Good Life

State College veteran honored by France for World War II service

World War II veteran Morton Kimmel discusses the medals he’s received on Dec. 5 at The Village at Penn State. He was recently awarded the French Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
World War II veteran Morton Kimmel discusses the medals he’s received on Dec. 5 at The Village at Penn State. He was recently awarded the French Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. psheehan@centredaily.com

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day — more so, if you’re in the middle of fighting World War II.

Morton Kimmel and the other gentlemen of the 8th Air Force’s 94th Bombardment Group quickly figured out that the degree of difficulty they would experience over the proceeding 24 hours was directly proportional to the quality of the eggs on their plate.

The powdered stuff meant business as usual, but if somebody went to the trouble of actually cracking open a couple of shells, well ...

“If they served us fresh eggs we knew it was going to be a tough mission,” Kimmel said.

If they served us fresh eggs we knew it was going to be a tough mission.

Morton Kimmel

These are the kinds of lessons that a fresh-faced kid from Philadelphia learned in the European theater. Kimmel was no more than 20 years old when he joined the war effort.

Like every other red-blooded American youth, he wanted to see the world. They sent him to Atlantic City.

“I enlisted because I wanted to get my choice of service. I wanted to fly,” Kimmel said.

And after some training, fly he did.

Between 1942 and 1945, Kimmel and his unit undertook 36 missions over enemy territory. He was a bombardier, and when an armed bomb fails to deploy from the aircraft at 23,000 feet ... Well, it’s the kind of thing that tends to stick with a fellow.

Life-threatening technical glitches aside, the breadth and depth of Kimmel’s recollections remains impressive, especially for a 93-year-old.

Other things have started to go — vision, hearing, hair — but he has fiercely guarded his memories against decay. Kimmel tucked them away, one by one, inside the pages of a journal.

There’s a detailed entry on file for each of the 36 missions he flew.

“It enables me to tie it together again in my mind,” Kimmel said.

It enables me to tie it together again in my mind.

Morton Kimmel

Aside from a plastic bag full of bomb pins, they are the only souvenirs the veteran bombardier has from his time on the front lines — although every now and again, someone likes to pay him a new reminder.

In November, Kimmel was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest distinction, for his service during the war. Chances are it will fit in nicely with the case of medals already hanging on his wall.

“It felt kind of strange because it was 70 years later,” Kimmel said.

Even without the benefit an in-depth comparison between The Village at Penn State and other points on the globe, it still seems safe to say that Kimmel is about as far away from the European theater as possible.

Fortunately the past is still well within reach.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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