TULSA, Okla. — An Okmulgee native is among the 24 U.S. Army veterans chosen to receive the Medal of Honor for their service during World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, who now lives in Cocoa, Fla., told the Tulsa World President Obama called him Friday to say he was being honored for his actions in Vietnam in September 1969.
Morris was wounded during an enemy attack on his unit, suffering three gunshot wounds while retrieving a strategic map and rescuing other soldiers from the battlefield.
Morris and the other 23 were selected after Congress 12 years ago ordered a review of records of veterans from minority backgrounds who may have been passed over for the military's highest honor due to racial prejudice.
Morris, who is black, said he wasn't concerned with racial bias during his service, but he now feels "uplifted" by the new recognition.
"I never carried a chip on my shoulder or wondered why I didn't get this or get that," he said. "But now people are calling and congratulating me from all over the United States. It's slowly sinking in that this is for real."
Morris joined the Oklahoma National Guard in 1959 and later became a member of the Army's Special Forces where he was one of the first soldiers to receive a green beret.
"Back then we called it a foot locker hat," Morris said.
He later volunteered for duty in Vietnam. Morris received a Distinguished Service Cross in April 1970 and a month later returned to the southeast Asian country.
"I still felt like I had a job to finish," he said. "It doesn't make sense to a lot of people, like 'Why would you want to go back after being shot three times?' But it's just the call of duty."
For Morris' family, who heard news of the award during a CNN broadcast Saturday, the honor is long overdue.
"I was in tears," said Rodney Powell, Morris' nephew. "My wife asked me what I was crying about, and I was really happy. But I was also kind of sad that it took over 40 years for this to happen."