The PASSING OF A HERO
It was Monday, July 16, 2012. The mid-day temperature was around ninety seven degrees, with little or no breeze. The flag hung listlessly in the stagnant humid air, as close friends and family gathered in the Rotunda of the Veterans Cemetery to honor the passing of a hero.
Outside the Rotunda, a full military color guard stood at parade rest as the Military Chaplain described each of the medals that had been awarded to this man during his military career. The Chaplain said the hero’s name was ‘Troy’.
He would complete his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia and in 1943 was deployed to the South Pacific where he participated in the liberation of New Guinea and the Philippines. As part of the Army’s infantry, Troy made several beach assaults, especially noted was his participation in the assault at Luzon, Phlippines. These particular military operations are remembered as some of the most bloody, as the Japanese refused to surrender and would simply fight to their deaths. Troy was awarded five medals for his military actions during World War II:
Army Good Conduct Medal
Awarded to any enlisted member of the United States Army who completes three consecutive years of “honorable and faithful service.”
Two Bronze Star Medals (One for his effort in New Guinea and one for the Philippines)
A U.S. Armed Forces individual military decoration and the fourth-highest award for bravery, heroism or meritorious service.
Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal - WWII
Awarded to any member of the United States military who served in the Pacific Theater from 1941 to 1945. The arrowhead device is authorized for those campaigns involving amphibious assaults.
Silver Star Medal
Awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.
There was an uncomfortable silence as the Chaplain paused in his rhetoric. There were still the occasional sniffle and the soft creak of a chair as one moved about, but the silence was too loud. I at first thought the elderly Chaplain had simply forgotten what he was to say, but I soon realized, as the Chaplain studied the morose faces before him; he was simply allowing his words to coalesce with our mournful emotions. After what seemed to be several minutes, the Chaplain continued, “Outside you see ten soldiers…….another lengthy pause…They are here to impart one of the highest honors for a fallen comrade…….This tradition is done for those that have distinguished themselves in their service……..There are seven riflemen……. And they will fire three volleys…..a tradition which signifies the passing of a hero.” Again the Chaplain paused as if gathering his thoughts and then with a voice that sounded almost fatherly said, “Even though they stand outside the doors of this Rotunda….The first volley fired will be rather loud…. I say this so no one will be too startled…”
The Chaplain nodded toward the glass walls that surrounded the Rotunda and we gazed to the paved courtyard where the ten soldiers stood at parade rest. There was a moment of complete silence then the Sergeant of Arms commanded in a loud military bark, “Firing Party……Ready……..Aim……….Fire!” a two second pause then… “Fire”….another two second pause….. “Fire!”
Even having been warned, we all jumped as the first volley was fired. The sounds of the volleys echoed across the hillsides of the vast, green, lawn of the cemetery. The soldiers moved with precision, their movements snapping in sequence as the Sergeant of Arms barked out his commands with conviction. As the last volley’s echo faded and the stillness returned there was the woeful sound of a lone bugle. It was a beautiful, yet mournful sound as Taps was played. The weeping of the bugle’s sound dwelled within the thousands of white grave markers that marked the passing of so many.
Troy was given this honor for his heroic actions and sacrifice during his service to his country during World War II and even in the beginning of the Korean War. He was a hero to many.
To me his heroic actions were much different. It was the long hours he spent on community baseball fields teaching me and many other young boys how to play the sport of baseball. Even after a hard day at work, he would spend the next few hours driving around town picking up friends of mine, giving them a ride to the ball park for practice. The baseball fields were not much more than sandlots. The team’s gear consisted of taped bats, a ripped and taped catcher’s vest, and a catcher’s mitt that had been chewed by neighborhood canines to the point of unrecognizable purpose. I and the other young boys were dressed in t-shirts, jeans, and high top sneakers. We all proudly wore baseball caps with our team’s insignia as well as did Troy, our coach. Troy spent his afternoons teaching us the rules of the game of baseball, the proper technique to field a ground ball and the proper hitting stance, but most importantly, he taught us that winning was not everything. Play the best you can, he realized that not everyone had the talent, give everyone the opportunity to play, and have fun. I would be well into my thirties before I fully realized how important Troy was not only to me, but to many other young boys in the community.
Troy would take the kids fishing, baiting the hooks, and watched as we would attempt to catch the ‘big one’. He never cared to fish himself. I never saw him stand with a fishing rod in his hand once. He simply wanted to give the kids the opportunity to have fun.
As I grew older, nearing high school, I became interested in the sport of track and field. I would spend many afternoons training, practicing, wanting to be that next famous long distance runner. Troy would take me to many of the track and field events around town, encouraging me to be the best I could be, although, I think he knew all along that I was too slow. He always seemed to find a way to praise me, even when I came in last.
Troy would be the driver when I first began to date. Usually it would be me and my date and another couple and the four of us would sit in the back seat as he would sit in the driver’s seat, glancing periodically in the rear view mirror, grinning, as I attempted to steal my first kiss. I was even slow at that!
Troy was at my wedding and admitted to me later that he shed a few tears during the ceremony, realizing that I had become an adult. He did not attempt to give me advice on how to be a good husband or a good father, he simply taught me by example. I now have been married over thirty years and everyday I attempt to be as good as husband and father as he was, although I feel I fall way short.
Troy never graduated from high school. He spent much of his youth delivering groceries with his brother Mose, to help support their family. Troy’s father abandoned the family when Troy was a toddler, leaving Troy’s mother to take care of the four children. They were poor. To Troy’s credit, he somehow overcame the odds and even though he never was rich, he managed to provide a comfortable life for he and his family.
Over the last ten years I became much closer to Troy. It could be because I saw his health deteriorating and I simply wanted to share what time he had left. In truth, I believe that as I grew older, I began to realize how smart, how genuine, and how giving he truly was. I in someway, wanted to repay him. I had the opportunity to take Troy to his favorite breakfast hang-out on several occasions. It would change over the years, from Krystal to Hardee’s, but he would always meet his buddies there for breakfast, drinking coffee, talking sports, politics and many other topics that would strike their fancy. His friends were of all ages; college kids to many much older than himself. Having met many of them, they would always find a way to tell me how much Troy had meant to them and how good a friend he was. What I began to regret was that even though I knew how much Troy had meant to me, I could never find a way to tell him. I wanted to thank him, to hug him, to tell him I loved him but I could never find the words or the right moment. I sometimes felt our conversations were somewhat strained. I looking for the right words to express my gratitude and love, he humble enough to let it pass unspoken.
I stood, starring at the simple, white marble headstone and wept. It marked the final resting place of a man that had influenced so many; a man that sacrificed so much, just so that so many could have.
The headstone’s inscription said:
SSgt. Troy M. Morgan
Jan.11, 1925 – Jul. 11, 2012
Always Loyal to His Country, Family and Friends
I could not help but reflect on the days that I had spent with him. The days that I never quite understood him and then later in life as I matured, realizing how much I did love and admire him. Understanding the lessons, the coaching, he had given me, just by how honorably he had lived his life. He was a hero……My Friend….. My Dad.
On July 6th, 2012, I was fortunate to be by my father’s bedside, in the hospital, as he fought to survive. He was conscious and smiling weakly as he realized I was there with him. I held his hand and patted his shoulder much as he would do me on the baseball field, giving me encouragement and support. I searched within myself for the words that might give him some comfort. With a voice, quivering with restrained grief, I met his gaze and said, “I love you Dad.” He gave me a weak squeeze with his hand and nodded a weak acknowledgement. He knew………….
Troy M.Morgan, my hero, died on July 11, 2012. He will be missed.