BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — There are 69 living Medal of Honor recipients. One of them is an African-American Vietnam veteran living in Brevard County.
Retired U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Melvin Morris is also among the nation’s first Green Berets.
At 79, Morris is still hard at work, mostly as a volunteer for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
“We try to educate young people about the military — about the Medal of Honor recipients, about patriotism, commitment, integrity, service,” Morris said.
They’re principles he lives by.
Morris calls Brevard County home, but he was born in Oklahoma, where he and an older brother joined the Army National Guard in 1959.
“The National Guard sent out the word that they were recruiting minorities, and at that time the only one was the National Guard,” Morris said.
Morris soon requested to join the active Army, where he would volunteer for jump school. He was transferred to Fort Bragg in 1961, the same year he married his wife, Mary.
“At the 82nd Airborne I volunteered for the Green Beret, and it was a big joke — they said I was too small, too young, they would never take me. But you never know. I put in my paperwork and I got selected,” Morris said.
Again, he volunteered for two deployments in Vietnam. On Sept. 17, 1969 near Chi Lang, then-Staff Sgt. Morris risked his life to bring a fallen comrade home.
“I got a radio call and my captain told me that my team sergeant had been killed,” Morris said.
“I got two volunteers; I didn’t force anyone to go, it was that bad. We got to the body again, and the two rookies got shot right away. I got two more volunteers and went back again, they were able to get his body out. I noticed that (a) map case was on the ground; it had come out of his pocket.”
Morris went back for it.
“I went in and threw hand grenades in every bunker I could find. Anything moved, I threw a hand grenade,” Morris said.
Morris’ interpreter managed to grab the case, but the Green Beret was cut off from his battalion.
“I fired every magazine I had and it got really quiet. So, (I) said, ‘you got to get out of here — run zigzag.’ I’m shot three times; I’m not feeling no pain,” Morris said.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. Army’s second highest military decoration. But decades later, Congress mandated a review to make sure that the heroism of veterans wasn’t overlooked because of prejudice or discrimination. In 2014, Morris was chosen as a Medal of Honor Recipient.
“President Obama got on the phone and said, ‘This is President Obama, I want to inform you that you’ve been nominated for the Medal of Honor and that you’re going to receive the Medal of Honor, and I want to apologize for you not receiving it 44 years ago,’” Morris said.
It’s an honor Morris never expected, and a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
“As long as I’m able I’m going to try to reach the kids, the young people, and talk to them — if your life is going the wrong way, pick a path,” Morris said.
If you are interested in taking part on Wednesday, April 21 at 1:00 p.m. in the webinar interview with Medal of Honor Recipient Melvin Morris, you can register HERE.