One of the first U.S. Army soldiers to qualify as a Green Beret, Melvin Morris did not fit the stereotype of a Special Forces fighter. “I was 5 foot 4 inches, 117 pounds,” Morris told an interviewer. “But I was a strong little fella.” Morris would soon prove just how tough he was.
Morris volunteered to go to Vietnam in February 1969. By that time, he was a Staff Sergeant, and had already served nearly 10 years, including special operations in the Dominican Republic. In September of that year, Morris and his 5-man Special Forces team were on a mission in the Mekong Delta, near the Cambodian border, when the companies ahead of them were ambushed. Hearing that the team commander had been killed, Morris took two men and went to recover their fallen comrade.
When they reached the fallen man, Morris and his men came under heavy fire. His men were both wounded, so Morris helped them back to safety and took two more men to recover the body. Morris used grenades to disable the enemy bunker, and they brought their man back to friendly lines. Once back, they discovered that the commander’s map case, which contained classified information, had been dropped along the way, so Morris returned a third time. He and his teammate made their way back, lobbing grenades at enemy bunkers as they went. They retrieved the map, but Morris was shot at close range. “I could see bubbles coming out of my chest,” he remembered.
Morris ducked behind a tree, patched himself up, then threw his last grenade toward nearby enemy soldiers. He knew he needed help, so he radioed for air support. A Naval helicopter dropped explosives on the enemy, giving Morris enough time to get out of there. He spent 3 months recovering from his wounds and received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.
In 2013, Morris learned that his Distinguished Service Cross would be upgraded to a Medal of Honor. Morris later said that the honor wasn’t for him alone; it was for all the soldiers who were with him that day, especially those who died heroes and never had the chance to be recognized. “This is for them and for the whole nation,” he said.