VICENZA, Italy (March 20, 2014) -- Tuesday was a day unlike any other day for Sgt. 1st Class Frederick Hinton from U.S. Army Africa's Logistics Directorate. It's the day President Barack Obama awarded his biggest hero, who just happens to be his uncle, retired Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, the distinguished Medal of Honor.
Morris said he couldn't believe it when President Barack Obama called him to tell him he would be receiving the Medal of Honor.
"I actually got a call the day before telling me that a high-ranking official wanted to speak to me and that they'd be calling the next day at 12:30 (p.m.)," Morris said. "The first thing that came to my mind is oh my God, what have I done?" Morris said as he laughed.
When the phone rang the following day, Morris said he almost fell out of his chair when he heard the voice on the other end of the line.
"He said, 'This is President Obama, and I want to apologize for you not receiving the Medal of Honor 44 years ago,'" said Morris, now 72, and living in Florida. "I was in disbelief, in shock and almost fell to my knees, and he said, 'Be cool. Be cool. It's alright. We just want to make this right and you're going to be receiving the Medal of Honor,' and that was about the end of the conversation."
WHY THE ARMY?
When asked why he joined the Army, Morris said he had an uncle he was very impressed with who was a 'smoke jumper' with the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. Also known as the Triple Nickles, the 555th Parachute Inf. Bn. was an all-black airborne unit of the U.S. Army during World War II.
"I grew-up wanting to be an airborne Soldier," Morris said. "I used to look at him in his uniform and I was impressed by that, plus my brother was a Korean War vet and I felt the same way about him. It just felt like something I wanted to part of as a young child, so as soon as I was old enough, I joined the National Guard and then I asked them to release me so I could join the Army, and I stayed there until I retired after 22 years -- the Army's a great place," he said.
Morris spoke of many lessons he learned in the Army that he has carried with him throughout his life.
"I went to basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., back in 1959, and there were a lot of Soldiers with 'old school' ideas out of Korean War, who instilled discipline in you -- Honor, Duty, Country -- and I stuck with that and the discipline to just do the right thing when you're supposed to do them," Morris said. "I feel like I was blessed to have had that type of leadership, but at the same time you still have that leadership value. I had a call from one of my assistants from years back thanking me for instilling discipline and values in him, and that he has never forgotten it and wanted to congratulate me on the Medal of Honor and for being such a great mentor to him -- and boy, that felt good," he said.
HONOR, DUTY, COUNTRY -- MORE THAN JUST WORDS
Morris is being recognized for his valorous actions on Sept. 17, 1969, while commanding the 3rd Company, 3rd Battalion, of the 4th Mobile Strike Force, near Chi Lang, Vietnam. According to his biography, Morris led an advance across enemy lines to retrieve a fallen comrade and single-handedly destroyed an enemy force that had pinned his battalion from a series of bunkers. He was shot three times as he ran back toward friendly lines with the American casualties, but did not stop until he reached safety.
"There were only five of us advisers, two were wounded and one killed, and I knew I had to go and recover his body, because you don't leave a Soldier behind," he said. "I took two volunteers to get the body of the sergeant and they were both wounded, so I helped them back. I took two bags of hand grenades, and threw hand grenade after hand grenade, then went back alone to recover the body and retrieve the maps and documents the commander was carrying."
Although one of 24 Hispanic, Jewish and African American veterans overlooked for the Medal of Honor because of their ethnicity, the humble Morris said he never thought anything about it.
"I was award the Distinguished Service Cross in 1970, and 30 days after that I was back in Vietnam because I had volunteered to go back," Morris said. "Afterwards, I came back and just continued to do my duty as a Soldier. I never worried about it then or today and I feel like I got what I deserved, but I am glad that they decided to take a re-look, because there are many deserving Soldiers right now and I hope the re-look continues so after they finalize this, from now on Soldiers won't fall into that pit of being overlooked."
MORRIS OFFERS ADVICE TO TODAY'S SOLDIERS
Morris is very succinct and concise as he offers advice to today's Soldiers.
"Do what you got to do, do what you're told to do, because sometimes you have to make those hard choices, but make the choice and simply 'do what you have to do,'" Morris said. "It's not like civilian life; Soldiers have to do things that no one else will do, so they need to be inspired to do what they have to do."
Morris loves his uniform, what it stands for and is proud that the military tradition is being carried forward within his family, to include his nephew who is serving with U.S. Army Africa.
"He's (Hinton)] is doing the right thing and I am so proud of him," Morris said. "I just got calls from my cousins yesterday; one is a graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, and the other from West Point, and are both retired now and doing well. Also, I have a niece who is a colonel, so I'm just so glad this tradition is being carried on."
Morris received the Distinguished Service Cross that was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, Tuesday. He also received the Bronze Star Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device and one oak leaf cluster, the Army Good Conduct Medal, with one silver loop, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with one silver star, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with numeral 3, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon with numeral 4, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Master Parachutist Badge, the Expert Marksmanship Badge with rifle bar, the Special Forces Tab, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with bronze star, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 60 device, the Vietnam Parachutist Badge, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with palm device, the Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal Citation, First Class.
He retired at Fort Hood, Texas, in May 1985, and currently resides in Florida.