Fort Drum remembers prominent 10th Mountain Division veteran
March 14, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Nathan E. Morrell, whose adult life began and ended with the 10th Mountain Division, died last week after a brief hospitalization in Watertown. He was 89.
In his honor, the division held a memorial ceremony Saturday at the North Riva Ridge Chapel on post.
In addition to members of the current command group and other Soldiers in uniform, retired command sergeants major and former garrison commanders joined friends and loved ones to pay tribute to a man whose combat service stretched from the mountains of northern Italy during World War II to some of the heaviest fighting on the Korean Peninsula five years later.
They remembered Morrell as a cheerful and larger-than-life personality, able to brighten any room he walked into and passionate to see the well-being of Soldiers and Families of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) enhanced.
"On his last mission, Nate attained his climb to glory," said Brig. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commanding general for support and the event's guest speaker. "In the end, he clearly saw that he made it to the top. For those of us who knew Nate, we always knew he was on top of that mountain."
Morrell's climb began at 19, at nearly 12,000 feet in Camp Hale, Colo., with the newly formed 10th Light Division. Standing well over six feet tall and a certified ski instructor from his native New Hampshire, Morrell's time as a rifleman with the 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment was short lived, and he became one of the division's original ski instructors.
Through 1943 and 1944, Morrell led alpine Soldiers on skis through mock battles and winter survival skills, currying mule packs through subzero temperatures and heavy snow in the Colorado Rockies.
"During those exercises," Piatt told friends and Family Members, "Soldiers endured and subjected themselves to the harshest winter conditions. All the skills they learned from Nate proved critical to their survival in combat."
Morrell deployed to war on Christmas Day 1944. In theater, he was responsible for the evacuation of casualties in the North Apennine Mountains of Italy from the battalion aid stations and casualty collection points.
The division entered combat in late January 1945. Morrell was a part of division victories at Riva Ridge and operations to rout the Germans as far east as the Yugoslavian border.
The 10th Mountain Division (as it had been re-designated in November 1944) was deactivated after the war, and Morrell received a direct commission. He returned to New Hampshire as an Army Reserve officer and opened up a small store in Conway.
In 1950, Morrell returned to war, eventually commanding an ambulance company of the 24th Infantry Division as it retook Seoul, Korea, and pushed up to the 38th Parallel. While the division faced repeated Chinese counterattacks, Morrell witnessed the horrors of war, which included more than 10,000 American casualties.
After returning to New Hampshire, Morrell resigned his commission. His awards and decorations included the Purple Heart, Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters, European Theater Service Medal with two battle stars, Korean Conflict Service Medal with five campaign stars and Combat Medical Badge with one star.
Morrell spent most of his professional life as a sales engineer in the paper and sawmill industry. After making northern New York his home in 1964, he helped start one of the state's first recycling plants.
He became heavily involved in the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division after the division reactivated at Fort Drum in 1985.
A resident of Rodman, he served as president of the national association from 1998 until becoming chairman of the board nearly four years later.
He was selected the 10th Mountain Division's "Man of the Mountain" in 2007.
Retired Col. Mike Plummer, president of the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division, said Morrell's smile and optimism were contagious and constant. He said Morrell made his world a better place through his work at the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division, where he was a driving force in the transition of the association's World War II leadership and today's younger, post-9/11 leadership.
In that transition, Morrell also saw the role of the descendants of the World War II veterans, as "keepers of the bridge" spanning a 40-year gap between 1945 and 1985, he added.
"He was a people person," Plummer said, "who took the time to help others and make life better for Soldiers and their Families."
Fallen Warrior Monument
Morrell was involved in fundraising operations leading up to the installation of the Military Mountaineers Monument in 1991, when the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division dedicated the statue to the Fort Drum community.
The iconic memorial was aimed at honoring division Soldiers who fought in World War II and who now stand at the top to help 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) Soldiers climb to take their place.
After 9/11, Morrell enlisted the help of the monument's sculptress, Susan Grant Raymond, to see if she would consider working on another memorial -- this time for 10th Mountain Division (LI) warriors laying down their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since 2005, what is now called the Fallen Warrior Monument stayed steadfastly on the radar of multiple command groups here because of Morrell's passion and insistence on it.
In addition to speaking with leaders, Morrell spent many hours with his good friend, Jeff Fox, an illustrator at the Signs and Graphics Shop on post.
Fox, who described the inspirational storyteller as a grandfather to him, said he used Raymond's sketches and Morrell's guidance to create renderings for the new memorial.
"Nate attempted to raise money for the monument, almost singlehandedly, by generating posters, flyers and letters," Fox recalled.
"The project didn't have a lot of support and was not attracting much financial support, but Nate kept the project alive by sheer will," Plummer added.
Jim Corriveau, director of Fort Drum Public Works, said Morrell's passion for the Fallen Warrior Monument over the years raised community awareness and ensured his vision remained on the consciousness of each command group, particularly of then-Maj. Gens. Lloyd J. Austin III and Benjamin C. Freakley.
"Nate's fundraising efforts to finance the second monument fell short over the years," Corriveau said. "However, he never gave up hope, and (he) continued to explore options for making this project a reality."
What ultimately secured most of the funding for the project was the receipt of a $500,000 cash prize awarded the garrison workforce for winning the 2011 Army Community of Excellence -- Silver award.
"The garrison decided to move this project forward as a gift to our Soldiers and Families who have sacrificed so much," Corriveau explained. "Nate's vision was that this second monument would be the perfect complement to the original statue, so that today's Soldier heroism and sacrifice would be properly recognized alongside that of the World War II generation 10th Mountain Soldier."
Scheduled for completion later this year, the Fallen Warrior Memorial is a unique, multifaceted display, perhaps best described as a bronze-cast storyboard depicting two themes that today's 10th Mountain Soldiers can appreciate -- honoring the fallen and hope for the future.
Honoring the fallen will be represented by a group of division Soldiers standing to honor and grieve a fallen comrade, symbolized by a traditional helmet, boots and rifle. Hope for the future will be represented by two Soldiers in battle gear moving out on patrol and into rougher terrain as one Soldier turns back to the outstretched arm of a child.
"Once completed," Plummer said, "I am sure Nate will smile down from above knowing that he left part of himself behind."
Raymond, who called Morrell a caring, big-hearted man with a wonderful laugh, said that of all the endeavors he worked on, she believes he cared most deeply about the Fallen Warrior Monument.
"He certainly worked tirelessly to make it happen," she said. "At least he lived to know that it would become a reality.
"His name will always be connected with it."
Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum garrison commander, said that as a longtime supporter of the installation and its Soldiers, Morrell's passing was a bittersweet occasion.
"He had a terminal illness, and (now he) is no longer in pain and is in a better place," Rosenberg said. "But the world is a lesser place for his passing."
Morrell's daughter, Jennifer, said her father distilled much of what he experienced later in life down to two words: "I'm learning."
She also said he had a good sense of humor, even through the final hours of his life.
"It was nice to meet you, but it turns out I won't be needing your services," he told the surgeon at the hospital.
Piatt said Morrell loved people, and they loved him back. He smiled while relating the story of how even a good neighbor of Morrell's reported that her pets were curiously drawn to him.
The general said some of his best memories with the 10th Mountain Division (LI) involve Morrell, who, years ago, often posted himself in a chair directly in front of his desk at division headquarters.
"And we, mostly him, would talk -- for hours," Piatt said to audience laughter. "The work of the division just had to wait.
"Today, in my current duties, I walk by that same chair every day, and I smile," Piatt said. "I remember how Nate always had the ability to slow us down and focus us on what was really important. I thank him for that."
His last conversations with Morrell were over the Fallen Warrior Monument. He said the element of the monument most important to Morrell depicted a Soldier responding to the outstretched hand of a young boy.
"It captures a Soldier connecting with the people he is sent to protect," Piatt said. "In my mind, it captures a Soldier connecting with the humanity he often feels he has lost.
"Nate was a Soldier, and one of the best. And as a Soldier, he saw combat, and more than his share. And like many Soldiers, the memories of war stayed with him, shaped his life, and, at times, impacted his life."
In Morrell's words, there were some "tough patches" in his life, Piatt added. Yet he never blamed anyone.
"He acknowledged his mistakes, and he was very humble about his many, many accomplishments," he said.
Bill Smith, a soft-spoken friend who offered a Scripture reading near the end of Saturday's ceremony, echoed the general's remarks about Morrell's struggles off the battlefield. He said Morrell now rests in peace because he faced his battles with grace and optimism, which lifted the spirits of those around him.
Plummer said his "adopted big brother" left the world a better place than he found it.
"Well done my brother," he said. "You have truly made this part of the world a better place. Be thou at peace. You have earned your seat at the great Soldier's campfire in the sky. There is no greater honor."