D-Day vet Ted Morgan hears the drumbeat of service on July 4th
Photo courtesy of CBS Evening News
The annual Fourth of July parade in Edgartown is reminiscent of a simpler time in America, a celebration anchored by the virtues of small communities and patriotism. You might say the same thing about Fred "Ted" Morgan.
Mr. Morgan, who turns 90 in September, will lead the Edgartown parade he helped create and has led for the past 41 years. On Monday, he will make his way along a familiar route in the town he has lived in all his life.
On June 6, Mr. Morgan, walked another familiar route in a town and on a bridge that he had not seen for 67 years… when in June 1944 he was a young Army medic, part of the D-Day invasion.
In a telephone conversation last week, Mr. Morgan, characteristically reticent to take any credit, spoke about the parade and his recent visit to Normandy and his experience during a fierce battle on a small bridge.
"Independence Day is its real name and it's important to remember that," Mr. Morgan said. "To me that means an independent America. Yes, I'll be wearing my uniform. I'm a very patriotic guy. The day means a lot to guys who were in World War Two, in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. For some reason it brings them all together — and they should be thanked for their service."
A longtime selectman who stepped down after guiding the town for 30 years, Mr. Morgan has a long record of public service that began with his enlistment in the Army.
Mr. Morgan was a member of the 82nd Airborne's 505th parachute infantry regiment. Before the war ended he would make four combat jumps and fight in Sicily, Holland, the Battle of the Bulge, and Normandy.
One particular incident was the focus of a CBS news story broadcast on June 6 titled, "Memories of War." Last month, accompanied by his younger son Scott, Mr. Morgan returned to a small bridge in Normandy for the first time in 67 years.
A CBS camera followed Mr. Morgan and "Pinky" (Darrell) Pinkston as the two former medics and octogenarians walked across La Fiere bridge. The bucolic scene offers no glimpse of the day 67 years ago when the country road was shuddering under the shells and sounds of war.
"Pinky Pinkston is the other medic's name. Twenty-three men from his company are buried in Normandy. Twenty-three. The battle for the bridge was unbelievable," Mr. Morgan told The Times. At full-strength, company sizes range from 80 to 225 troops.
"They honored Pinky and me at La Fiere bridge over the Le Merderet river. Seeing that place again was something. I went back to Normandy several years ago but I hadn't been to the bridge, where we did most of our fighting," he said. The invitation came from a group of U.S.and French historical organizations who commemorate the Allied war efforts in Normandy, he said.
"That day, I was taking care of a wounded guy named Charlie Liebergh at the side of the road when a German tank came towards us. Charlie told me to leave. 'They're going to shoot us, Morgan, get out of here,' he said. But I could never have lived with myself if I did. That was my job, taking care of the wounded until they could get the help they needed, so I stayed. The tank stopped next to us, the turret turned to us and the hatch opened. A German looked at us, and we looked at him.
"Then the top went down, the turret turned away, and they left. As they drove away Charlie said, 'Well. I guess there is honor on the battlefield after all,'" Mr. Morgan recalled.
Mr. Liebergh recovered and lived in Pennsylvania for 60 more years. "I talked to him on the day he died," Mr. Morgan said.
"We (medics) saved who we could and there is a sense of satisfaction in that but there were so many we couldn't save," he said.
"Do I think about that while I'm on the parade route? No, it's a different time and place. I just enjoy the crowd. To be honest, my thought is 'I hope I can make it to the end of the route'," chuckled Mr. Morgan, a hale 89 years of age.
Mr. Morgan said he could not have made the trip without the assistance of his son Scott Morgan. "We met my battalion commander on the flight over and talked with a lot of guys I served with. I'm glad Scott got to see that," he said.
Mr. Morgan said war creates relationships between combat soldiers. "War changes you forever, but war also creates a powerful camaraderie that doesn't change. Perhaps it results from the conditions under which you meet and serve, but the bond is such that, when you meet men years later with whom you served, that relationship is the same, it is unchanged," he said.
Mr. Morgan's sense of community defines his relationship to the Fourth of July and the parade.
"For me the celebration also defines the day," Mr. Morgan explained. "I think the most important thing is seeing all the people throughout the parade route. Seeing people you know that you don't see every day, all having a great time. People enjoying themselves. The floats, the Revolutionary War band, the organizations, and the Island service organizations are all there. There are no causes to be argued. This is a celebration.
"The parade is one of the most important events in the history of Martha's Vineyard because it's an Island event. People come from all over the Island to march or to watch the parade. And it's getting bigger every year. This is my forty-second year. The selectmen asked me to organize it, and I did for 30 years.
"I'm just the point man. The American Legion (Post 168 in Edgartown) deserves all the credit. They organize it now, stage all the participants, and make sure the parade comes off properly."
Mr. Morgan will likely receive more applause than he's comfortable with on Monday. But what many of the onlookers know is that the world is a little thin on heroes these days and the Ted Morgans of the world are precious.