movements. The State of Delaware Public Archives Commission was unable to reach his parents to have a service record filled out. Squadron and group records preserved at the Air Force Historical Research Agency vary widely. Unfortunately, there are no 346th Bomb Squadron records preserved after July 1944, before Carlis joined the unit. 99th Bomb Group records exist for the same period, but are limited, and do not record the arrival or departure of most crews, nor the members of those crews.

Although it is likely that Carlis was a member of 2nd Lieutenant Flake’s regular crew, it is only possible to say with certainty that Carlis was flying Flake during all three of his missions, since substitutions did occur. A newspaper article about Flake, printed in the Arizona Republic on January 16, 1945, indicated that Flake’s B-17 crew training was at Alexandria Army Air Base in Louisiana. The article suggested that Flake went overseas around mid-October 1944.

Photo Enhancement

The photo at the top of this page was digitally enhanced using tools on the genealogy website MyHeritage. This software is useful in instances where the only known photograph is of limited resolution (in this case, because the original print was blurry). I believe this to be an accurate reconstruction, but the software could potentially introduce errors by misinterpreting fuzzy details in the original photograph. A comparison of the original and enhanced versions of the photos can be viewed below. 

Comparison of the original (left) and the product of MyHeritage’s enhancements (right)

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the 99th Bomb Group Historical Society for Sergeant Carlis’s mission records, and to the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware for the use of Carlis’s letters and photographs.


Bibliography

“99th Bomb Group Three Hundred Mission Log.” November 1944. Reel B0200. Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Carlis, Morton. Letter to Mollye Sklut, circa April 4, 1943. Dear Mollye Letters. Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware. https://jhsdelaware.org/collections/digital/scripto/transcribe/191/602#transcription

Carlis, Morton. Letter to Mollye Sklut, circa April 26, 1943. Dear Mollye Letters. Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware. https://jhsdelaware.org/collections/digital/scripto/transcribe/191/604#transcription

“History of the Ninety Ninth Bombardment Group (H) (Including 346th, 347th, 348th, 416th Squadrons) Tortorella, A/D, Italy of the Fifth Bombardment Wing of the Fifteenth Army Air Force.” December 1944. Reel B0200. Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

“Lt. John E. Reese Receives Air Medal.” Wilkes-Barre Record, January 1, 1945. Pg. 14. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88955177/morton-carlis-crew-copilot/

“Lt. R. H. Flake Lost In Action.” Arizona Republic, January 16, 1945. Pg. 5. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88954764/morton-carlis-pilot/

“Machzikow Adas Congregation To Present Program.” The Delmarva Star, December 2, 1934. Pg. 22. https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-10969-510445307/morton-carlis-in-newspaper-name-index-usa-canada#fullscreen

“Missing Air Crew Report No. 10939.” Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. The National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/91101558   

“Mollye Sklut.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/160910142/mollye-sklut

Morton Carlis Individual Deceased Personnel File. National Archives.

“Our Men and Women In Service.” Journal-Every Evening, May 31, 1943. Pg. 14. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88500148/morton-carlis-basic/

Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards, 1777–2012. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau of Archives and History, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1967/images/31501_B018132-00420  

“Samuel A. Berger.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/68106983/samuel-a-berger

“Samuel Carlis.” The Morning News, July 25, 1985. Pg. B3. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88499082/samuel-carlis-obit/

“Sgt Morton Carlis.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/50398153/morton-carlis  

“Sgt. Morton Carlis Rites.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 24, 1949. Pg. 15. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88499739/morton-carlis-obituary/ 

“Temple Beth Emeth 28th Annual Ball At Hotel DuPont Thursday.” The Sunday Morning Star, February 21, 1937. Pg. 11. https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-10969-146127963/morton-carlis-in-newspaper-name-index-usa-canada#fullscreen

“Two Wilmington Boards Announce Newest Draftees.” Wilmington Morning News, March 23, 1943. Pg. 3. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88509604/morton-carlis-drafted/

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4639360_00597

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-02300-00449   

World War I Veterans Service and Compensation File, 1934–1948. Record Group 19, Series 19.91. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg Pennsylvania. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/60884/images/41744_3421606186_1076-02678, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/60884/images/41744_3421606186_1076-02680

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/19403/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_04_00002-00157

Article last updated on November 25, 2021


Last updated on November 25, 2021

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