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MoH candidate thrilled at honor for Vietnam actions

Feb. 22, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris
Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris ()
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Former Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, one of the three living Medal of Honor candidates who will soon receive the award, is getting the honor for taking out enemy bunkers with grenades and rescuing wounded teammates, despite his own injuries, in Vietnam.

For that, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1969.

Morris said he was thrilled to receive a call from President Obama last May to tell him his award would be upgraded.

“I dropped to my knees,” said Morris, who volunteered for two tours in Vietnam. “He told me he was calling to tell me I was receiving the Medal of Honor, and he wanted to apologize to me for not getting it years ago.”

He is one of 24 people who will receive the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Feb. 21.

Of those, 21 have died.

The awards come after Congress ordered a review of veterans’ war records to ensure those deserving the Medal of Honor were not denied because of prejudice. The review was to focus on records of soldiers of Jewish or Hispanic descent, but during the review, other soldiers’ records were also found to have criteria worthy of the Medal of Honor.

Morris can recall racial prejudice outside the Army in those days, but he was not sure whether it was the reason he hadn’t received the Medal of Honor earlier, nor does he harbor any ill will over it.

“I have [the Distinguished Service Cross] on the wall in my den; I cherish the honor,” he said. “I never thought this would happen because in the early days, they didn’t upgrade the DSC.”

Back then, a Vietnamese general awarded Morris on the battlefield the Vietnamese Cross for gallantry.

For him and his tight-knit team of Green Berets at the time, honor, duty and sacrifice was important. They were hard-working and aggressive, he said.

“We were a hard-charging group,” he said. “We didn’t hang back. We went out and looked for it, and I knew one day the big one was going to come.”

Morris, who volunteered for two tours in Vietnam, left the Army in 1985 to work in construction and retail sales jobs. Now a 72-year-old great-grandfather in Port Saint John, Fla., he was always proud of his military service.

“Take pride in your job,” was his message to soldiers. “I had a lot of struggles, but you have to believe in what you’re doing. It’s all for the country.” ?

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