Updated April 10
Islanders and, in particular, Edgartown residents are mourning the loss of Fred B. “Ted” Morgan Jr., a community leader and a hero of the greatest generation. His name is on the Edgartown Town Hall meeting room where he served for more than 30 years.
Morgan, 97, was known for his service during World War II. Morgan was a member of the 82nd Airborne’s 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and a veteran of combat jumps in Sicily, Holland, the Battle of the Bulge, and Normandy.
He was also highly regarded for organizing the Fourth of July parade in Edgartown each year, though he stepped aside from that role in 2012.
“This is my last year, after 43 years,” Morgan was quoted as telling selectmen at the board’s weekly meeting. “My memory is failing me, and that’s not a good thing when you’re trying to organize things. I’ve enjoyed doing it. When you’re walking the streets of Edgartown, and you see the crowd of people on the sidewalk, every year there seems to be more and more, you see them enjoying it. That’s the key.”
On Sunday, the Edgartown board of selectmen issued a statement through town administrator James Hagerty echoing the community’s sadness at his death. “Ted was a colleague, mentor, and friend to each of us. His wisdom was always touched with humor, and a deep concern for his fellow citizens,” the letter signed by Michael Donaroma, Arthur Smadbeck, and Margaret Serpa stated. “We will miss his physical presence, but we will be forever imbued with his spirit. The many lessons we learned from him as colleagues reverberate through our own tenures as selectmen. Ted served the town of Edgartown as a selectman for 30 years with the same passion and distinction he served his country. Edgartown is a better town because of him, and we are better citizens following the many examples set by Ted. Rest in peace, dear friend.”
At Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, Smadbeck read the statement aloud before Serpa called for a moment of silence in memory of Morgan. He was also honored at the start of town meeting Tuesday in Edgartown with a moment of silence and then a poem read by poet laureate Steve Ewing.
In a 2011 story in The Times, Morgan recalled a return trip to Normandy, the site of the D-Day invasion and a bridge where 23 men from his company lost their lives. “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.
Morgan recounted his experience as a paratrooper in a 2006 interview with Linsey Lee, including his six tours of duty in the European Theater of Operations. He described being hit by shrapnel: “Once, another medic and I were moving up a hill to go after a casualty at the top of the hill. One of us had a litter and one had a Red Cross flag. The Germans spotted us, and they were throwing mortars in at us, so we never did make it, and I was hit in the hip with a piece of shrapnel, and then we rushed back. We couldn’t continue on. Then another time in Normandy I was taking care of this mortar platoon sergeant, by the name of Fryar, about four or five days after the invasion. We were going through a town called San Sauveur le Vicomte, and we were digging in for the night on the outskirts, and the Germans threw in everything they had in the way of artillery and mortars, and this fellow, Fryar, was so badly wounded that he had a leg was blown off and a large big piece of shrapnel in the chest. I couldn’t save him; there was no way; he was too far gone. And I still have a piece of shrapnel here in this finger. I had numerous small pieces of shrapnel throughout my back. They were superficial, and I continued performing my duty as a medic.”
He also described the camaraderie of serving with other young men in that interview with Lee: “I’ll always remember the people I served with, these troopers, who were just the most amazing people. Your friendships there, they’re of a different quality. You may not see an individual for years. You go to a reunion, he’s there. And it’s just as if it were yesterday. You start talking about the times when you were together, and telling different stories. Mostly, it’s just talking about the fun times that you had when you were on a pass or leave in different places. Occasionally we would talk about incidents when someone was killed or when someone was wounded. But the camaraderie is unbelievable, and so close, so close.”
Morgan once explained why the annual parade in Edgartown is so important to him. “Independence Day is its real name, and it’s important to remember that,” 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.”
Over many years, Morgan touched the lives of many people, especially those he worked with, including Ron Rappaport, who worked with Morgan as town counsel for about 25 years. “He was an outstanding selectmen, but more important, he loved his family, he loved his country, and he loved his town,” Rappaport said. “He was a hero to me and to almost everyone he worked with.”
Jo Ann Murphy, the Dukes County veterans agent, marched with Morgan countless times, and said his death was not just a loss for the veterans’ community, but the Island as a whole. “He was a wonderful man. I don’t know what else you could say about him,” Murphy said. “He’s someone I really admired and respected.”
Smadbeck worked alongside Morgan for many years as a selectman. Smadbeck said Morgan was like a second father to him. The best piece of advice he ever got from the Edgartown stalwart was “to always be open-minded, listen carefully to people’s arguments, and never be afraid to change your mind when you think you might be wrong.”
“I learned how to be a better selectmen and citizen from Ted. He was the kind of person that befriended everyone. He was a great man, and my life was greatly enriched by knowing Ted,” Smadbeck said. “There’s great men, and then there’s really great men, and he’s in the really great men category.”
Serpa also served with Morgan. “He told me not to be afraid to ask questions, and vote as I felt I should vote. Don’t be in a rush, hear things through,” she said. “He was a very unique person I’m glad to have been on the board with him, he was a great mentor.”
Morgan was a role model for Donaroma. One of the reasons Donaroma decided to run for selectmen 16 years ago was because Morgan urged him to. “What a true American. His devotion to Edgartown was amazing,” Donaroma said.
Lenny Jason, Edgartown’s building inspector, was a longtime friend of Morgan. Like others, Jason said Morgan was unique. “He said what he meant and meant what he said,” Jason said. “I’ll certainly miss him; we’ve had breakfast together on Friday mornings for 30 years. The Island has truly lost a leader.”
Former clerk of courts Joe Sollitto worked closely with Morgan over the years. The two worked together during Sollitto’s one term as Edgartown selectman in the early ’70s, before working together to organize the Fourth of July parade. “It was an honor and privilege to serve with him. One of the few people in my lifetime that was a true American hero. I’m gonna miss him,” he said. “He was and is the parade.”
Updated to include comments from several Island officials – Ed.