During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor.
The series continues with Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris, for his actions on Sept. 17, 1969, while commanding the Third Company, Third Battalion of the IV Mobile Strike Force, near Chi Lang, South Vietnam.
Melvin Morris’ Medal of Honor citation reads:
“Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Commander of a Strike Force drawn from Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Chi Lang, Republic of Vietnam on Sept. 17, 1969.
“On that afternoon, Staff Sgt. Morris’ affiliated companies encountered an extensive enemy mine field and were subsequently engaged by a hostile force. Staff Sgt. Morris learned by radio that a fellow team commander had been killed near an enemy bunker and he immediately reorganized his men into an effective assault posture before advancing forward and splitting off with two men to recover the team commander’s body. Observing the maneuver, the hostile force concentrated its fire on Staff Sgt. Morris’ three-man element and successfully wounded both men accompanying him.
“After assisting the two wounded men back to his forces’ lines, Staff Sgt. Morris charged forward into withering enemy fire with only his men’s suppressive fire as cover. While enemy machine gun emplacements continuously directed strafing fusillades against him, Staff Sgt. Morris destroyed the positions with hand grenades and continued his assault, ultimately eliminating four bunkers.
“Upon reaching the bunker nearest the fallen team commander, Staff Sgt. Morris repulsed the enemy, retrieved his comrade and began the arduous trek back to friendly lines. He was wounded three times as he struggled forward, but ultimately succeeded in returning his fallen comrade to a friendly position.
“Staff Sgt. Morris’ extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
In an essay for Hallowed Ground Magazine in March 2019, Morris described what it was like to walk in the footsteps of William Carney, the first African American recipient of the Medal of Honor. Carney was a flag bearer for the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. He was severely wounded during the assault of Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina, but never let the flag he carried fall.
“The most dangerous job in the Civil War, as I understand it, was the color bearer. He’s going to charge. He’s going to be up front. He’s going to ignore everything around him. His duty is to maintain that color, keep it, move with it and plant it if the objective is reached. His job is to not let that flag hit the ground. Can you imagine it? If you made an assault, what’s up front? It’s the commanding officer and color bearer, and you can guess who is going to get shot first.
“And that’s what happened with the 54th. But Carney picked up the color and kept it moving. He was shot three times and yet … it was said that flag never hit the ground. And that’s pure dedication. Can you imagine how Carney was crawling on one knee with that flag? Because he was shot in the leg, but he wouldn’t let it go. …”
Like Carney, Morris would be awarded the Medal of Honor decades after his military service. The event provided him with a new mission. He wrote:
“On March 18, 2014, I went to the White House and received the Medal of Honor from President Obama. And it was an exhilarating feeling, I just can’t describe. But I told myself that now, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me because I have a message to share. Young children need to know that people are out there putting their lives on the line for them every day.
“That’s what I do today; I go out and I give living history. I talk to students and the people about our heritage, about our military, and about why they should learn about history. We have to honor our heroes, regardless of their race, color, creed, ethnicity. I have made educating the people my life’s task.”
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