LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Help and gratitude are available to Delaware veterans

Do you really know the veteran next door?

In early spring 1990, I was still on active duty with the United States Air Force, assigned to the 21st Air Force at McGuire AFB, New Jersey. I was just finishing 26 years of active service and preparing for my eventual retirement.

However, the geopolitical environment was teetering, and with Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait, the Gulf War buildup, under code name “Operation Desert Shield,” was launched. My duties at the time were to assist with tasking Air Force support and supply services for the troops on the ground and in the air on the other side of the globe. This involved both the movement of troops and supplies to the area of operation.

This day, and another when the Twin Towers were attacked, had a profound effect on me. On May the 12th, 1967, I was wounded when the Viet Cong attacked Bien Hoa Air Base, Vietnam. On that day in 2017, it will have been 50 years since that day, and I can recall it as if it was yesterday. Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, our country was attacked again. This time, I was working at my job in the civilian world. I made the comment to my coworkers that this country will never be the same again, and for the most part, it appears to be true.

You may be asking yourself, “Why is he writing this and what does he hope to gain?” I started this letter/editorial or whatever you want to call it, to open the eyes of those who do really know what effects they have when they say “Thank You for Your Service” and in some way reach out to the estimated more than 2,000 veterans in the state of Delaware that I suspect have also experienced being wounded in combat.

For them, I say that, although we will never forget, and possibly relive, some of those moments, accept with humility the thanks people offer you.

Let me first say that I personally appreciate those who take the time to say “Thank you.” Not surprisingly, there have even been a couple of times when someone came to our table in a restaurant when my wife and I were eating and have taken our bill and paid for our meal. My wife and I are humbled by this simple gesture. It’s hard to accept this kind of honor when you have for so many years been hiding your service.

This is in stark contrast to when I came home to the United States just 55 days after I was wounded. The mood of the country was totally different and the attitudes towards any veteran were less than civil. When I landed in the United States, I was instructed that I was to travel in civilian clothes to avoid any potential conflict with protesters.

I was still nursing wounds in my arms, and it was somewhat noticeable. Guess you can’t hide close-cut hair and a military duffel bag. To get home, I had to fly by commercial airlines from San Francisco to Philadelphia, which meant that I had to go to the Frisco airport. As I walked through the airport, I was approached by a man about my own age who proceeded to call me a “baby killer” and a few other choice names.

For my own safety, myself and a few other military members sought out the USO in the airport for some peace and quiet. There were those who would have physically engaged the protesters, but that would have led to just adding to the way the country thought about us.

The Vietnam conflict, as it was called in those days, was the first war that the general public was personally involved in because of the media coverage. Families sitting down for dinner saw close-up, pictures and videos of what those of us on the ground experienced first-hand. This was not pretty, and in some cases quite gruesome.

We saw families torn apart as draft-eligible men elected to go to another country to avoid being drafted. We saw violence erupt in cities and towns across the nation, and one [instance] specifically where several students at Kent State University were killed.

The difference between then and now means Viet Nam veterans finally being honored for the service for which we put on a uniform, some at the request of our country and some because their number was pulled in a draft.

In the almost 50 years since that day, I have had both difficult and great days. I believe staying on active duty for a full career of 27 years, and the support of a loving and understanding wife, are what helped me the most.

When the Gulf War kicked off, I felt my experience as an Air Force veteran who had been wounded in combat would have been valuable to those who were born after the Vietnam War was over. It was not to be. This time, I served at a major command stateside.

So, why this letter and why now? We just celebrated Veterans Day and, for the past several years, we Vietnam veterans are finally able to enjoy the recognition in the sunlight. There is an estimate that there are more than 80,000 veterans in the state, from World War II to the current Global War on Terrorism. Many may live quietly in your neighborhood. Most all the focus in the media is on those veterans who do great works in their community and those who suffer the visible signs of their wounds.

Some of the coverage was on those who have faced difficulties and had trouble fitting back into a society that did not appreciate what they had been through on their behalf. It’s easy to pin the label of a bad veteran on everyone.

The Vietnam veterans did not want the current Global War on Terrorism veterans to suffer in combat, and then back here at home, suffer again, as we did for more than 40 years.

But what about those who came back from all the wars and decided to work hard and contribute by volunteering to help others? There are no labels for you to identify them. Only in the last 10 years have the veterans’ baseball caps been on so many heads, proudly proclaiming who or what they were affiliated with. You’ll see quite a few of those at the local veterans clubs, where they tell some of the most interesting stories. Then, that weekend, you’ll find them cooking chicken, offering poppies for donations, collecting clothing items and/or food for someone in another state or country that needs help.

They are teachers of our children and grandchildren, wear a badge as a police officer, go into fires to save someone’s life, sales people, truck drivers, etc. In other words, they are just like you in many cases.

My other goal is to reach out to those veterans who, like me, have suffered the physical and unseen wounds that earn them the Purple Heart medal. A couple of years back, I read an article in The Miami Herald where the headline was “Not All Wounds Are Visible.” The Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) is probably the only congressionally chartered veterans organization that wished it would go out of business. We have personally experienced the horrors of war and do not wish that anyone should have to go through what we have. We also know that, as predicted, there will be wars and rumors of wars long after we are gone.

We are one of the smallest veterans organizations in Delaware, with a little over 200 members of which about 20 are active in only two chapters: One in New Castle County and one that covers Kent and Sussex counties.

As the state commander for the MOPH, I reach out to our wounded veterans to offer an opportunity to share your experiences and join in fellowship with others who have also experienced combat from close up. We can join to help others who have been wounded and are in need of assistance. Service to others helps to strip away some of the pain we experience and gives you self-worth.

Just call 302-265-2593 and leave a message. Someone will get back to you about our organization. If you are a person who wants to see your donations for wounded veterans be put to use in Delaware, please donate locally to any charity. Call the same number, and we will put your donation to use in Delaware.

In closing to everyone who reads this, I ask that you pass on the information to any wounded veterans you may know, and thank them for their service to this great country.

Gary “Mo” Morris
Retired U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant
Delaware State Commander,
Military Order of the Purple Heart

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