Our History is a regular column submitted by Kate Rauhauser-Smith, Visitor Services Manager at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, examining the region’s history and some related displays at the museum.
President Trump awarded the fifth Medal of Honor of his tenure last week which got me thinking about those who serve us in the military. We remember our fallen heroes on Memorial Day and honor our living soldiers and sailors on Veterans Day. I encourage everyone to pay attention to those wearing caps, patches, or pins identifying them as vets and to thank them when appropriate.
If you stroll through cemeteries, take note of the stones indicating military service. You don’t have to walk far to find one or several. They are plain, efficient, succinct, giving name, rank, branch, conflict, birth and death years. Some memorialize men or women who lived to be a grandparents. Others, however, have dates so close together we can only imagine the fresh-faced kid who lays beneath.
This region, with a long tradition of military service, has sent many soldiers and sailors to fight. Our National Guard units, such as the 426th Field Artillery, have been mobilized to great effect.
Drafted or volunteers, our young people have fought well and sometimes paid the ultimate price.
Private First Class Grayson S. Vaughn, a graduate of Flat Rock High School where he played basketball, was just 19 when he earned a posthumous Purple Heart in September 1950 in South Korea.
Headstones from the military will rarely, if ever, note awards earned by the soldier though sometimes the family’s memorial will. Many of the region’s veterans have earned honors worth knowing about and research is easy these days. The stories told on military sites or in online news articles and obituaries can be poignant and heartwarming.
The museum has several “Virtual Exhibits” on our web site. Among them is the story of Charles Bedford Morris of Pipers Gap, Carroll County, Virginia. He was the same age as young Grayson. He was drafted at 18 and fought in Korea, served his tour and came home to marry his high school sweetheart. He re-enlisted when jobs were scarce and earned “expert” level on the firing range. He rose to the rank of sergeant in the United States Army in the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade and went on to Vietnam.
On June 29, 1966 Sgt. Morris’s unit was deployed at Xuon Loc, near Ho Chi Minh City. As he advanced alone to reconnoiter the area he was shot in the chest, returned fire, and took out the machinegun nest. The platoon came under heavy fire, and for the next eight hours, refusing medical attention, he directed his men as they engaged “the numerically superior enemy force.”
The platoon medic was killed as Morris was treating his wounds so, after binding his own wounds he took the medic’s kit from man to man, administering first aid. He was credited with saving five men. He would be wounded three more times during that fire fight as he treated, directed, and encouraged his men. With a shattered left hand he pushed forward, firing his gun one-handed, and took out another machinegun that had flanked the unit’s position.
He faced “devastating enemy fire” as he dragged the wounded to a sheltered area and then, “with utter disregard for his personal safety and the pain he suffered” Morris continued to lead his men in the attack.
President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded the nation’s second highest military honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, to Morris in October 1966 and then, in November 1967, now Staff Sgt. Morris was awarded the Medal of Honor.
As we get kids back to school and prepare for the coming Labor Day holiday weekend, I encourage everyone to think of those who keep the wolves from the door and be grateful of their willingness to sacrifice.
Sgt. Morris’ story, and several others, can be found on the museum’s website at http://www.northcarolinamuseum.org/ Choose “Exhibits” on the menu, then “Virtual Exhibits.” A drop-down menu will offer many pieces of history from the area.
Kate Rauhauser-Smith is the Visitor Services Manager for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History with 22 years in journalism before joining the museum staff. She and her family moved to Mount Airy in 2005 from Pennsylvania where she was also involved with museums and history tours. She can be reached at KRSmith@NorthCarolinaMuseum.org or by calling 336-786-4478 x228