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The empty spaces back home

The MORRISES

A veteran worries how his son's spirit may be affected by war.

[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
The family of 22-year-old Marine John Morris: Chuck Morris, 60, left, his father, who fought in Vietnam; Carol Morris, 50, his mother; and his sisters, Theresa Fagan, 27, and Carrie Morris, 20.

By WILL VAN SANT
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003


SPRING HILL -- In 1961, Chuck Morris, a young man from Milwaukee, joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

After serving a little more than four years, Morris left the Corps and enlisted in the U.S. Army. From November 1967 until November 1968, Morris fought in Vietnam.

When he shipped out, Morris was 23. Decades later, he is still in battle. Only now his enemies are emotional scars left by war.

At 19, Morris' son John, a 1999 graduate of Central High School, joined the Marines as a reservist. Now 22 and a lance corporal, he is on active duty in Kuwait. He provides logistical support to front line troops, and is likely in the thick of the action in southern Iraq.

Family members have different feelings about the war, but all are proud of John's service to the country. They want him to do the job and come home quickly. More than that, they want him to return unscathed by the terrible impact war can have on the human spirit.

"I have a lot of anxiety about him being over there," Chuck Morris said. "I don't want him changed the way I was changed."

Chuck Morris, 60, and his wife Carol, 50, live in the same single-story home on Manati Street in Spring Hill they have shared for 23 years. It's where they raised John and his two sisters, one older, one younger. An American flag and Marine Corps flag fly out front.

Carol Morris works as a secretary at Oak Hill Hospital. Chuck worked on a garbage truck for several years before a series of back operations made such labor impossible. He is classified by the federal government as a disabled veteran and has not worked since 1984.

John's older sister, Theresa Fagan, who lives in Spring Hill, said her mother cries all the time, while her father deals with his son's absence by watching the news constantly and saying that nothing awful is going to happen.

Unlike her parents, Theresa is opposed to the war, saying it amounts to sending American boys to do a job Iraqis should handle themselves. Theresa says she does not want her brother to die for a cause that has nothing to do with the freedom of Americans. Like her parents, however, Theresa is worried about how John's war experience might affect him.

"I don't think you can be in a situation where you are shot at and could have to kill someone and not be changed by that," she said.

When John enlisted, Carol Morris tried to persuade her son not to join. But the young man had dreams of college, she said, and military service was likely the only way to pay for tuition. So John went through boot camp at Parris Island, did a short tour of active duty, and went into the reserves.

Being called up was not part of the plan. But notice came, and John, working as a sales clerk at the Bealls store on State Road 50, joined his unit Jan. 14.

John last telephoned his mother from Kuwait two weeks ago.

"He said, 'Mom, don't worry about me. I'm not trying to be a hero. And we are all coming home.' "

According to his parents, John Morris has a keen sense of humor -- something that is perhaps necessary given that he is a Philadelphia Eagles fan living in Bucs country. Among his loves, they say, are Sunday visits to Village Pizza on Deltona Boulevard and his black 1998 Camaro.

In his most recent letter home, John listed the goodies he wanted sent in his next care package. Among them: Power Bars, Slim Jims and Little Debbie Honey Buns. The letter also included a diagram of how he wants his room rearranged for when he returns.

As she waits for news of her son, Carol Morris finds solace in an online chat room for Marine mothers, and wonders what her son will be like when he returns. She knows he will be different somehow. It's how he is different that worries her.

"I just don't want him coming home like his father . . . with the depression and anger," she said.

Carol and Chuck Morris' children are all grown and gone now, and they say their home sometimes feels empty. But none of their kids has ever been so far away, and they plan a party to celebrate John's return.

"It just seems like something is missing," Chuck Morris said.

-- Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansant@sptimes.com .

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