Blount County Vietnam veteran to receive Purple Heart

Blount County Vietnam veteran to receive Purple Heart 47 years after turning it down

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Crew chief, or door gunner, was the primary military job for specialist John Morse who was 19 years old when he was drafted in late 1966. (source: John Morse) Crew chief, or door gunner, was the primary military job for specialist John Morse who was 19 years old when he was drafted in late 1966. (source: John Morse)
In Vietnam at Bearcat Base, 40 miles northeast of Saigon, he was assigned to the 191st Air Assault Helicopter Company. (source: John Morse) In Vietnam at Bearcat Base, 40 miles northeast of Saigon, he was assigned to the 191st Air Assault Helicopter Company. (source: John Morse)
When John Morse was in the hospital after being wounded in action 47 years ago, he turned down the Purple Heart. (source: John Morse) When John Morse was in the hospital after being wounded in action 47 years ago, he turned down the Purple Heart. (source: John Morse)
"I said I don't think I deserve it at the time," John Morse explained. "I said I don't think I deserve it at the time," John Morse explained.
"I helped him because he earned this medal. He was blind for almost eight days. He deserves this medal," said Service Officer Nathan Weinbaum. "I helped him because he earned this medal. He was blind for almost eight days. He deserves this medal," said Service Officer Nathan Weinbaum.

By DON DARE
6 News Reporter

MARYVILLE (WATE) - A Vietnam veteran will be getting a very special military medal this week in Maryville, one he turned down 47 years ago. At the time, he thought he didn't deserve it.

The year was 1967. The war in Vietnam was really heating up.

By the time that war ended, more than 350,000 men and women who served in Vietnam would receive the Purple Heart, the oldest military award.

When John Morse was in the hospital after being wounded in action 47 years ago, he turned down the decoration.

The door gunner originated during the Vietnam war when helicopters were first used in combat in large numbers.  Exposed to enemy fire, the job was dangerous.

Crew chief, or door gunner, was the primary military job for specialist John Morse who was 19 years old when he was drafted in late 1966.

In Vietnam at Bearcat Base, 40 miles northeast of Saigon, he was assigned to the 191st Air Assault Helicopter Company.

On the night of October 29, 1967, he had volunteered for guard duty.

"We were there probably 15 minutes when a couple of mortar rounds hit. There was another loud explosion. Then, there were three small pops. By that time, I was on the ground. When I went to get up, I realized I couldn't see," said Morse. "There was a big flash."

Taken to a hospital in Long Binh, he would be blind for a week. Eventually his sight returned.

While hospitalized, an officer tried to present specialist Morse with a Purple Heart medal.

"Well they came around in the hospital and they were giving out the Purple Heart, and the credentials with it. I turned around. I said I really don't want it. I said I don't think I deserve it at the time," he explained. "The guy next to me was totally blind. I looked, I said my eyesight is coming back."

Moore turned the medal down. His wife Donna says she never understood why he felt he didn't deserve it.

"I shook my head at him and said, 'Why do you think that? You were there. You were injured.'

Morse is now 67, retired, and lives with his wife in Maryville.  

It wasn't until he visited the Blount County Veteran's Office about a year ago, where he met with Service Officer Nathan Weinbaum, that he even thought about the Purple Heart medal which Morse will officially receive this Thursday.

"I helped him because he earned this medal. He was blind for almost eight days. He deserves this medal," said Weinbaum.

Six months after getting out of the service in late 1968, Morse received a certificate stating he was wounded in action. Morse says he kept it in a drawer.

"It was one of those things. I put it in a drawer and I just, filed it away," said Morse, explaining he never even mentioned it to his children.

He also never talked about the injury to his eye and his exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam.

At the veterans affairs office, Morse talked with Weinbaum about the effects of his injuries. Paperwork was filed for possible VA benefits. Recently, Morse started getting a check for benefits he could have received years ago. 

"Since I got out of the service, I could have had them," he said. "I figured there were a lot more soldiers a lot worse than I was that needed the money. I was doing pretty good. You make your own way."

Morse will accept his medal on March 20. He says he will receive it with pride.

The ceremony will be held at the Blount County Commission Chambers at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 20.

His wife, friends and lots of other Vietnam veterans will be there to witness this honor.  

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