Honoring My Dad, Private First-Class Robert Edward Morris. And the rest … « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Honoring My Dad, Private First-Class Robert Edward Morris. And the rest ...

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My Dad at basic training in a rare photo of hin with two arms

Honoring My Dad, Private First-Class Robert Edward Morris

I’ve told parts of this story here before, but what the hay, it’s Veteran’s Day. My Dad had had both my kindergarten and first grade teachers — sister Mrs. Wood and Miss Wilson, when he was in PS 207. He went on to letter in three sports at Madison High School in Brooklyn –baseball, football, and basketball. And I believe that he played some ice hockey too. My Mom was an orphan and they married young. My Dad was working as a delivery boy at a luggage store in Manhattan, Roebling Luggage when he was drafted. He said, “They gave us a rifle, trained us for two weeks, and sent us off to kill Japs.” He was injured early on in the Aleutians and earned his first Purple Heart. They patched him up and sent him back.

Soon after he went to war, my Mom, Hazel Morris, lost her baby at age ten days to infantile diarrhea. I did not get to read my Dad’s love letters to my Mom (written from overseas) until after his death. All of his beautifully written love notes were signed “Your ever-loving hubby, Bob.” So changed was he by the war, I felt as if they were from a man I never knew.

Late in the war he took part in the invasion of Okinawa. He was headed out to pick up US soldiers from his unit who had been killed by friendly fire the day before. Friendly fire deaths were quite common in WWII. He was in the truck with his back against the cab when a guy walked up and said to him, “Hey, Morris, do you have my canteen?” It was one of those you-get-it no-I’ll get–it moments and the guy wound up in the seat my Dad had been in and my Dad wound up in the last seat on the left in the back of the truck.

An American Corsair, believed to have been captured and piloted by Japanese, swooped in and fired. My Dad was hit thirteen times with 70mm machine gun fire. Everyone but my Dad and the guy next to him was hit in the head and killed instantly. My Dad rolled out of the truck onto the ground fearing an explosion. His best friend, a medic, had been in a second truck. He approached my Dad and removed his heavy jacket. My Dad’s right arm came off with the coat. His friend started crying and ran away. (Lot of folks might question that, but I can understand it …)

Another soldier approached my Dad said to him, “Take my f _ _ _ _-ing shoelace out and make a tourniquet. He did.

As it turned out, my Dad had been hit in the left arm too; his elbow joint was destroyed. (Purple Heart #2.) Many of the folks in charge wanted to amputate that arm, but a young Filipino surgeon fought to save it. And he did. Three weeks later my Dad was flown to San Francisco; he met an injured comrade from his unit. The man said, “Morris, what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be dead.” He explained to my Dad that he was supposed to have been sent home on a hospital ship but that the doctors had all agreed, “This guy is gonna die anyway so it’s dumb to waste a spot on the ship on him.” It would not be the last time that my Dad was written off for dead …

Now get this: the ship my Dad would have been on was the USS Comfort (AH-6). On April 23, the ship was struck in the Coral Sea by a Japanese suicide plane that crashed through three decks and exploded in the surgery ward that was filled with medical personnel and severely wounded patients. Twenty-eight were killed (including six nurses) and 48 were wounded, with considerable damage to the ship. The story that I had heard from my Dad did not mesh exactly with the dates and numbers (89 dead) in the history books, but it looks as if Bob Morris might have dodged another bullet.

My Dad spent 19 months in the hospital near Washington DC in 1945 and 46. The performed surgery on his left arm without anesthesia to try to re-connected damaged nerves. BTW, you’ve heard of “The World According to Garp”? As in that novel, I was conceived in the hospital.

My Dad returned to work at Roebling Luggage despite his handicap and by the time he retired in 1969, he was the store manager. The store was located at 121 Liberty Street; they built the World Trade Center right on top of it. Just before he retired, he was honored as Man of the Year by the (now long-defunct) Greater New York Retail Luggage Dealer’s Association.

In 1964, my Dad almost died during gall bladder surgery. In 1969, my folks left Brooklyn for San Diego. I should have mentioned that my Dad began smoking during the war in an effort to stay warm as they were often under-dressed in the northern Pacific. He was a 4-pack a day Lucky Strike man. Sometime in the 1970-s, he developed an unexplained hoarseness. A young VA doctor discovered his throat cancer. He had a new type of laryngectomy. It was a struggle for him to cover his trach tube with his left thumb but by doing so, he was able to count to 30 in a loud but froggy voice as he woke from his surgery.

Don’t quote me on the years but he had a major heart attach sometime in the 80-s I believe. That was followed by a bout of lung cancer; he underwent surgery and they removed 2/3 of his left lung. He came out stronger than ever. You might say that my Dad was one of the very few to beat the Smoker’s Daily Double: throat cancer and lung cancer.

In the late 1990s he came down with a horrific case of pneumonia. On that Monday evening they told my Mom, “Hazel, go in and kiss Bobby goodbye. His white blood cell count is so high that he cannot survive the night. Wrong again. That Wednesday they said to my Mom, “Hazel, please go in and kiss Bobby goodbye. As per his living will we are taking him off life support. He will not survive the night. Two weeks later he as home, busting my mother’s balls (as usual). A second bout of pneumonia finally felled him in 2001.

A few years before he died, I asked my Dad, considering that all you can Mom ever did was bicker and fight, why did you stay together? In his froggy voice he answered, “I want to tell you, I laid in that bed for 19 months and saw dozens of beautiful young brides come to the door of that room, take one look at their husbands with no arms and no legs, and turn around. And never come back again.” My Mom was there for that conversation. It was my Dad’s way of saying, “Thanks, Hazel. I love you.” He could never say that out loud to anyone.

My Dad sweated all the time. Many of my fondest childhood memories involve me kissing him on the face or neck to taste the salt. And I can remember him coming down early on a Sunday morning to cook me French toast, not burned please! I can see him holding the frying pan gently with his left hand over a low flame for minutes on end to get it just the way I liked it … He took the Brighton Beach line to work for more than 20 years. He used to say that it ran on time only at room temperature. In winter we worried that he might slip and fall on the snow and ice on the way to the bus or the train. With no left elbow to speak of — the bones were free floating — that would have been disastrous.

I gloried at the (too-little?) time we spent together. I thrilled each year in December when he would take me to work to help out in the store. I’d go for two or three weekends running and the boss, a Ruby Keeler — I think — would give me a hundred-dollar bill for helping out. Two young Black men, Wilber and Nat, worked as stockman and I grew to adore them; both had boxed in the Golden Gloves. On Saturday afternoons they would send out for ham and cheese on rye sandwiches from a local deli. No mayo! Along with an ice-cold Coke, those were some of the best meals I ever ate.

When my parents went to San Diego, my Dad of course visited the VA (Veteran’s Administration) and the DAV (Disabled American Veterans). One of the first things that he learned was that he had, for twenty-plus years — while raising three children in Brooklyn — been entitled to commissary privileges. Wow, that would have made a difference of tens of thousands of dollars in the lives of my parents …Who knew?

I remember handing my Dad a copy of The Art of Bird Photography a few years before his death. While looking through the book, he covered his trach tube and croaked, “I guess you did OK for yourself.” From Bob Morris that was a supreme compliment.

I can remember saying to him at some point, “Dad. You were blasted by machine gun fire from a plane, had throat cancer, a heart attack, lung cancer, and a vicious pneumonia. We always think that you are gonna die. How come you never do? ” His reply, “I’m too mean to die.”

In about 1995 or so I sent him “the letter.” I wrote in part, “Dad, I want to thank you for being a mean son of a bitch and never saying one nice thing about me. I’ve spent my life trying to be the best bowler, the best golfer, the best elementary school teacher, and the best bird photographer I could be. All in an effort to make you proud of me and get folks to say the nice things that you never said. My late baby sister Arna read him the letter. She told me that he cried tears of happiness.

I did not learn until after my Father’s death that he had been awarded a Bronze Star. That medal is awarded for heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone. I read that letter with amazement. My Dad, along with a friend from Brooklyn, climbed a hill with just their rifles and took out a Japanese machine gun nest. Bob Morris worked full time for 20 years after his injury despite being 100% disabled. He took great care of his family. He was a brave man and a good man. And a great father.

And the Rest

Thanks to my Dad and the tens and tens of thousands of young American men and women who have served their country or died serving their country. All that so that we could enjoy the freedom that we know today. God bless them all and their families as well.

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My Dad with his Christmas present

Uneeda Biscuits

My Dad loved these salty, dry crackers made by Nabisco and was dismayed when he got to San Diego and learned that they were not available. So every year that I visited at holiday time, I would bring a carton of his favortie biscuits. He was happy.

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My Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

At times I think that the only times that my parents were not bickering was when they were smiling for the camera or sleeping. My Mom died 2 1/2 years ago at age 94. She had spent most of her life taking care of others, including and especially my Dad.

38 comments to Honoring My Dad, Private First-Class Robert Edward Morris. And the rest …

  • avatar jeffrey

    Thanks for sharing Artie, we should not forget what those men & women did for us!!!!!

  • avatar Tilo Samter

    If it wasn’t for your father, and many others like him, I would not be here today.

  • avatar Jim Amato

    A well deserved and fitting tribute to your Father and Mother.
    Your parents were extremely proud of you and your achievements.
    You provided insights into Father Son relationships that open up my eyes/mind.
    Thank you and Great respect to your Father with his service to our country.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your dad’s story. What a survivor! Your mom must have been a saint. I’m sure he loved you both.

  • avatar Jeri Baker

    What a wonderful story about a true American hero. Thank you for sharing this Art.

  • avatar Peter Noyes

    Artie, Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful story about a soldier’s soldier, your Dad. It is because of your Dad and many other brave soles like him that we speak English today and enjoy the many freedoms that we are blessed with. Sadly, there are many who take those freedoms for granted and fail to realize the high price our country paid to preserve them. Our country owes those veterans a debt that we will never be able to pay.

    They went without food, drank water stored in gasoline drums, lacked warm clothing, went for long periods without being able to bathe or change clothing and endured other hardships beyond our imagination. Our soldiers toiled long and arduous hours persevering in the face of obstacles encountered overcoming hardships to be victorious in the end.
    The world was a very different place following WWII than it is today. Television wasn’t perfected, computers were unheard of, many families didn’t have a car, many didn’t have indoor plumbing and there were some without electricity. Many of those who returned from WWII were effected in ways that we are just beginning to understand. Soldiers like your dad who paid a horrendous price in fighting for our freedoms were changed forever as a result of the war. There are many in our country who don’t understand this.
    We can thank God for Bob Morris and those like him. It is because of them that we are here today and able to enjoy our life style.
    I never knew your Dad but I’m proud of him. You have very good reason to be extremely proud of your Dad.
    Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful story.

  • A beautiful tribute to your dad. Thank you for sharing

  • Thank you for sharing an awesome story, about an even greater person.

  • What a heart touching and very inspirational story Artie! My highest respects and prayers to your Hero Father and to your family! May God bless your wonderful parents, in Heaven, and you!

  • avatar JEANCLAUDE EBRARD

    I’m French.Your parents’ personalities, stories,achievements,and morals,remind me of so many characters i met in my long acquaintance with american litterature.Those are the people who have made me love America;the people who made America great;the people who keep it great.You too are one of them.God bless America.
    With love, jce .

  • avatar Narayanan Mangalath

    Heart touching Artie ! Sharing such a personal story shows how close you are with your readers ! Highly respect your time and willingness to share !

  • avatar Steve

    What a touching, wonderful story. Thanks, Art.

  • avatar Joe Randle

    Thanks for sharing… God’s Blessings

  • avatar Clive Bushnell

    Thank you Artie,
    The experiences that our fathers, grandfathers and Great Grandfathers went through at war and that of their wives, mothers and sweethearts back home are unimaginable and heart wrenching. I count myself very lucky that my Dad was still a child in 1945 and still a big part of my life today. I read your post with tears in my eyes.

  • Thank-you for sharing your dads story with us. Definitely a mans man. And a woman any man would be lucky to fall in love with and marry. Let me express it for him, Arthur he loved you and your siblings & Mom with a silent perhaps unspoken Love that goes beyond words. But, a picture tells a thousand stories (as you well know) and their smiles and eyes shine out the Love of spending decades together, loving one another and their families God had blessed them with. Your resemblance to your father is uncanny and he and your mom have passed on to you a good solid foundation for a happy fulfilling life. With parents to be proud of…. Happy Veterans Day! God Bless.

  • avatar Ruthie

    Thanks for this story. My dad who was French never told me what he went through during WWII. Even in his diary, which I have he wrote very little,
    Ruthie

  • avatar Anthony Ardito

    Thank you for sharing your story of your father. A true American Hero!

  • avatar Mike Goodman

    Thank you for sharing this Artie!

  • avatar Paul

    Wow what a moving story!!!

  • avatar Kathy Woveris

    Arthur, that is an amazing story, thank you for sharing

    Kathy Woveris

  • avatar Eric Washburn

    A great story, lovingly told.

  • avatar Bill Hill

    God Bless them all and their families

  • avatar Richard Lethbridge

    Your dad was a wonderful man, and lived a long life in spite of them removing
    “2/3 of his left young”!

  • avatar James Saxon

    Very nice, I am certain your Dad loved you and was proud of you. My Father never, ever spoke of what he did in WWII and when asked he would change the subject. That generation experienced and witnessed some horrific things and most did not speak about them. I was lucky, did my service but did not see combat. Thanks to all vets for their service and sacrifice.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks, James. You are of course correct. I realized that in middle age. My Dad did not like to talk about it either, but my late wife Elaine cornered him one day with a tape recorder: Bob Morris/the War Years.

      with love, artie

  • avatar don hamilton Jr

    Thk you for your Dad’s service too our Nation!

  • avatar Clemens Vanderwerf

    Great story. Amazing how much you look after (like) your Dad!

  • avatar Jim Boland

    Thank you for sharing your personal story.

  • avatar Elizabeth Lodwick

    What an inspiring story and what a wonderful man. You were lucky to have him

  • avatar Bob Handin

    Artie. Thanks for the wonderful inspiring story

    Bob

  • avatar David Neilson

    Thank you Artie. Take care, Dave

    • avatar Robin Sparkman

      Thank you Artie for telling us more about your Dad, how much he did for our country & how much he sacrificed for our country. Our debt to these heroes can never be repaid. They truly were “The Greatest Generation.” Your Dad was very strong, a survivor and although he may not have shown it outwardly or with words, he truly loved you, your Mom, and your sisters.

      • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Thanks, Robin, I am glad that Patrick is feeling better. Doing the exercises in chapter two, “Gifts” in the book Seeing Your Life Thourgh New Eyes by Paul Brenner and Donna Martin, really drove home that my Dad loved me.

        About six years ago I had the pleasure of going to dinner with Paul Brenner and(Dr.) CLiff Oliver after a program that Paul did.

        with love, artie

        ps: see you in San Diego!

  • avatar Barry Ekstrand

    Your dad was a true hero! (and your mom as well). Thanks for sharing this great tribute!

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