Fred B. Morgan Jr., decorated WWII veteran and revered leader on Martha’s Vineyard, dies at 97
Fred B. Morgan Jr. didn’t talk about World War II for 50 years, and when he did, no story was quite as harrowing as his memory of treating a badly wounded soldier along a road in Normandy, France, while a Nazi tank approached.
“He kept saying ‘Get outta here Morgan, they’re gonna kill us,’ ” Mr. Morgan told CBS News in 2011, when he visited Normandy on the 67th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. As the tank bore down on them, Mr. Morgan didn’t budge: “No way I could have ever lived with myself if I left him in a ditch bleeding.”
For his own war injuries, he received a Purple Heart and was awarded a Bronze Star as well. Mr. Morgan, known as Ted, who became an Edgartown selectman for more than 30 years, was 97 when he died April 7 in Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
As with his World War II service, Mr. Morgan’s devotion to the island community where he grew up sprang from a sense of duty, a chance to help others.
“He got involved in town affairs because of things he saw that needed to be done,” said his son Tim. “If you called him a politician, you might catch one to the jaw. He was just Ted Morgan, selectman — not a politician.”
Fittingly for a decorated veteran, one of the many duties Mr. Morgan took on was organizing and leading Edgartown’s Fourth of July parade, which he did for 43 years. Even his decision to step down from that role in 2012, at age 90, was duty-bound.
“My memory is failing me, and that’s not a good thing when you’re trying to organize things,” he said at a Board of Selectmen meeting several days before that year’s parade, the Martha’s Vineyard Times reported. And as for the countless hours he put into the task? “I’ve enjoyed doing it,” he added.
He had retired from the board a decade earlier, following a tenure that covered numerous issues, from spearheading creation of the Morgan Woods affordable-housing development to protecting beaches by instituting expensive fines for pre-dawn poachers who illegally scoop up scallops that storms wash onto the beach.
“That kind of fisherman, fortunately in the minority, lives for today and says the hell with tomorrow,” he told the Globe in 1983.
Mr. Morgan always kept a sharp eye on the long arc of history and the values that keep communities and families strong.
“Dad had an uncompromising definition of right and wrong, of truth and a lie,” his son Tim said. “There was absolutely no gray area.”
His father honed his sense of what to do, and what not to do, during World War II, during which Mr. Morgan was hit with shrapnel. Some of it stayed in him the rest of his life.
Memories never left, either, including the time he treated Charlie Lieberth alongside that Normandy road. Mr. Morgan recounted the story to Martha’s Vineyard Museum oral history curator Linsey Lee, and his account is posted the Vineyard Gazette’s website:
“As I was working on him, administering first aid, a German tank started coming down the road and Charlie recognized this. All of a sudden he said, ‘Morgan, get the hell out of here! This tank’s coming along the road, there’s no point in both of us being killed!’ I just kept concentrating on taking care of Charlie; there’s no way I was going to leave him, and he kept saying, ‘Get out of here! Get out of here.’ I must have said, ‘Charlie, I’m not leaving.’ And finally the tank – we were on the side of the road — the tank was even with us on the road, the cover of the turret opened, and a German sticks his head out of the tank and he looks down at us. Charlie says, ‘Oh, my God! They’re going to get us both! They’re going to kill us both!’ All of a sudden the German pulled the cover shut, and the tank took off. And Charlie said, ‘Well, there is some honor on the battlefield after all.’ ”
Their story didn’t end with simply surviving. Lieberth lived for several more decades. “I talked to him on the day he died,” Mr. Morgan told the Martha’s Vineyard Times in 2011.
The oldest of three siblings, Fred Baxter Morgan Jr. was born in Edgartown in 1921, a son of Fred B. Morgan Sr., who skippered vessels, and Doris Howland Taylor.
“I had no plans for the future when I got out of high school,” Mr. Morgan said in the oral history. “The idea of being a fisherman had no appeal for me.”
He went to stay with an uncle and aunt in Shrewsbury. Just before he enlisted, he met Florence Lambert, who is known as Floss, and whom he would later marry. Initially, he was a medical corpsman at Camp Edwards in Falmouth, where he worked 12-hour hospital shifts until he volunteered for parachute school.
As a boy, he had been afraid of heights, and a friend teased him at the Edgartown drugstore when he was home on leave. “That stayed with me and I had to push myself. I couldn’t think of not doing it,” he told Lee.
Mr. Morgan served as a medic in the 82nd Airborne’s 505th parachute infantry regiment, making combat jumps in Sicily, the Netherlands, Normandy, and the Battle of the Bulge during six battle campaigns.
After the war ended, he married Floss in 1945, and he subsequently was called back to active duty. Mr. Morgan went on to serve in military administrative positions until the late 1960s. He retired as a lieutenant colonel and returned with his wife and children to Martha’s Vineyard, where he was an administrator at the hospital.
“I led a charmed life,” he said in the oral history.
“I consider myself to be a lucky boy in every respect,” Mr. Morgan added. “Floss and I have had a great life and I couldn’t ask for more.”
The meeting room at Edgartown Town Hall is named in his honor.
“Ted was a colleague, mentor, and friend to each of us,” the board said in a statement after he died. “His wisdom was always touched with humor, and a deep concern for his fellow citizens. We will miss his physical presence, but we will be forever imbued with his spirit.”
In addition to his wife, Floss, and his son Tim of San Antonio, Mr. Morgan leaves three other sons, Fred III of New Orleans, Dale of Oak Bluffs, and Scott of Edgartown; two daughters, Pamela and Barbara, both of Edgartown; five grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday in the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.
For decades, Mr. Morgan kept his World War II memories to himself. “He never ever breathed a word of it,” Tim said.
But when the 50th anniversary of D-Day arrived, he spoke to elementary school students about his experiences. “All of a sudden I feel it’s so important that they should know these things,” he told the Vineyard Gazette then.
The lessons he shared were those he had learned during World War II, and they stayed with him always, Mr. Morgan said in a Martha’s Vineyard Magazine interview in 2015.
“I’ll never forget,” he said. “I forget many other things, but I’ll never forget my experiences during World War II.”