Daily photos by Deangelo McDaniel|
The Veterans Park Board named its walking trail in honor of John Marvin Morris, who got a congratulatory hug from his granddaughter, Patty Morris.
local war hero
Park Board dedicates trail to World War II veteran
By Deangelo McDaniel
EAST LAWRENCE — In a ceremony befitting a hero, the community here said “Thank you” and honored one of its own.
Unaware that he was the reason people were gathering near the walking trail entrance in Veterans Park, John Marvin Morris took a seat in the back row. The gathering was part of East Lawrence Pioneer Days.
“Mr. Morris, we have a place for you in the front,” Floyd Shankle said.
With his wife, children and grandchildren behind him, Morris raised his head as Shankle read off the military accomplishments of the World War II veteran who earned a Purple Heart.
After a short speech, Veterans Park Board members unveiled a sign that named the almost one-mile walking trail the John Marvin Morris Walking Trail.
“Well,” Morris said, “this is an honor.”
“This is fitting,” Shankle said. “Very fitting. The board has decided that nothing in this park will be named unless it’s after a veteran from Lawrence County.”
World War II veteran John Lile, left, was one of several veterans to attend the ceremony honoring John Marvin Morris.
“This is a big honor for Daddy, and I’m glad they are doing it while he is still living,” said his son, John Morris.
The trail that honors Morris is in the community where he grew up and where his family roots date back before the Civil War.
Born the fifth of eight children to the Rev. Ray and Delia Morris, he played within a mile of the trail site and traveled over it while riding in a buggy to church with his parents.
“We played all over this area,” he said, referring to Chalybeate, Midway and Caddo.
Now 89, he has fond memories of what he calls those simple days when a “man’s word was his word.”
Like most of his contemporaries in the community, he attended a one-room schoolhouse, and when news of the draft reached the area, he joined the Army on Oct. 14, 1939.
Unsure where he was going, Morris left Newport News, Va., on Oct. 24, 1942.
“I thought we were on maneuvers,” he said.
After three days at sea, he learned that he was going to fight a war. It took 18 days for his ship to arrive on the beaches of Northern Africa, a country the Germans occupied.
“It was daylight when we arrived, and they told us we would have to fight our way in,” he recalled.
Morris made it to shore at approximately 3 a.m. on Nov. 12, 1942. The ocean he left behind was littered with bodies.
He was not able to tell his parents how bad the war was until the fighting was coming to an end in North Africa.
The local newspaper published a letter he wrote to his parents, dated May 23, 1943.
“Well, I guess you have heard the good news,” Morris wrote, referring to fighting ending in North Africa. “My first sergeant and three other men out of my company were killed and more wounded. I think we were pretty lucky. It was a sight to see the men that were killed. My company was camped near the burying ground.”
This wasn’t the worst for Morris. He had survived several major conflicts by the time his unit reached Hurtgen Forest in November 1944.
The tranquility turned to what he called a “bad dream” when the Germans started dropping bombs. Shrapnel from one of the bombs ripped through his knee.
For his wounds, Morris earned the Purple Heart.
A member of 1340th Engineers Combat Battalion Company C, Morris was a prisoner of war for less than a day.
His unit yielded to German commands at Hurtgen Forest. But he said his captors made a mistake by leaving only two men to watch 40.
An American soldier killed the two German guards, and Morris’ company was able to evacuate as reinforcements arrived.
Hurtgen Forest was the last battle for Morris. His nearly six-year tenure in the Army ended at Fort McPherson, Ga., on July 18, 1945.
He returned to Lawrence County and married Mattie Lee Morris. They have been married 61 years.
Walking with him on the trail that honors her husband, she said, “It’s nice, and I know he appreciates what they have done.”
The Morrises’ two children, John Morris and Betty McGregor, said their father doesn’t talk much about the war.
“Because of what Daddy went through, it’s great to have this here,” McGregor said. “This will be something to always remind us of what he did for this country.”
The son said his father is a true patriot not only because
of his service, but also because of his dedication to other veterans.
John Morris remembers his visits to Corinth Church Cemetery near Langtown with his father.
“He always goes to this one grave first and stands there awhile,” the son said.
The grave is for John Murray, who was killed in World War II.
“He was one of Daddy’s best friends,” the son said. “They grew up together and played in this community. Daddy has never forgotten him and his sacrifice.”
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