The Story of William A. Morris Jr.
Sometimes a friend walks into your life out of nowhere, and you don’t ask why. You just enjoy the company and wonder at the odd fate that brought you together. Only later do you realize that your whole life depended on it.
There are many unique and fateful aspects of my father’s service in the all-black 369th Coast Artillery Regiment during World War II. William A. Morris, Jr. brings a black soldiers perspective to the state of the American military and the nation at that time. He recalls first hand, but without bitterness, the ravaging racial prejudices at work at places like Fort Dix in New Jersey and Camp Stewart in Georgia.
But most unusual about dad’s story is the tale of the little terrier that found him during the war and never left his side. From the moment Trixie padded into his life in a port village in England—just before dad shipped out to Omaha Beach—he enjoyed the company of a brave and constant companion who made the war bearable and served as a courageous little mascot for the entire company.
But Trixie accomplished much more than keeping up morale. One fine summer day in Belgium, my father and his corporal suddenly found themselves in front of three German soldiers. As it turned out, they were out-manned but not outnumbered. Thanks to Trixie’s astonishing act in that moment, dad is alive to tell the story today.
Trixie’s extraordinary intelligence and bravery are almost beyond belief. But I accept every word of dad’s amazing accounts because I knew Trixie, too. She lived with us for years after dad came home from the war and started his family. In all the stories that have come across my desk as a television producer for the past thirty years, I’ve never heard anything that comes close to dad’s tales of serving in the Army with the soldier that wagged her tail.
At the ripe age of 90, my father relives those years with the passion of a born storyteller in classrooms in Staten Island where four generations of my family have lived. His stories bring the human, flesh-and-blood side of war to life for children and adults in a way that stops us in our tracks.
Trixie came back to America with Dad after the war and lived long enough for me and my sister to grow up with her for the first few years of our lives. Throughout my childhood I heard Dad tell stories from the war, including how Trixie insisted on playing fetch with him while he was waiting with thousands of soldiers to embark for Normandy. His stories became more meaningful as I grew older and realized that he had spent those years battling on two fronts: the fields of war in Europe and the realm of a deeply segregated military at home. The attitude with which he performed his duties in this double conflict, which defined the war years for all black soldiers and personnel, taught me more about him than the dramatic events themselves.
During the historic development of the presidential primaries of 2008, Dad’s war experiences became even more relevant to me. He had fought for his country at a time when he could not enjoy all the rights that he was fighting for overseas. The Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, showed just how far my country had come in overturning segregation in all segments of society, from schools to the military to the hearts and minds of Americans everywhere who were ready to elect a man on the virtue of his gifts and what he stood for, regardless of the color of his skin.
Men like my father, who fought at the front lines for our country without knowing how or when the racial issues back home would resolve, helped pave the way for Obama’s presidential win. From the beginning, my dad endured a policy of segregation at every level of his military service, yet did not let that affect his performance as a soldier or tarnish his love for his country. His positive spirit and leadership abilities made him a well-respected sergeant in the Army and a successful and admired member of the community when he returned home.
This book trace’s my father’s journey from his close-knit neighborhood in Staten Island to the frozen battlefields of Europe, then back home to an Army camp in Georgia that other soldiers have described as a “concentration camp” for black troops. It is the story of being among the first active units to help defend and build up Pearl Harbor after the attack of December 7, 1941, and sailing back stateside a year later to prepare for battle across the Atlantic. In Europe, it is the story of a stray dog that, never leaving my dad’s side, lifted morale throughout the unit and literally saved two American lives.
I believe that my father’s extraordinary story of war has much to inspire and transform everyone who hears it. A distinctly American tale, it reminds us of the best we are made of and celebrates how far we’ve come.
A very touching story of a black American soldier and the dog he meets and befriends during WWII. It made me laugh and cry. Including the dog’s dialogue was a very creative way to make the story come alive. Highly recommend this book.