On Feb. 27, 1943, during the spring thaw, the 19-year-old farm boy was busy turning over a field for planting when the mailman stopped out on the highway and waved a postcard at him.
“He handed it to me, and I read where it said, “You have been selected...”
He shook his head and stuck it in his overalls pocket. “Tickled? Oh yeah, son, I was tickled to death. I went right back to plowing.”
Soon he was off to boot camp with the Army. His younger brother, Leonard, was already off in the Navy, leaving their sisters to help out their parents with the farm chores.
“I didn’t mind being drafted. I don’t mind telling you, though, that if I hadn’t been drafted, I wouldn’t have gone,” Clarence said.
He trained in Camp Worters, Texas, then went to Camp San Luis Obispo, Calif., to be trained in desert fighting.
On a ship crossing the South Pacific they stopped in Hawaii for further training.
“They taught me how to swim a little bit there,” he said.
Then it was back on the ship. Enough of training. They steamed straight for New Guinea, a huge island that looked somewhat like a giant lizard lying in the South Pacific just north of Australia.
The New Guinea campaign (1942-1945) was one of the major military campaigns of World War II.
General Douglas MacArthur as Supreme Commander, South West Pacific Area, led the Allied forces.
The Imperial Japanese Army’s 8th Area Army, under General Hitoshi Imamura, was responsible for both the New Guinea and Solomon Islands campaigns.
The Japanese 18th Army, under Lieutenant General Hataz Adachi, was responsible for Japanese operations on mainland New Guinea.
Morris and other members of the 6th Infantry Division arrived offshore in late 1943 or early 1944, he doesn’t remember which. They hit the beach as replacements for the Marines, who had been engaged in long, hard fighting there.
“We scaled down the side of the big ship onto the smaller landing craft,” Morris recalled. “They told us when the landing craft hit bottom to jump off the ramp and hit the beach. I was surprised when I jumped off into water that was up to my armpits.”
Instead of a high school diploma, Morris was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and three Battle Stars, all for fighting taking place on New Guinea.
The Bronze Star Medal is given to anyone who “...distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service...while engaged in military operations against an armed enemy.”
Morris said the jungle battles all run together now. He lost some good friends to combat.
“The Japanese liked to attack just at daylight. They would come out of the jungle, screaming their battle cry, ‘Banzai! Banzai!’”
“I leveled down on them with my M-1 rifle and pulled the trigger. I shot at a lot of them. I don’t know if I killed any of them or not, but I sure did my best.”
He said it was “scary” when the Japanese soldiers charged. “I never thought about dying, though. When you’re 20 you’re going to live forever.”
He was never wounded, and probably the worst experience he had in combat involved an incident where he was attacked by one of his own buddies.
Three of them would dig foxholes together -- close enough to help protect each other, but each digging his own hole, which was just deep enough to sit down or lay down in. During the night they would take turns at two-hour watches.
“It was my time to guard. John Lewis, sleeping in the next hole, suddenly came raring out of there and jumped right astraddle of me, yelling, ‘I got him! I got him!’ He had me right by the neck, chocking me. I said, ‘Yeah, John. You got him. Now please turn him loose!’ He finally came awake and crawled back into his hole, apologizing.”
Years after the war, Morris was traveling through Lewis’s home state of Missouri on vacation, had his address, and stopped to visit him.
“The first thing he wanted to do was reenact that nightmare he had that night in a New Guinea foxhole,” Morris said. “We both had a good laugh over it.”
After New Guinea was for the most part secured, Morris and other elements of the 6TH Infantry Division were moved to the Philippines. The last battle he participated in was Luzon, in the Philippines, in January of 1945.
No movie stars ever came to visit his camp during lulls in the action.
“I don’t remember having any lulls,” he said.
Morris was discharged Dec. 8, 1945, some two years and nine months after the postman handed him that draft notice in the plowed field.
He came home on a Greyhound bus. It let him out in South Webster, but his parents’ farm was three miles out in the country.
“It was dark, there was snow on the ground, and the temperature was about zero,” he said.
It wasn’t the kind of ‘welcome home’ he had envisioned.
He started walking, in his uniform, but a friend came by and drove him home.
He banged on the door until his mother got up. She came to the door with her dress on backwards.
Next day he went to Portsmouth to visit his old girlfriend.
“I had her address. She wasn’t expecting me. She came down the stairs and her husband was with her. She apologized for not writing and telling me. Instead of a ‘Dear John’ letter, I got the news firsthand.”
Morris went back to work on the farm for a while. He eventually landed a job at Empire Detroit Steel in New Boston. He worked there until the mill closed in 1980.
“I had a lot of bad dreams for a while, dreams about ‘banzai’ and foxholes in the jungle,” he said. “I don’t have them anymore. They fade away after so many years.”
He lives on his own place off Ohio 140 between South Webster and Oak Hill.
He has a son, Terry, and a daughter, Beverly Clagg. He has seven grandchildren.
His wife, Virginia Hughes, died many years ago.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.