A unique keepsake

Robert Galbreath photos Roy Morrison, U.S. Army, World War II, proudly holds up the bullet removed from his knee 65 years after he received the wound at the Battle of Saint-Lo, the day of his 20th birthday, July 14, 1944.

Roy Morrison carries lasting memory from World War II

PINEDALE – Today, Omaha Beach in Normandy is a long, quiet stretch of sand flanked by vacation homes. Peaceful fields stretch out above the bluffs and the loudest sound is the churning gray water of the English Channel.

But on June 6, 1944, Omaha Beach was the scene of absolute terror. Thousands of American troops made their way from landing boats across sand littered with mines and other deadly obstacles. The Americans were easy targets for Germans hidden in a maze of trenches and bunkers bristling with machine guns.

Roy Morrison was one of the Americans who set foot on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. He was part of the beginning of the end for Hitler’s brutal rule over Europe. More than 2,400 Americans lost their lives on that beach. Morrison and one other man were the only ones who made it alive out of their landing craft.

“I remember we had a lieutenant in the landing craft with us,” Morrison said, “On the way in, he says, ‘All I can say is – when you see the ramp go down, you start running.’”

Morrison recalls the landing craft hitting the shoreline. The ramp dropped down. German fire killed most of the men instantly.

“We ran like hell to get on shore,” Morrison said.

After fighting their way up the fortified bluffs, Morrison and the other survivor eventually found another platoon to join. Over the next weeks, they merged with other Allied units in the first push to liberate France.

“It was battle after battle, working our way into France,” Morrison said.

On July 14, 1944, only a few weeks after landing in Europe, Morrison and his unit were fighting to break through German defenses in heavy hedgerows around the French city of Saint-Lo. A German machine gun opened fire, “shooting seven to 10 rounds straight at me,” Morrison said. Two bullets hit Morrison’s knee. That day was his 20th birthday.

Morrison was evacuated to a military hospital in Exeter, England, where he spent several months recuperating from his wound. Doctors had to use goat bone to replace the shattered knee fragments, his son Frank Morrison said.

One of the bullets remained lodged in Morrison’s knee for 65 years, until doctors finally removed it in an operation. Morrison told the doctors that if they finally got the bullet out, he would “wear it around my neck for the rest of my life.”

After he was discharged from the hospital in England, Morrison was sent straight back to France. Because his knee wound was still healing, however, he was assigned to cook on troop transport trains.

In December 1944, Morrison was on a train headed from Le Harve, France, toward the front lines. That month, Hitler unleashed one last desperate attempt to drive the Allies back in the Ardennes forest of Belgium, now known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Morrison recalls that there was 7 inches of snow on the ground and it was “colder than heck” outside the train. He was cleaning up inside one of the large ovens in the kitchen car. A man approached.

“Where’s the goddamn coffee?” the man said.

Morrison, aggravated that someone was rudely interrupting his cleaning, kept working and responded, “It’s on the goddamn stove.”

The man then started cussing again, asking where the cups were. Morrison stood up and turned around, only to see that the man was none other than Gen. George Patton.

Morrison recalls Patton taking a sip of coffee and looking up at the ceiling.

“How many troops have you brought up (in this train)?” Patton asked.

Morrison replied that there were around 2,000 men on the train.

“I’ll be goddamn lucky if 20 of them come back,” Patton said.

Morrison watched Patton and his men unload their tanks from the train and head toward the front lines. Patton led the way, riding in the front tank. The general had a brusque manner, Morrison said, but “he was a true general,” a man who wasn’t afraid to get in front of his troops and lead them into battle.

On another troop transport train, Morrison and his unit adopted two dogs, named Sad Sack and Blackie. One day, as the train steamed up a steep grade, the men were cleaning the floor. One of the dogs lost their footing on the wet floor and slid out of the train.

Morrison immediately pulled the cord to signal to the conductor to stop the train. The train came to a complete stop on the hill and had to back all the way back down before starting up again.

Morrison was sent straight to headquarters where he faced an angry panel of officers who could not believe that Morrison had stopped a train because of a dog. But the dog survived her ordeal and his unit kept her until they had to ship out after the war ended.

Morrison returned to Florida to start a family in Miami. He served for 28 years as a lieutenant in the city of Miami Beach fire department.

On July 14, 2018, Morrison celebrated his 94th birthday at the parade during the Green River Rendezvous. The entire crowd of residents and tourists honored Morrison by joining in to sing “Happy Birthday.” He wore the necklace around his neck with the bullet he received from the Germans on a birthday 74 years ago.