As we celebrate Memorial Day this week, ballparks and arenas will pay special attention to the men and women who have served this country in various capacities. The Star Spangled Banner will signal the commencement of events all over the country. Renditions play so often, we overlook the true meaning of the song. In our family, The National Anthem is a deeply personal story. My uncle Billy (pictured left above) is a Vietnam Veteran, and my Granddaddy, William Morgan served in the last major world war.
My Granddaddy was part of the “Greatest Generation” having served in the 4021st Quartermaster Truck Company in the U.S. Army during World War II. Primarily stationed in Europe, he was one of 50,000 African American soldiers permitted to serve in armed combat during that time.
During one of our many fishing excursions, he shared stories about belonging to the Red Ball Express- a major truck convoy system covering 400 miles from St. Lo Normandy to Paris. Over 75 percent of all Red Ball Express drivers were African American. Granddaddy and his band of drivers, mechanics, minesweepers and other operators hauled an estimated 413,000 tons of gasoline, food and supplies while taking enemy fire.
Red Ball drivers faced tremendous danger plowing through dark skies and cluttered civilian streets. The Express eventually rerouted to travel on parallel highways between the Normandy beachhead and the city of Chartres. Being a Red Baller was particularly dangerous as Granddaddy described having to jump across the vehicle to switch seats in mid travel.
In all, it transported more than 500,000 tons of supplies. Most importantly, the Red Ball Express allowed rear echelon support teams to complete building up the railroads, port facilities, and pipelines needed to withstand the final drive into Germany. Have my Granddaddy tell it, “Red Ballers did the little things that led to big things happening in the war.”
As the final battles waged in the European Theater, Granddaddy saw what he referred to as his version of the “dawn’s early light”, a moment in which sunlight once again revealed all that happened the night before. He bowed his head and prayed for the men that were next to him, but were no longer alive to fight another day.
Prior to being honorably discharged on December 8, 1945, as a Technician Fifth Grade, Granddaddy was decorated with a Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Ribbon, American Theater Ribbon, and a European African Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon. He also earned a Purple Heart, the result of being shot by a bullet that would remain in his hand for most of his life.
So, maybe the next time you hear a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” you’ll think of the thousands of men and women who did a few little things that surmounted into a very big deal for all of us.
God speed to the soldiers and families currently in service.
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