Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Red carpet treatment tickled this old vet: Pearl Harbor invite made 97-year-old 'ecstatic'

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World War II veteran and DeCordova Bend Estates resident Warren Morrison got a little taste of celebrity treatment last month when he was among those recognized during the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremonies in Hawaii.

The 97-year-old was one of 63 veterans honored on Dec. 7 for their military service, complete with a red-carpet entrance, dinner, music, dancing and a “water salute” — a tradition where firetrucks spray arcs of water over an aircraft.

“There were a lot of American Airline employees in uniform shaking hands and clapping as we individually walked down the red carpet,” Morrison said. “They hired a band that played nothing but Glen Miller music, which was the top band in the 1940s and is reminiscent of a time when we were dancing. They also had probably eight couples jitterbugging to the music.”

He said out of the 63 veterans, 13 were over the age of 100 and most were in wheelchairs.

“A couple of World War II veterans went dancing; they were at least my age. The couple dancing was a real treat. I was jealous of them,” Morrison said, chuckling.

The veterans each received a handmade wooden challenge coin, uniquely designed for the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Each coin was personally handed to a veteran by a Tolar High School Band member.

The week-long trip also included a lengthy itinerary.

The veterans got to tour the National Cemetery of the Pacific, Schofield Barracks in Honolulu — the headquarters of the 25th division — and the USS Missouri (BB-63), which was the last battleship commissioned by the U.S. and is best remembered as the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan, which ended World War II.

Morrison enlisted in the Army Air Corps at the age of 19. He spent one year in pre-meteorology at Dennison University at Granville, Ohio, before the program was canceled and he was sent to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood.

“I got sent to the military to basic training after I'd been in the Army for a year, which was a little unusual,” Morrison said.

He served with the 324th Engineer Battalion at Camp Maxie in Paris, Texas, and later with the 99th Division overseas in Belgium. The 99th Division replaced the 9th Division and as an Engineering Battalion, Morrison spent the winter building roads.

He was sent to work in the snow and ended up with trench foot, also known as immersion foot syndrome, which is a serious condition that results from feet being wet for too long.

“I was sent for a five-day rest and finally when the war in Europe was over, they discharged me after two years, five months and 17 days,” he said. “That was my war experience. Never got into any battles. I left for those five days about Dec. 10 and the 15th was the Battle of the Bulge and that was my division. 324th Engineer Battalion was right in the middle of it, but I missed it.”

When Morrison returned home, he used the G.I. Bill to earn his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Ohio State University and worked in an oil refinery as well as on the Alaskan pipeline.

He retired at the age of 61 and moved to DeCordova Bend Estates, where he has resided for 35 years.

Morrison enjoyed flying to Hawaii — especially since it was first class.

“There were only 40 first class seats so not everyone got one, but I was lucky enough to get a first-class seat both directions,” he said.

His favorite part about the trip was getting to walk down the red carpet and getting the chance to listen to the “band play Glen Miller music for the jitterbug dancers.”

When asked how it felt to be selected as one of the veterans to attend the Pearl Harbor ceremony, he said he was “ecstatic.”

“It worked out great. It was a great opportunity,” he added. “I love to travel and this allowed me to do it — and first class.”