Long-delayed honors pour in for Medal of Honor recipient
Army veteran Melvin Morris, 73, of Port St. John, was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2014 for heroism in Vietnam. Photo Courtesy USARAF
Decades after his heroic actions in Vietnam, Army veteran Melvin Morris is receiving long-delayed awards and accolades.
Morris, 73, of Port St. John, was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2014.
In May, Morris was on hand to unveil a life-size bronze statue of himself at Riverfront Park in Cocoa in front of a crowd of about 250 cheering onlookers.
He and wife Mary just returned from a Medal of Honor Convention in Boston where the 78 living recipients united. The Morrises will fly to Washington, D.C, during what is now a very in-demand Veterans Day week surrounding the actual Nov. 11 date, and this time he will be giving honors to others.
“I don’t know what is more of an honor, to be receiving all this attention, or to be in a position to be selected to honor others who are so deserving, and have the fact that I have this award make it mean all the more to them,” Morris said. Added Mary Morris, “It’s a whirlwind. Just nonstop.”
On Memorial Day, Morris was one of 48 living Medal of Honor recipients to be depicted on a special postage stamp sheet released by the U.S. Postal Service.
Morris is Brevard County’s only living Medal of Honor winner. His statue, created by artist Charlie Smith, joins that of fellow Medal of Honor recipient Emory Bennett, an Army soldier and Cocoa resident killed in action during the Korean War.
“I’m prepared to give my life in my country’s defense,” Morris said during a celebration after the statue dedication ceremony. “This is why we put the uniform on: to protect those who cannot wear that uniform.”
Morris, one of the first to don the “green beret” of U.S. Army Special Forces, earned the nation’s highest military honor during the Vietnam War. On Sept. 17, 1969, Morris, then a 27-year-old staff sergeant, led an advance across enemy lines near Chi Lang, Vietnam, to retrieve a fallen comrade and single-handedly destroyed an enemy force that had pinned his battalion from a series of bunkers. Morris was shot three times as he ran back toward friendly lines with the American casualties, but did not stop until he reached safety.
The Oklahoma native was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest award, in 1970. But Morris, who retired in 1985 as a sergeant first class, didn’t receive the Medal of Honor until President Obama presented him with the honor at the White House in March 2014.
Morris was one of 24 veterans honored after a review showed that they had been passed over because of their race or religion. It is the largest group of Medal of Honor recipients since World War II. Morris is one of three recipients who are still alive. Ten died in combat.
“Their courage almost defies imagination,” Obama said of the recipients at the ceremony.
The Civilian Military Community Foundation raised more than $50,000 to pay for the statue.
Maj. Gen. Nina Armagno, then commander of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, said she was honored that Morris asked her to be the keynote speaker at the event.
“For everything you represent, Sgt. Morris, and for everything you’ve done for our nation, it is my deepest privilege to render the most sincere sign of respect I can offer you,” Armagno said with a crisp salute to Morris.