The 93-year-old Norwalk resident can recall “shootouts” his father had with a member of the McCoy family when they lived in West Virginia. Yes, those McCoys — from the legendary Hatfields and McCoys dispute.
To this day, Morris plays steel guitar.
“I taught myself. I’ve been playing since 1967,” he said.
His full, long and interesting life started with a twist.
“I wasn’t supposed to live for six months,” he said. “I had soft bones. My mom’s milk wasn’t good enough.”
His father, a moonshiner, went to the grocery store and bought Eagle milk, which did the trick.
“My bones got situated,” said Morris, who is the oldest of 15 children and the father of 10.
Morris grew up in Seth, W.Va., which is in Boone County. He remembers moonshine-related “revenue raids,” which he said happened “quite often.”
“We hid the whiskey behind the stove,” Morris added. “I helped (my dad) when I was 7 years old.”
Part of the legendary McCoy family lived three to four miles away from Morris’ family. One of the McCoys was accused of stealing a 50-gallon barrel of moonshine from Morris’ father.
“My dad was at the corner of the house. The other guy was behind the lumber stack — one of the McCoys. They had shootouts,” said Morris, who was 8 at the time. “I was in the house behind the bed.”
At age 17, Morris started working in a coal mine, a job to which he returned for another year after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.
“I was out of the 29th Infantry Division during the invasion of France, the second wave of D-Day,” he said.
Morris, who was drafted in 1943, and his fellow soldiers used 50-caliber guns to support the ground troops.
“I was drafted; I was in the 3C,” he said. “My parents didn’t want me to volunteer, so I had to wait until I was drafted. … Before I was 19, I was in combat.”
First stationed in Fort Eustis in Virginia, Morris was transferred to New Jersey. There he awaited being shipped off to England.
“We were there probably two months,” said the veteran, who was in England from April through June 4, 1943. “We sailed and landed in Birmingham.
“I had my taste of war when the Germans dropped flairs and bombed our camp. … I didn’t get wounded, but there were a couple of friends from other platoons who got killed,” he recalled. “It was a sad world, but I knew we were in a dangerous group.
“We went across the English Channel … and then we went into the invasion,” said Morris, whose platoon was attacked on Omaha Beach.
“I saw nothing but ships and landing craft,” he said. “I was a hillbilly from West Virginia and I hadn’t seen anything like that.
“And two of my comrades got killed. I just jumped off the half-track. I got wounded. I had shrapnel in my left arm and right leg. I was crawling on the grass and the grass was on fire.”
Morris, who still has some of the shrapnel in his arm, received a Purple Heart for his injuries.
“After I was wounded, paramedics picked me up and took me to a hospital ship and patched me up. I think I was in there three days,” he said.
Two of his daughters, Cindy (Morris) Deer, of Huron, and Valerie (Morris) Wess, of New London, listened as their father shared his memories of WWII.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard any of this,” said Deer, who lived away from her father for many years, so she didn’t have an opportunity to hear his stories.
“It’s sad to know he had to go through that — that anybody had to go through that. I respect our military,” Wess added. “It’s sad memories for him.”
Morris was involved in the occupation forces.
“(We were) overseeing the civilian population where we had been victorious,” he said. “During the occupation forces I guarded some of Hitler’s SS men. They weren’t so high and mighty (then). They were docile. … They did the enforcing of what he (Hitler) wanted done.
“I was involved in the the liberation of France, Paris, Belgium, Holland,” Morris added.
After the war
In 1945, Morris was discharged from the Army and sent home.
He went back to coal-mining for a year. In 1951, he moved from Belva, W.Va. to Ashtabula County. About a year later, he married his first wife, the late Sonia Haag.
“My present wife is Thelma. We have been married for 46 years,” said Morris, who has lived in Norwalk since the end of July to be closer to his family.
For 33 years, Morris worked for Union Carbide Corp.
“I was in the traffic department that unloaded railroad cars,” he said.
After being a courier for 22 years, he retired from Union Carbide at age 60.
“Then I was doing part-time work until I was 83,” Morris said. “From the day I was born, my dad told me to work hard and not depend on someone else and give my best to my employer.”
His daughters knew their father was in the military, but he hadn’t talked much about his experiences.
“I didn’t know enough to ask about it,” Wess said. “The main thing I knew was (the story) about crawling through the field that was on fire. It’s nice to hear these stories.”
Her father said he doesn’t have any nightmares about World War II and the shrapnel in his arm doesn’t bother him.
“I try not to think too much about the past. I just think about the friends I’ve lost,” he said.