Week of September 17

Week of September 17

In late 1969, 27-year-old Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris was commanding a Mobile Strike Force team from the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces near Chi Lang, in southern South Vietnam. Born in Oklahoma, Morris was one of the first U.S. "Green Berets" after President John F. Kennedy ordered the establishment of the Army Special Forces. He also volunteered to go to Vietnam.

During the afternoon of September 17, 1969, Morris' team and several others encountered an enemy minefield. Before they decided how to proceed, they were suddenly pinned down by heavy machine gun fire from Communist forces dug into bunkers strewn across the field. When Morris heard on the radio that one of his fellow team commanders had been killed farther forward, he quickly organized his team into effective assault positions before setting off with two men to recover the commander's body. As they dashed from cover to cover, the two troopers with Morris were hit by machine gun fire and seriously wounded. Morris took both wounded men back to U.S. lines, under fire the whole way, and then set back out alone, with only his team's suppressive fire for cover.

On his way to recover his fallen comrade, Morris used grenades to eliminate several enemy machine gun positions and a total of four bunkers. After finally reaching the commander's body, Morris picked him up and began the difficult return to friendly lines. Along the way he was shot three times-in the arm, the hand, and the chest-before making it to safety with his dead buddy. Morris said later that he had "bubbles coming out of my chest [wound]," and remembering his hand wound, he recalled, "I thought at one point I'd have to pull my finger off and throw it away, because it was just hanging there." Years later, when explaining why he did what he did that day, Morris said, "we don't leave our brothers behind."

Before ever hearing he would receive an award for bravery, Morris volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam, later saying he did so because he "hadn't finished [his] job." In April 1970, he received the nation's second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his actions on September 17, 1969. Before he retired from the Army in 1985, Morris also earned the Bronze Star Medal twice and two Purple Hearts, among other awards.

In 2002, Congress authorized the Department of Defense to reevaluate all medals awarded for valor in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam to ensure that no serviceman or servicewoman had been passed over for a higher award because of their racial or ethnic background. After a 12-year study involving over 6,500 case reviews, military researchers identified 24 individuals whose actions warranted the Medal of Honor, but who had not received it because of discrimination. Only three of these men were still living in 2014, including Melvin Morris. President Barack Obama duly presented the Medal of Honor to Morris and the other two men in a ceremony at the White House on March 18, 2014.1

To view Melvin Morris' official Medal of Honor citation, follow this URL and scroll to Morris's name: http://www.history.army.mil/moh/vietnam-m-z.html

To see and hear Morris describe his actions in his own words, follow these URLs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en1CQrmZ6Fg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSoJwKzWEnk

1Center of Military History, "Medal of Honor Recipients, Vietnam War," http://www.history.army.mil/moh/vietnam-m-z.html (accessed 9/16/15); Congressional Medal of Honor Society, "Melvin Morris," http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/3501/morris-melvin.php (accessed 9/16/15); U.S. Army.mil, Medal of Honor, http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/valor24/recipients/morris/?f=recipient_list (accessed 9/16/15); "A Last Enemy Overcome: Obama Awards Medal of Honor to 24 Veterans from Three Wars, Stars and Stripes, March 18, 2014, http://www.stripes.com/news/us/obama-awards-medal-of-honor-to-24-veterans-from-three-wars-1.273402 (accessed 9/16/15). Morris quotes taken from interviews here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en1CQrmZ6Fg; and here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSoJwKzWEnk (both accessed 9/16/15).