WILMINGTON NC (WWAY) — He may be 92 years old, but Morton Salk still gets choked up when he talks about why he enlisted in the military.
“To pay back at least a part of the gratitude I have for what this country did for my parents,” Salk said.
The son of Russian immigrants, Salk proudly entered the Air Force. During World War II, he was there on the frontlines as a bombardier, but it was by chance that he wound up on a mission to bomb an airfield in Hankow, China, which was already taken over by the Japanese.
Salk was in one of seven planes that left that morning. The pilot of Salk’s plane was fatally wounded, the co-pilot had shrapnel in his face, and he lost consciousness and couldn’t fly. Nine people on a plane with no one in control.
“Someone had to fly it, so I got into the left seat and used those two hours of on-the-job training,” Salk said. “The first thing was to keep it in the air, obviously. The second thing was find out where we were, because during this firefight of 45 minutes we didn’t know where we were.”
After about 20 minutes, though, the co-pilot recovered enough to take over, and they landed safely. Four of the other planes did not.
Over the years Salk never thought much about what he did that day. Then, a year ago, while family was in town, Salk relived that battle.
“They said, ‘My God. You oughta get a Medal of Honor for that.’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t think so.’ Anyhow, they took it seriously,” Salk said.
Family members wrote letters to lawmakers, and friends got involved, but there’s a roadblock.
“I said, ‘oh, I don’t have any eyewitnesses,’ but at some point logic must take over,” Salk said.
There is no one alive to substantiate what he did. Not surprising, since only a handful of people survived the mission that took place 68 years ago.
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) was notified of the effort to get Salk the Medal of Honor. Monday Salk received a letter of commendation from her office. It will go along with some of the other medals and accolades he received during his 27 years in the service. But something is still missing: a medal to honor a hero; an honor many feel is long overdue.
After Salk retired from the military, he worked at the Pentagon for another 27 years.
Rep. Mike McIntyre has been notified about this effort. We will keep you updated.