Homeland Memorial Issue May 2018

Page 14

Former USMC EOD Tech Johnny Morris Still Helping Vets Relax While Thriving On Alabama’s Gulf Coast By Barry Smith, Boot Campaign

There is a famous quote from an unknown source that is often repeated around Memorial Day and other American military holidays that goes as follows: “May we never forget freedom isn’t free.” For U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Johnny Morris, a Boot Campaign Veteran Ambassador, that reminder to “never forget” will not be an issue for him the rest of his life, even as he spends most of his time these days on a boat fishing for the big catch in the waters of Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

Morris was part of a special breed of Marines, spending his final years in the military as an explosive ordnance disposal technician (EOD). He prided himself in being part of this stellar group of uniquely qualified specialists, who could bring calm to others in the midst of very tense situations. He survived many dangerous challenges throughout his career despite being severely injured in his second deployment to Afghanistan. Several of his comrades, however, paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“The EOD community as a whole has sacrificed a lot of great men in the performance of their duty,” explains Morris. “I lost my first team leader, Gunnery Sergeant E.J. Pate, a week before I was injured. He was our section leader at the time, and a role model for every EOD technician in our unit. When they told me that I would be collecting his body and personal items, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I prayed that it was a mistake and that E.J. was just missing somehow and that I would find him, and he would be fine. I remember seeing his helmet laying in a field all by itself, torn to shreds. That is when I knew he was gone.

“Memorial Day is a day to reflect on the times, good and bad, that I had with guys who I can’t call and talk to anymore,” admits Morris, who medically retired in April 2013 after serving eight years and nine months in the Marines, including one tour to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. “I will generally call other guys who knew the same guys and we talk about the guys not with us anymore. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes cry, but we keep those guys memories alive.” 14

HOMELAND / May 2018

“Waves of sadness, misunderstanding, sorrow, and rage came over me,” he remembers vividly. “I wanted revenge. I knew what it was to hate. I had never taken our job as personally as I did that day and thereafter. It probably did not help me do my job, looking back on it.” Although his grandfather Thomas Morris was a U.S. Army veteran who did three tours in Vietnam, Morris knew he would be a Marine when he was just a kid growing up in Loxley, Ala.