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Sergeant Gerry Morgan muttered a profanity.
It was June 1970 and his head was still swimming from the morphine running through his veins. The 19-year old had woken up in a hospital bed in Vietnam. The room was filled with doctors, nurses and about 10 to 12 people who he was serving with.
Morgan’s friends had just asked him: “Have you seen your new silverware yet?”
He looked down and saw that a lieutenant colonel had come in at some point and pinned both a Silver Star and the Purple Heart onto his chest. The Marine sniper groaned because, “I hadn’t gone to Vietnam to people-please. I had gone there to do a decent job in what I was trained to do.”
Because of one ambush attack, Morgan’s two-year tour in Vietnam was being cut short. To his count, he had 182 confirmed kills up to that point.
His leg that had been nearly ripped off in the attack but doctors managed to save it. But it’d never fully heal. Bullets had ripped up his belly but that was stitched up too.
“I was going stateside because once you get wounds like that – well, you need two good legs on you to fight.”
As he was rolled off the plane, strapped into a gurney, he saw crowds of people around the fence.The spit from the anti-war protestors splashed onto his face as they hurled “a never-ending barrage of insults.”
“Baby killer! Murdering bastards! You don’t deserve to live!” they shouted. Morgan was livid and threatened to kill one of the protestors from his gurney.
His rage was boiling as he was wheeled into the hospital.
CHILDHOOD, ARREST AND TRAINING
Morgan was born on June, 10, 1951 in London, Ont. to parents he never knew. He was adopted by Edna and Arthur Morgan. A doting mother, with roots in Glencoe-Rodney who wanted a son and a disciplinarian of a father who already had a family of his own in Alabama.
Within a year, the couple and their new son moved to Birmingham, Alabama where his father was the best moonshiner in the state and “the sneakiest, most deranged man I’ve ever had the displeasure to meet.”
He and his mother were routinely beaten by his father and he vowed to leave one day.
On June 8, 1966, he was driving his mother to a grocery store in his father’s Ford LTD when a swarm of black cars filled with federal agents encircled them and the men drew their guns on them both.
His mother was livid, but the federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms were yelling about his father.
“The truck was loaded with moonshine. My father was making a run that night and there was something like 114 gallons of moonshine in the trunk,” he said.
Morgan was charged with transporting illegal liquor across state lines, thrown into prison and spent his 16th birthday in jail. He was terrified being in prison.
After a few minutes in court, the lawyers and his father all came out smiling and laughing. Gerry Morgan was not going to serve time despite being called, “a problem child.”
Instead, the judge offered him this: “We’re going to give you your choice of whatever flavour of the armed forces you want to join up with.”
“Problem child? I was only taking my mum out for groceries,” he’d thought. With only a small wicker suitcase, two days later, he got onto a Marine bus already filled with crying teenagers.
They rode that bus all the way to Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island nuzzled in Port Royal, South Carolina. In bootcamp, he learned early on that he was a “dead nut shooter” which meant “I could shoot the eyes out of a squirrel at 100 yards.”
After more training as a sharpshooter in Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Morgan became a Marine in the Gold Company 1st Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment of the United States before being shipped off to Vietnam.
“If a man tells me they weren’t scared there, I’d call them a liar… it was completely unsettling.”
Soon after landing in Vietnam by boat, Morgan said he only made one mistake early on.The first time Morgan killed another human being, he said his knees turned into jelly and learned that the harsh truth of kill or be killed.
While canvassing an area, he suddenly felt a rifle bullet zip by his ear which he described as a “buzzing mad hornet.
So he quickly set up his gun and burned off 40 rounds of bullets which seemed to melt away into the jungle.
Because, soldiers were promoted in battle, it only took him six months to become a top sergeant.
Multiple times, Morgan saw grenade explosions vaporize his friends with nothing left to ship home. He also saw men die from being stabbed with sharpened sticks in the ground.
After the adrenaline wore off, it became a ritual to ask around to see if anyone was bleeding. It was only until after the shooting that they’d realize someone next to them, possibly a friend, had bought a bullet in the head.
“Going to sleep was the hardest,” he said. “You’d remember the crackling of gunfire, people screaming, which was only natural, people were being killed on both sides.”
He was forced to eat caterpillars and survive off the land when rations ran out. After battles, they would round up and destroy anything the enemy could use.
“You’re in the dead of night with 11 other guys in your platoon and you’re as valuable to them as they are to you,” he said. “And everybody wants to come back alive… we eat together, we live together and we’ll die together.
“It was like ‘I love you, brother,’ not Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell kind of love” he smiled.
SILVER STARS AND PURPLE HEARTS
In 1970, Morgan received a Silver Star rushing into a firefight to grab three of his men.
“I wasn’t even thinking. I knew that they were my people and I knew that they were down and I just started grabbing harnesses,” he said.
His lieutenant would later tell him that he’d never seen such a thing.
After only two days in hospital, he was back on the field because, “war didn’t stop for nobody.”
Soon after that, once he was back on patrol, Morgan was scouting up ahead for his platoon.
“Then, I heard the crack from an AK-47, they got a very distinct sound and you knew right away” he said.
Morgan ran up ahead 10 feet of his platoon and took a firing stance killing at least three Vietnamese.
Suddenly his body went flying from a sniper shot from above him.
The bullet tore him apart from the inside, Morgan said. He started dragging himself through the jungle when he saw his friend, Cliff Rayborn, rushing towards him, but before he get close enough, Cliff exploded right in front of him from a landmine.
The shrapnel tore Morgan’s body and basically blew off his foot.
“I was flat out of aces,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything because I was so pissed off that I had allowed this to happen to me.”
It was at point that another unit started firing back at the Vietnamese and they fled into the jungle. He thought he’d never see the foot again as he was rushed into surgery.
I’VE LIVED A HELL OF A LIFE
Six months had passed at Californian hospital before he could walk out with a cane. He was sent back to his Alabama where his father had no sympathy for Morgan’s suffering. In fact, he’d routinely berate and force Morgan to work the farm.
During one of his father’s tirades, in a rage, Morgan himself gathered up all his citations and medals and without turning back, he threw all of them into a small river.
“They’re in the bottom there somewhere. It was my Silver Star. It was my Purple Heart, it was my Crown Cross Sabres,” he said.
Eventually, Morgan used some of his GI funding and impulsively bought a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner and just started driving north towards Rodney, Ont., where his mother was from.
During 1972, once in Chatham, he married a woman he says couldn’t understand what the war had done to him. They had two children, which he admits he doesn’t see very often, and he stresses that the war has left an indelible stain on him.
He’s travelled across Canada as an oil rig worker, truck driver, gold miner in Alaska and even a mechanic these past 44 years.
Now 65, he been living the past seven years in Chatham and has been dealing with Post Traumatic Stress syndrome and the Agent Orange that went into his eyes. He says over the years he’s dealt with a team of psychologists, psychiatrists and more case workers than he can count.
To help slow and calm down his mind, he has to take close to 70 pills a day. He doesn’t think about Vietnam if he doesn’t have to.
For the past 10 years, Morgan and several close servicemen meet once a year for the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Bradley Convention Centre. One of those veterans is Ray Consello, who actually served in the same Marine Regiment but in a different battalion.
Morgan has a woman in his life named Geri who he says is patient and understands him the most.
“She’s been like a rock to me… she basically has the same name, I’m sure that helps too,” he jokes.
Six years ago, he had tried to get some of his medals back from the U.S. government. The way he tells it, whoever he spoke to didn’t make it easy, insinuating that, “The queen loves you, but we don’t.”
He renounced his American citizenship soon after because “America didn’t do anything for me. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
When asked if he’d ever try again, he smiled.
“Geri and I are getting up in age and truthfully, I just don’t feel like I have enough room in my life for Vietnam” he said. “It’s taken up enough of my life.”
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