20/365 – Honoring – Bill and Jack Morris
Newton County resident Bill Morris learned about Pearl Harbor at a movie theater in Social Circle. He recalled, “Uncle Sam pointed a finger at us from the screen and said, ‘I need you!’ Well, when we turned 18 he got us.”
Born in Bethlehem, GA in 1924, Morris, 4 of his brothers, plus 2 brothers-in-law, served in WWII. Morris said, “My twin brother and I were inseparable but the army sent me to Camp Crowder, MO and sent Jack to California. Our mother was seething.” Mrs. Morris wrote President Roosevelt and Secretary of War Stimson demanding the twins be reunited. They were. Bill and Jack fought the entire war side by side.
The Morris twins learned the art of stringing communications wire and mastered heavy weapons at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. “It’s not Missouri, it’s the state of Misery, if you ask me,” he said.
In Feb ’44 the twins boarded a Liberty ship for Birmingham, England. “We had a 2½ ton truck, our equipment, and I had a case of mumps,” Morris said. “I didn’t report to sick bay until we set sail. Jack and I were stayin’ together!”
After intense specialized training in England, the Morris twins boarded a LST and sailed across the English Channel on D-Day +1. “It was June 7, ’44,” he said. “We were among 5,000 ships at Omaha Beach and for some reason that night every gun in the fleet opened up. Jack and I had been taught to ‘get low and get in a hole’ but there ain’t no foxholes on a ship! The firepower was awesome.”
June 8, early morning: the twins, their crew, and 2½ ton communications truck hit Omaha Beach. “We strung wire beyond the rocky bluffs,” he said, “The bodies bothered us, hundreds of them, stacked like cords of wood.” Army engineers suddenly told Morris and his crew to ‘back off’ to a safe area. “Land mines,” he said. “We moved far enough, I suppose, before things got real ugly. A mine detonated, killing the engineers.”
At dusk lay danger. “I posted guards but the continuous gunfire kept us awake all night,” he said. “We slept in foxholes with tents pitched over them. We were mavericks; stringing wire wherever needed. I guess we looked strange, too, since we’d cut our hair into Mohawks for the invasion.”
Stringing wire from Omaha Beach to the Cherbourg Peninsula, dodging German 88mm artillery, returning north through France, Morris and crew eventually ended up in Belgium. “We’d slept in ditches, mud holes, hid behind trees, seldom even saw a town, but in Belgium they put us up in a castle that Kaiser Wilhelm used during WWI, our first dry floor in 3 months,” Morris said with a smile.
In Dec, ’44 while stringing wire at the German border in freezing cold and heavy snow, Morris and crew heard frantic orders from an American officer, “Move out, move out, we’re being overrun!” Approaching German Panzer tanks signaled the Battle of the Bulge.
Morris recalled, “We hustled back, but recruits fresh out of basic were ordered to stay with ineffective bazookas to stop the Panzers. Those boys didn’t make it out.”
Overcast skies, sub-zero cold; and thick snow worked to the Germans’ advantage.
“Our planes were grounded,” Morris said. “But on Dec 23 we awoke to a beautiful blue sky. Then they came, thousands of them, filling the sky with contrails. Our flyboys got the job done; the Battle of the Bulge was over.”
Morris recalled stringing wire on the German side of the Rhine River. “We were on the river bank,” he said. “Suddenly bullets were ‘pinging’ off a brick wall behind us. Well, we got low and got in a hole!” American sharpshooters on the opposite bank were shooting at German mines floating down the Rhine River. “Those boys were either lousy shots or their bullets were ricocheting off the water. Let’s hope it was ricochets!”
Morris and his crew were with American forces when they liberated the infamous concentration camp at Buchenwald. Morris softly recalled, “From a mile away you could smell it. What looked to be humans stumbled around like skeletal zombies. We found the meat hook conveyor line that ran bodies to furnaces, trenches filled with…that’s enough, I suppose. I’ve tried to forget Buchenwald, but it’s impossible.”
After Hitler’s demise, the twins and crew boarded a troop ship in Marseilles and set sail for the South Pacific island of Okinawa to train for the invasion of Japan. “We slept on the beach our first night,” he said. “In the morning about 75 Jap soldiers walked out of the jungle and surrendered to us. They had American cigarettes, C-rations, even American hand grenades. We sure were glad they were in a mood to surrender!” The lives of the Morris twins and feasibly a million other American casualties were avoided by two atomic bombs. Morris said, “Both wars were over. My brother and I were ready to see Georgia again.”
First Seattle; a train across America, a locomotive whistle blowing full blast from Chattanooga all the way into Atlanta in celebration, hitch-hiking a ride to Monroe Street in Social Circle, and home. Morris recalled, “I remember our mothers’ welcoming words to this day, ‘I’m so proud of you boys.’”
Morris took advantage of the benefits he’d earned overseas, finishing high school before attending business school for accounting. His last job before retiring from Sunbelt Builders in 1989 was completion of the Ginn Motor Company in Covington.
“I hope America never forgets the sacrifices,” Morris said. “The stacks of bodies at Hurtgen Forest, the paratrooper that crawled out of flooded fields behind Omaha Beach where he died in place, a man’s jet black hair turning white in 2 days, I saw too much and have too many memories, but the lord let me live, and I live for him.”
In 1998, 79 surviving veterans of Company B 32nd Signal Construction Battalion attended their reunion. In 2008, there were 7.
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Pete Mecca – Vietnam veteran, columnist, and free-lance writer
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