BY DUANE A. VACHON PH.D. – If you were born and raised in Oklahoma in the 1950’s and were black, careers and jobs were sort of thin on the ground. Maybe if you could find something in the fields or, if you got lucky, some kind of trade. There was one other choice, join the military.
In 1959, Morris thought he would try out the Army and signed up with the Oklahoma Army National Guard. He must have liked it because he soon made the decision to go full time with the Army. Shortly after he asked to join the active duty Army. It clearly was the right decision as that is where he spent the next 22 years, retiring with the rank of sergeant first class.
“Being in the military was better than being in trouble,” he said recently “There wasn’t that much work.”
Morris has been married for 51 years to his wife Mary and they have two sons and a daughter. Both of the sons have served in the military one in the Army and the other in the Air Force. His daughter Jennifer works in the medical field.
Sharing a little bit of Morris’s story is a double honor for me. As one who writes about Medal of Honor recipients every week it’s always nice to write about one who shared the Vietnam experience as I did. Secondly, having worked with Special Forces a couple of times during my tour in Vietnam, I have the greatest respect and admiration for them. Morris was one of the first to wear the Green Beret and that makes him extra special in my eyes.
He twice volunteered for duty in Vietnam.
In 1969, Morris was a staff sergeant serving as an adviser to “civilian irregular defense forces.” On September 17, 1969 they were on a search and destroy mission near Chi Lang.
“We moved out that day, moving across a rice field,” he said. “We came to the village. An old lady was singing, and there was no activity in the village.”
The eerie quiet drew suspicion, then the troops heard gunfire in the distance. Then came a call that the commander with a nearby company had been shot three times. A subsequent firefight led to more casualties. Two soldiers were left unscathed among the Special Forces, Morris and a specialist.
“It was only five of us advisers, two were wounded and one killed,” he said. “I knew I had to go and recover his body. You don’t leave a soldier behind.”
Morris took two volunteers to get the body of the sergeant. Both the volunteers were wounded. He assisted them back to the line of the main forces.
“I took two bags of hand grenades, I threw hand grenade after hand grenade,” he said.
He went back alone to recover the body and retrieve the maps and documents the commander was carrying.
“He said, ‘Doc, I’m going to go get him,’ ” said J.C. Glynn, a medic in the unit who was there with Morris at the time. “Nobody goes into war thinking they are going to be a hero.”
Morris again charged into enemy fire to approach the nearest enemy bunker, throwing grenades into it. As his men laid a base of suppressive fire, he neared the position of the team leader’s body. When a machine gun emplacement directed fire at him, he annihilated the position with hand grenades and continued his assault, eliminating three additional bunkers. Driving the enemy from the entrenchment nearest the fallen team leader, he retrieved his comrade and started to his troops’ position.
As he neared his strike force position he was shot three times, in the right chest, in the right arm and left hand, leaving his ring finger almost severed. He also retrieved a case with maps and documents that could have given the enemy an advantage had it fallen into their hands.
Morris received the Distinguished Service Cross — the Army’s second-highest commendation — for his actions that day.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Detachment A-403, Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces. Staff Sergeant Morris distinguished himself while serving as commander of a strike force on a mission north and east of Chi Lang. Sister companies of his battalion had encountered an extensive enemy mine field and were subsequently engaged by a hostile force. By radio Sergeant Morris learned that a fellow team commander had been killed and had fallen near an enemy bunker. Immediately reorganizing the strike forces into an effective assault posture, he advanced them and then moved out with two men to recover the body. Observing the maneuver, the hostile force concentrated their fire and wounded both men accompanying Sergeant Morris. After he assisted the two back to the lines of the main force, he again charged into the hail of fire to approach the nearest enemy bunker, throwing grenades into it. As his men laid a base of suppressive fire, he neared the position of the team leader’s body. When a machine gun emplacement directed it strafing fusillade at him, he annihilated the position with hand grenades and continued his assault, eliminating three additional bunkers. Driving the enemy from the entrenchment nearest the fallen team leader, he retrieved his comrade and started to his troop’s position. As he neared the strike force he was wounded three times, but he struggled forward until he brought his fallen comrade to the friendly position. Staff Sergeant Morris’ extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest tradition of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Morris received the Distinguished Service Cross (this award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor on March 18, 2014.
// Barack Obama // President
There are thousands of men and women seemingly just like Melvin Morris in America today.
Men and women of a certain age who have served their country in both war and peace.
Many of them have aches and pains that often come with advancing years. Many also suffer from wounds received not only with the pains of advancing years, but also from wounds received in such places as St. Lo, the Chosin Reservoir or Khe Sanh. There are some that can be found at the local VFW or American Legion halls; however, there are many others that have never joined a veterans organization. Sometimes only a ball cap bearing a military patch gives them away.
Having said that, there are very few like Melvin Morris, a 72-year-old retired Army sergeant first class who lives in Port St. John Florida.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.