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|VICENZA, Italy (March 20, 2014) -- Tuesday was a day unlike any other day for Sgt. 1st Class Frederick Hinton from U.S. Army Africa's Logistics Directorate. It's the day President Barack Obama awarded his biggest hero, who just happens to be his uncle, retired Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, the distinguished Medal of Honor.
Morris said he couldn't believe it when President Barack Obama called him to tell him he would be receiving the Medal of Honor.
"I actually got a call the day before telling me that a high-ranking official wanted to speak to me and that they'd be calling the next day at 12:30 (p.m.)," Morris said. "The first thing that came to my mind is oh my God, what have I done?" Morris said as he laughed.
When the phone rang the following day, Morris said he almost fell out of his chair when he heard the voice on the other end of the line.
"He said, 'This is President Obama, and I want to apologize for you not receiving the Medal of Honor 44 years ago,'" said Morris, now 72, and living in Florida. "I was in disbelief, in shock and almost fell to my knees, and he said, 'Be cool. Be cool. It's alright. We just want to make this right and you're going to be receiving the Medal of Honor,' and that was about the end of the conversation."
WHY THE ARMY?
When asked why he joined the Army, Morris said he had an uncle he was very impressed with who was a 'smoke jumper' with the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. Also known as the Triple Nickles, the 555th Parachute Inf. Bn. was an all-black airborne unit of the U.S. Army during World War II.
"I grew-up wanting to be an airborne Soldier," Morris said. "I used to look at him in his uniform and I was impressed by that, plus my brother was a Korean War vet and I felt the same way about him. It just felt like something I wanted to part of as a young child, so as soon as I was old enough, I joined the National Guard and then I asked them to release me so I could join the Army, and I stayed there until I retired after 22 years -- the Army's a great place," he said.
Morris spoke of many lessons he learned in the Army that he has carried with him throughout his life.
"I went to basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., back in 1959, and there were a lot of Soldiers with 'old school' ideas out of Korean War, who instilled discipline in you -- Honor, Duty, Country -- and I stuck with that and the discipline to just do the right thing when you're supposed to do them," Morris said. "I feel like I was blessed to have had that type of leadership, but at the same time you still have that leadership value. I had a call from one of my assistants from years back thanking me for instilling discipline and values in him, and that he has never forgotten it and wanted to congratulate me on the Medal of Honor and for being such a great mentor to him -- and boy, that felt good," he said.
HONOR, DUTY, COUNTRY -- MORE THAN JUST WORDS
Morris is being recognized for his valorous actions on Sept. 17, 1969, while commanding the 3rd Company, 3rd Battalion, of the 4th Mobile Strike Force, near Chi Lang, Vietnam. According to his biography, Morris led an advance across enemy lines to retrieve a fallen comrade and single-handedly destroyed an enemy force that had pinned his battalion from a series of bunkers. He was shot three times as he ran back toward friendly lines with the American casualties, but did not stop until he reached safety.
"There were only five of us advisers, two were wounded and one killed, and I knew I had to go and recover his body, because you don't leave a Soldier behind," he said. "I took two volunteers to get the body of the sergeant and they were both wounded, so I helped them back. I took two bags of hand grenades, and threw hand grenade after hand grenade, then went back alone to recover the body and retrieve the maps and documents the commander was carrying."
Although one of 24 Hispanic, Jewish and African American veterans overlooked for the Medal of Honor because of their ethnicity, the humble Morris said he never thought anything about it.
"I was award the Distinguished Service Cross in 1970, and 30 days after that I was back in Vietnam because I had volunteered to go back," Morris said. "Afterwards, I came back and just continued to do my duty as a Soldier. I never worried about it then or today and I feel like I got what I deserved, but I am glad that they decided to take a re-look, because there are many deserving Soldiers right now and I hope the re-look continues so after they finalize this, from now on Soldiers won't fall into that pit of being overlooked."
MORRIS OFFERS ADVICE TO TODAY'S SOLDIERS
Morris is very succinct and concise as he offers advice to today's Soldiers.
"Do what you got to do, do what you're told to do, because sometimes you have to make those hard choices, but make the choice and simply 'do what you have to do,'" Morris said. "It's not like civilian life; Soldiers have to do things that no one else will do, so they need to be inspired to do what they have to do."
Morris loves his uniform, what it stands for and is proud that the military tradition is being carried forward within his family, to include his nephew who is serving with U.S. Army Africa.
"He's (Hinton)] is doing the right thing and I am so proud of him," Morris said. "I just got calls from my cousins yesterday; one is a graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, and the other from West Point, and are both retired now and doing well. Also, I have a niece who is a colonel, so I'm just so glad this tradition is being carried on."
Morris received the Distinguished Service Cross that was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, Tuesday. He also received the Bronze Star Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device and one oak leaf cluster, the Army Good Conduct Medal, with one silver loop, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with one silver star, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with numeral 3, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon with numeral 4, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Master Parachutist Badge, the Expert Marksmanship Badge with rifle bar, the Special Forces Tab, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with bronze star, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 60 device, the Vietnam Parachutist Badge, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with palm device, the Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal Citation, First Class.
He retired at Fort Hood, Texas, in May 1985, and currently resides in Florida.
| Distinguished Service Cross Citation
Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris, with Detachment A-403, Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, United States Army, distinguished himself by exceptional and extraordinary gallantry and intrepidity, not involving participation in aerial flight, in connection with military operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, Sept. 17, 1969, while commanding the Third Company, Third Battalion of the IV Mobile Strike Force.
The First and Third battalion of the IV Mobile Strike Force were engaged in a search and clear operation, some five kilometers north and east of Chi Lang, in the IV Corps Tactical Zone. The battalions were deployed with the First and Second Company of each on line, and the Third Company in reserve positions immediately to the read of the main force. Their mission was to sweep an area upon which there was little known intelligence.
Within 15 minutes after leaving the line of departure, the Second Company of the Third Battalion entered a heavily mined and booby-trapped wood line, and suffered four serious casualties. Several minutes later, as the Second Company was removing its casualties to the rear, and attempting to determine the depth and width of the enemy mine field, the First Company, on the right flank of the Second Company, observed three NVA soldiers moving from west to east, across the front of the advancing friendly elements, as if to be evading the Second Company.
Sgt. 1st Class Ronald D. Hagen, the detachments Team Sergeant, and the commander of the First Company, ordered his lead elements to pursue the enemy soldiers, as he himself led the pursuit. The enemy fled into a thick wood line, and as the leading friendly elements entered the wood line, with Hagen in the lead, the enemy initiated a fusillade of fires from a heretofore undiscovered enemy bunker complex. Hagen was immediately wounded, and fell on the top of the most forward bunker. The intensity of the enemy fires was such as to make continued assault impossible, and the friendly forces withdrew. They were unable to retrieve Hagen, whose wounds were serious, and as a result, was unable to move himself.
Capt. Thomas M. Daniels III, the battalion commander, had observed the actions of First Company from his position with the Second Company. Aware of the seriousness of Hagens wounds, and the precariousness of his position, Daniels began to maneuver the Second Company into a flanking position in an effort to reach Hagen. As he moved forward, he was also met with an onslaught of enemy resistance, and also was wounded. Hit in the arm and the mouth, he was completely unable to suppress the enemy fires. However, as he advanced, the enemys fire again struck Hagen, killing him instantly. Unable to continue the advance into the maelstrom of fires, Daniels was forced to order his troops to withdraw, and the rapidly deteriorating situation forced him to call the Third Company forward to reinforce the badly demoralized main elements.
Morris' company had also received some of the enemy fire. Continuously monitoring the radio, he realized that his Team Sergeant had been killed, and that his Team Leader was seriously wounded. He reacted instantly, moving his company into the First and Second Companies, and reorganizing these companies into a fighting force again. Designating several Soldiers to accompany him, Morris began moving up toward the body of his fallen Team Sergeant. There was a lull in the enemy fires, and Morris was able to reach the body and cover it with a poncho. However, as the enemy observed him doing so, they renewed their fires, and two of the men with Morris fell under the barrage. The remainder of those with him withdrew immediately, and Morris was left in a comparably exposed position with the two wounded Soldiers.
Continuously returning the enemy fire, Morris began assisting the wounded Soldiers in crawling back toward the friendly position. Once they reached a secure area, Morris jumped up, and with complete disregard for his own safety, began directing the fires of his elements by running from man to man and physically pointing their fires. Having established a base of fire, Morris again began advancing in a crawl toward Hagen.
Again, the enemy fires were merciless, and many of the Soldiers he had personally positioned began withdrawing. Morris reached an area within several meters of the bunker complex, and from that position, began throwing hand grenades onto the enemy bunkers nearest him. The enemy increased the volume of their fires, and Morris was again forced to withdraw. Returning to the completely demoralized force, Morris, be sheer strength of persuasion, forced the Soldiers to hold their positions. Hand picking his most loyal and dependable Soldiers, Morris requested the volunteer to help recover the body of Hagen. Appealing to them not necessarily as an American commander to his Soldiers, but as one man to another, Morris succeeded in getting together another element to make the attempt.
Again directing a base of fire against enemy positions, Morris began advancing. Realizing the futility of a covered, and thereby slower, advance, Morris began running toward the enemy positions. In retaliation, the enemy again blazed away with extraordinary fire power. As Morris approached the bunker on which the body of Hagen lay, a machine-gun inside the bunker was directed against him. The weapon firing from the port in the bunker was unable to elevate because of the narrowness of the port, and the rounds wet directly between Morris legs. Had he not been rapidly advancing, he would have been cut to pieces by those fires. As a result, however, Morris dove to the side and dropped a hand grenade into the bunker.
Successfully neutralizing the position, Morris was determined to achieve his objective, and realizing the necessity of neutralizing the adjacent enemy position before he could successfully evacuate his dead comrade, Morris began moving from bunker to bunker, using each bunker as cover from the next one, until he had successfully knocked out three of the immediately adjacent bunkers. So fierce was his single-handed attack, as Morris approached one of the bunkers, two NVA soldiers, totally bewildered by his actions, chose to flee the bunker in which they were fighting, rather than face the onslaught of this seemingly half-crazed American.
Morris promptly killed the two enemy soldiers. Single-handedly, Morris had succeeded in reducing the fires that had completely stopped his entire battalion. Remarkably, he had accomplished this improbably objective unscathed. Returning to the body of Hagen, Morris picked up his comrade and began returning to his forces.
However, the engagement was not yet over. As Morris came out of the wood line with Hagen, two enemy bunkers, one on each extremity of the complex, selected him as their singular target. Although the friendly forces were able to observe the firing of these bunkers, and attempted to suppress that fire, the enemy was finally able to stop the only force that had been able to penetrate their defense. Morris was hit in the chest, arm and hand. Although wounded, Morris continued to advance toward his own lines, and succeeded in returning Hagens body, before he collapsed from his efforts.
From the beginning of the encounter, until he was medically evacuated, Morris reacted to each situation with a professionalism, and single-minded determination possessed by few men. Ignoring his personal safety repeatedly, on no less than three occasions he faced insurmountable odds, and finally overcame them. His ability to direct and lead indigenous soldiers into what was for some, certain death, has rarely been equaled. His personal courage was of the highest order, and as a result of his actions, many casualties were avoided.
Morris extraordinary heroism, gallantry and intrepidity in the face of a superior enemy force, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and his determined application to his mission, his steadfast leadership, and his amazing physical accomplishments reflect the greatest of credit upon himself, the Special Forces, and the United States Army.
Citation represents Soldier's rank at time of action
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