In Remembrance of Gene Morris
Message from Tom Claytor to Patrick Morris
Hi Patrick - I met your father at the 25 year Air America reunion. I was not one of those guys. I was about 7 years old when they were all flying, but I have a great deal of respect for them. I was invited to the reunion, because I flew into Laos last year, and it was the first time a private American plane had flown in Laos since the war. I flew over Long Tien, where the secret CIA airbase was, and took a picture. It was like looking at a ghost town. There was only a skeleton and the eerie remains of a place where we never were. This photograph that I took was the reason I was asked to the 25 year reunion and the reason I was able to meet so many very interesting pioneering men like your father. I am in the process of flying around the world. I go slowly, and I work my plane along the way to help pay for the trip. My world is the world of the bush pilot. I have been through 70 countries so far, and I have a very high regard for these very special people. The world of the aviator, especially the bush pilot or the military pilot, is one of camaraderie. I have been amazed that in all the places I have been - in Africa, the North Atlantic and Asia - I have been very well looked-after by pilots. They are a "band of brothers" in the air and on the ground. It is humbling. There is a look in the eye and a soft and knowing smile that greets you when you are amidst them. I remember well meeting your dad in the late hours of the morning. We were speaking Vietnamese to each other - although mine is not very fluent. He was one of those warm guys who makes you smile and makes you feel good. I remember he was telling me about his friend Archie Hall - who is also my friend - and we spent a while together sharing tales of different places. My grandmother was a pilot, and when I left home on my trip, she was too sick to see me off at the airport. She later died while I was in Africa. She was a great woman and inspiration in my life. I just wanted to tell you that from my brief encounter with your dad, he was a good guy. He was one of us. He was the kind of guy who would risk his life to come and get you if you went down somewhere. Those are always the kind of guys you remember, and those are always the kind of guys who live on inside you, once they are gone. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you.
Go well, TOM
Message from Al Treska
I got to know Gene Morris last Feb while visiting Saigon. Several times over drinks I spoke with Gene about flying in contested areas. Once I asked him if he ever landed on an airstrip in Laos only to discover it was in the hands of the other side. He gave it some thought and then said no, but that he always gave an airstrip a good once over to make sure the NVA or Pathet Lao was there doing a power lunch.
I'm curious if any AA pilots ever had the misfortune to land among hostiles only to hit the throttle and sky up.
I served with the 1st Marine Div. in 1968 as a rifleman and then later with a Marine Combined Action Platoon village unit south of the Chu Lai airfield. On my first patrol in Dec 67 near An Hoa a Huey (white?) flew over or column with Air America letters emblazoned on its tail. One of the Marines called out, "There goes the CIA." I always thought it a bit funny that a Marine Corps enlisted man would happen to come up with that...
Al Treska, Detroit
Message from Mary Jo, Gene's daughter
Good Morning. My name is Mary Jo. I live in Boise, Idaho with my husband and 2 children. Growing up, I was the middle child of five with an older brother and older sister and a younger brother and younger sister. If you ask my siblings, they will probably tell you that I was the one of the family who made up silly songs, planned games and parties, and composed poems for special events. But I'm at a bit of a loss right now. . . . how do you compose a poem about the loss of your father?
Instead, I have a story I would like to share that is from a long, long time ago. We were in Okinawa for some reason or another; my guess is that it was because my mother was about 9 months pregnant with my little sister Teri and she didn't want to give birth in Vietnam. Although I do not remember the specifics of why we were there, I do remember when my mother ended up going to the hospital, leaving us children in the care of my father. I was more than a little worried . . . I mean . . . did Dad even know how to cook? We all sat staring at each other in the kitchen that morning, the awkward silence only broken by the sounds of an occasional toddler's tummy rumbling. Dad rose from his chair and rummaged through the cupboards. He surfaced with a large mixing bowl and wooden spoon. To the fridge he went . . .eggs, milk, butter. Next to the pantry . . . flour, bread, oil and syrup. We watched in horror . . . . was Dad actually going to concoct something? "Isn't there any cereal, Dad?" one of us said. But he kept right on working. Into the large mixing bowl went the milk and some flour. We cautiously gathered around the working area, standing on tiptoes, trying to get a glimpse of what was going on inside the bowl. Dad held up an egg and provided a quick demonstration of the finer art to cracking an egg. We each followed in suit, cracking an egg of our own into the bowl while Dad feverishly dove the wooden spoon in the mix, fishing for bobbing eggshells. After all was added, Dad let each of us take turns stirring the batter. We spent the better part of that morning dipping in pieces of bread and handing the soaked slices to Dad who had moved into the "fry cook" position. It was a grand breakfast. The kitchen looked like World War II. We were all covered with dried egg and flour. But we ate French Toast until we couldn't move! This ritual was repeated again at dinner. During my Mom's stay in the hospital, Dad must have pulled that large mixing bowl out about 10 more times. We ate French Toast morning, noon and night.
Dad, I feel like I am beginning to know and better understand you in death more than I ever did in life. Thank you for giving me a whole other family. I have come to realize that I am not just the middle child of five but am the third oldest of ten. And so, my first poem to you, my old family, and my new family:
Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue
When I make French Toast,
I think of you.
Rest Well, Mary Jo
Message from Colonel Bo Gritz to Patrick Morris:
I want to add my condolences to those of the legion who were saddened to learn of Gene's (your Dad) passing. Today's "fly by wire" pilots are a special breed, but beyond the rest are those who flew when the books, scientists, and aircraft builders said they couldn't. Your Dad was more than a great aviator, he was above the very best. I pray you will someday taste the fullness of life and the sweet nectar known by the "FEW like your father."
Earth-bound man's greatest challenge was to fly. Gene not only flew, but did so with excellence and skill in combat with the most elite group of pilots ever assembled. He flew to save lives in countries we were "never" in. He flew in weather that grounded the heartiest of birds and men. He Flew unarmed in the face of unimaginable anti-aircraft fire. And when others were being awarded medals for valor, he was flying -- unsung, but with knowledge and camaraderie few have known.
We have an old saying: "Me and Jesus know!" God blessed Gene and the rest of us who have gone where others refuse to go and accomplish what others fear to do. Know that your Dad joins his comrades beyond the veil, knowing he lived exactly right, following paths of true heart, loving life, but loving his ability to lift others away from danger more; hating death, but no more than those who would harm the innocent. Our motto is De Oppresso Liber -- We Liberate the Oppressed. He did just that -- didn't he!!!
Never be sad about your Dad -- just glad that he grasped life as he did, turned it upside down, around and around, and landed in Heaven as if he knew all the time where he was going. We'll see him again -- till then, Keep The Blue Side UP!!!
Forever your brother,
Col. Bo Gritz, DSC, DFC, USSF
Message from Benard Trink that appeared in the Bangkok Post on February 7, 2003:
Former Air America pilot Gene Morris, who helped many Vietnamese evacuate Saigon nearly three decades ago, passed away in Honolulu on January 31, age 67. The big-hearted lug will never be forgotten by his family and friends. R.I.P.
Message from Gary Lynch to Archie Hall dated February 5, 2003:
For the past two or three years, Gene was acting in the capacity of courier and caretaker of a relationship between donors in other countries and a school for disadvantaged children in a small village in Viet Nam. The Government was always trying to get its hands on the money that the school was using to educate these small children. These children would have received no education without the money that Gene was surreptitiously delivering to the people running the program. This program is continuing and will become known as the Gene Morris Scholarship Fund so that those who contribute will be keeping the memories of Gene alive and vibrant. The cost to educate a child is only US $15 per month but without Gene's assistance, many children would be completely illiterate.
The picture I sent you was taken in late 2001. The other main character in the picture is Harry who formerly lived and worked in HCMC but now lives in London. Sorry, I can't help you with pictures from the AAM reunion.
I've already spread the funeral information to a lot of expats all over the world. I imagine there will be lots of unexpected flowers.
It was good to hear from you.