FORT SILL, Oklahoma (March 4, 2021) -- In his National Prayer Breakfast message, Medal of Honor recipient retired Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris Sr. spoke about Black History Month, and suicides in the armed services.
In the 1960s, if a Soldier went to Behavioral Health that was a career ender, said Morris. Now, those days are over.
“We need to confide in our chaplains, our commanders, confide in our peers and leaders,” said Morris. “Encourage your troops to go to mental hygiene (Behavioral Health) if they have a problem. We need to prevent suicides, not create suicides.”
Morris spoke before a packed crowd Feb. 25 at the Patriot Club. The annual inspirational commemoration was hosted by Maj. Gen. Ken Kamper, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, and sponsored by the Installation Chaplains Office.
Chaplain (Maj.) John Jacobson, 95th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception) chaplain, welcomed the crowd to the 8:30 a.m. event. He provided a history of the prayer breakfast noting the first one occurred Feb. 5, 1953, two weeks after President Eisenhower was inaugurated.
After a buffet breakfast, the audience heard prayers for the nation, armed forces personnel and Department of Defense civilians, and the Lawton Fort Sill community. Those were recited by George Red Elk, Comanche Indian Veterans Association; Chaplain (Maj.) Felix Kumai, 428th Field Artillery Brigade; and Gerald Hodge, Jewish Faith Group leader, respectively.
Morris said he is the only African-American Green Beret to receive the Medal of Honor. On his visits to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he noticed there weren’t many minorities in the Special Forces. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I think it’s because no one is talking to any of them (minorities) that you can do it,” he said.
In 1961, the 19-year-old, 126-pound Morris trained to become a Green Beret. “They said: ‘You’re too small, you’re too young, and the Green Berets need real men and you’re not a man,’” said Morris.
“Well, I graduated and I stayed there until 1982,” he said. “You never quit, you never give up, you always pursue your goals.
“Sometimes you have complete failure, but that doesn’t mean you quit,” he said. “You get up and you try again.”
Morris, age 79, was an infantryman who twice volunteered to fight in Vietnam. As an infantryman, the Army sent him to Fort Sill for field artillery training in 1961. This was his first trip back here.
During his first tour in Vietnam, Morris was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in battle as he rescued a fallen comrade Sept. 17, 1969. The award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2014.
With that, Morris said he felt a tremendous responsibility to tell the military story.
“I was doing 20, 30, 40, and 50 events a year,” he said. “I’m going on year six and I haven’t quit yet, though COVID slowed me down.”