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  • Writer's pictureSabrina Riley

Remembering Eldon Laverne Morris

Man with a monkey…Barracks…Japan? The words are fuzzy. The memory is vague. I am not even sure how old I was at the time. Uncle Eldon Morris and Grandpa Paul Fox were sitting in Grandma Lois’s dining room, passing a Sunday afternoon with swapped stories of their U.S Army days. Grandma washed dishes in the kitchen at the other end of the room, and I sat and listened. I wish now that I had recorded their stories that day.

 

Eldon Morris around 1950

They had not served together. Paul was a veteran of World War II, Eldon served during the Korean War. They were brothers-in-law. When Paul married Lois Morris on April 15, 1949, her brother Eldon was in Japan. And yet, somewhere along the way Paul and Eldon had encountered the same man with the same pet monkey. I vividly remember Grandma’s surprised exclamation when she realized that they were talking about having been in the same place at different times. Today, I cannot tell you who owned that monkey, but I think I know where their paths crossed. As it turns out, they were both in the 25th Infantry Division, three or four years apart from each other. Grandpa was with the occupation forces in Japan until the autumn of 1946. He

very likely passed through the 4th Replacement Depot in Zama, Japan, at some point.

 

Eldon Laverne’s place in the Morris family was not always easy as the only surviving son in a family of girls. He loved all of his sisters, of course, but Arlene’s and Ruth’s freely-expressed opinions sometimes felt like criticism to him. Consequently, Lois was the sister he more often turned too. Eldon was born on July 16, 1930, four years after the eldest Morris sibling, Arnold, had died unexpectedly at eight years of age. (Baby Erma was also born and died a month later in 1924.) Arnold was adored by his younger sisters and parents. After losing two children in one year, Ruth’s birth in 1925 and Eldon’s five years later, must have been a boon to the family. However, growing up in the shadow of stories about a seemingly perfect older brother he had never met, it may have felt like an impossible ideal to match.


Eldon, Lois, Arlene, and Ruth

Eldon’s father, William “Bill” Morris was not always easy to get along with either. Bill had a reputation as affable and humorous, but he had a dark side as well. He could be cantankerous with his wife, Edith. Eldon, too, had his share of fights with his father, sometimes because he intervened to protect his mother. According to family lore, by 1948 the tension between father and son was unbearable, and Eldon enlisted in the Army to get away from home.

 

When Eldon enlisted on February 3, 1948, he was only seventeen years old. In fact, it appears he “adjusted” his age on enlistment papers. Every instance of his birthday in his military records state that he was born in 1929 instead of 1930. A boy not yet grown up, who had not attended high school, his education ended with eighth grade. His enlistment record indicated that he was a farm hand for Irwin Mang (his soon to be brother-in-law after Irwin married Ruth on June 4, 1949) and had a bit of automobile mechanic experience.

 

After basic training at Fort Ord, California, Eldon was sent to Fort Lawton, Washington, where he was assigned to the 4th Replacement Depot in Zama, Japan. Also known as Camp Zama (which remains the headquarters of the United States Army in Japan), it was a holding center for soldiers who were trained and ready to backfill the regular units. As a center for occupation forces entering Japan, it makes the most sense for this to be the installation that Paul and Eldon were reminiscing about that Sunday afternoon when they started talking about the man with the monkey.

 

On June 26, 1948, Eldon was assigned as a rifleman to the 27th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, a combat operations division which entered South Korea in July 1950. However, he seems to have not seen any combat as he transferred to the 25th Infantry Division band on August 4, 1949, in which he played French horn. How he came to play the French horn is a mystery. The Morrises were too poor to pay for musical instruments and lessons. Somewhere along the way, either as a child or in the Army, he must have learned from a friend, but that is mere speculation. On May 5, 1951, Eldon returned to the continental United States and was assigned to the 5th Infantry Division at Indian Gap Military Reservation, Pennsylvania, where he continued to play in a band. Eldon was a sergeant when he was honorably discharged on February 2, 1952. His honors included an Army of Occupation (Japan) Medal, a Korean Service Medal, and one overseas bar.


French horn section of the 25th Infantry Division Band. Eldon is on the far right.

Eldon returned home to Cass County, Michigan, in 1952, and married Sarah Archer of Decatur on June 13, 1953. They had two sons whom Eldon worked hard to support. He spent all day working in a factory, then came home to help on the farm of one of Sarah’s brothers. On Sarah’s part, she was home alone much of the time with two babies, the older of whom was born with cerebral palsy. Just when Eldon came home, ready for rest and relaxation, Sarah was ready to get out of the house. Their conflicting needs created tension that soon led to divorce.

 

The divorce settlement provided Eldon with visitation rights to spend time with his sons, which he wanted. However, his ex-brother-in-law, now angry with him, became hostile. The situation became untenable when Eldon came to see his sons and was met at the door by Sarah’s brother holding a gun. A sheriff’s deputy accompanied him on his last visit to the boys. Heart-broken, not wanting to subject his sons to the trauma, and at the poor advice of his lawyer, he decided to stop exercising his right to spend time with the boys, but he always hoped they would seek him out when they became adults. It was not to be. His niece, Rita, remembers that last day her uncle tried to visit his sons. Afterward, he stopped at Lois’s house and poured out the whole story to his sister through his tears.                             

 

The older man I knew as a child held himself aloof from the rest of the family. On October 6, 1962, he married Dorothy Krall, and from time to time, they would visit Eldon’s mother (my Grandma G. G.) and Lois (my grandmother with whom Edith lived—Bill died in 1975). Because we lived nearby, I was often at Grandma Lois’s house when Eldon and Dorothy came. We also visited them in their home—in several different locations as he moved for his career with Eaton Manufacturing—over the years. Each visit was filled with easy conversation and entertaining stories, and yet, Eldon was not integrated into the fabric of his sisters’ lives in the same way they were bonded to each other. Who can say which of the painful experiences of his life permanently alienated him, but it is not hard to imagine how he sought to protect himself emotionally by not getting too close to anyone.

 

When Eldon died of cancer on May 17, 2006, Dorothy was by his side, but no other family members were informed until after his death and his cremated remains were scattered on a lake where he loved to go fishing near their home in Coldwater, Michigan. His name is on a headstone in the Krall family plot in Lakeside Cemetery (Decatur, Michigan). There was no funeral, no life sketch. Few people remain who knew or remember Eldon.  

 

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