TULSA, OK (SGT Anthony Jones) – Melvin Morris, having learned a fellow U.S. Army Special Forces team leader had just been killed, gathered a small team together. Fighting men like Morris never leave a fallen comrade behind, even if those left behind are already dead. Within minutes, Morris and his men were fighting for own their lives.
It was 1969 near Chi Lang, Republic of Vietnam and a long way from Okmulgee, Okla., where Morris had enlisted a decade earlier in the Oklahoma National Guard. With enemy machine guns firing directly at the Green Beret, he destroyed four enemy bunkers with hand grenades. Then, after clearing a way through enemy Soldiers to his fallen comrade, he retrieved the Soldier’s body and began the arduous trek back to friendly forces.
While fighting to recover the fallen Soldier’s body, Morris was wounded three times. Two members of his team were also wounded, but Morris and his men had accomplished their mission – they didn’t leave a fallen man behind.
Assigned to 3rd Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Mobile Strike Force, it was during his first tour in Vietnam when he led the advance through enemy lines to recover the fallen Soldier. For his extraordinary and heroic efforts, Morris was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in April 1970.
Some 30 days later, Morris volunteered to return to Vietnam for a second tour.
Life went on after Vietnam and Morris decided to make the military his career. Morris stayed with Special Forces in various positions until 1982 and eventually retired in 1985 while stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.
Some 45 years later after that fateful day, Morris was one of 24 Army veterans presented with the Medal of Honor last March by President Barack Obama after a review of their records determined their previous Distinguished Service Crosses should be upgraded.
“It is great to be honored,” Morris said, who now lives in Florida. “It is overwhelming, but I accept it and I want to carry it the best I can. I understand a lot of people really cherish the idea of a Medal of Honor and they look up to you.”
Before his actions during the September 1969 battle, Morris began his 26-year-long military career with Oklahoma’s famed 45th Infantry Division.
The retired Sgt. 1st Class originally enlisted because of the opportunity it represented. In 1959, Morris’s hometown lacked jobs and the Guard gave him a chance to gain skills that would help him find a job.
“Back then it was hard, the economy wasn’t as great as it is today,” Morris said. “We said three hots, a cot and a paycheck… so I joined the National Guard.”
After serving one year in the Oklahoma Army National Guard, Morris volunteered for active duty. “When we went to the summer camp I said, “I like this,'” Morris said, using the term many Soldiers at the time called the National Guard’s two week period of training now known as annual training. “So I came back and volunteered for active duty, and from that point on, I stayed in the military.”
In 1961, Morris heard about a group of Soldiers others were calling “Sneaky Pete” and “snake eaters”. This fascinated Morris, who described himself as an Oklahoma country-boy looking for adventure.
So Morris signed up to see if he had what it took to be a Green Beret. He was only 19, but he earned the right to don the famous Green Beret, the symbol of Special Forces. He was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
After surviving combat and many close engagements with an enemy that wanted to kill him and his fellows, Morris said he doesn’t call himself a hero, instead he tells others to remember those who never made it home from war.
“We have to honor the fallen,” Morris said. “We have so many men who gave the ultimate sacrifice. They didn’t get decorated, none of the glory, but they gave all and we have to honor them as well as the living.”
Recently Morris was the guest of honor at the Medal of Honor Day Ceremony in Tulsa, Oklahoma, hosted by the Marine Corps League, Albert E. Schwab Detachment 857.
“I would like to accept this award for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, the ones who gave their lives for this country,” he said. “Once you put on that uniform and step on foreign soil, you’ve already decided to give your life for your country. I’m proud of every American in uniform and I want to thank each and every one of you. Let’s not forget the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their life.”