Of all the things Elmer and Marcy Morris are grateful for — and the list is long, given their many decades on earth and their contributions to the community — what they appreciate most is the fact that they’re still here.
He’ll turn 100 tomorrow, on Feb. 12, 2024, a World War II veteran who survived an attack at sea by not one, but two, Japanese kamikazes who crashed their planes into the American destroyer, the USS Braine.
She’ll be 95 in September, a South Carolina beauty who directed backyard musicals and taught young students the piano — and retains the amazing ability to recite birthdays, anniversaries and graduation dates for her brood that has grown to five generations.
This summer, they’ll celebrate 74 years of marriage while so many couples they’ve known have passed away, or only one partner remains.
That point was obvious as she looked over their black-and-white wedding photos from 1950, showing 17 fresh-faced young people, ready to leave their mark on the world.
They’re all gone now, she said, except for the bride, groom and best man. Even the ringbearer and junior bridesmaid have died.
That’s why Marcy Morris thinks it’s particularly miraculous that she and her husband — whom she nicknamed “Juney” — are still living in the same home in King George County, still greeting the newest generation of Morrises.
“I think one of our real blessings is to have lived long enough to see this new crop of babies,” she said, referring to six new births of great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren between last summer and this spring.
To that, her husband nodded his head and simply added: “That is very good.”
Their story is one for the ages but seems especially appropriate the week of Valentine’s Day.
‘A lot of pain’
Elmer Rudolph Morris Jr. was born at home, in the Edgehill community of King George, then moved a few miles west to the courthouse area at age 3. He’s spent the rest of his life, about 100 yards from where he grew up, except for his time in the service and college.
He was taking classes at the College of William & Mary in December 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He immediately enlisted, went through Navy boot camp and a year’s training in a Navy hospital before eventually boarding the destroyer USS Braine.
On a Sunday morning in late May 1945, the destroyer was patrolling the coast off Okinawa when it was hit by a kamikaze attack. Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class Morris, the only medical person not killed or seriously hurt, went running with tourniquets and morphine toward the injured.
“People were burned and blown up so that it was hard to know whether you knew them or not,” he said in a 2005 story in The Free Lance — Star. “There were a lot of people in a lot of pain.”
A second plane hit the other end of the ship, as fireballs exploded and sailors died at their posts. The attacks killed 67 and wounded 87 members of the ship’s 300-man crew.
Elmer Morris suffered a gash to the arm and received a Purple Heart for the injury. Decades later, his curious granddaughter, Natalie, looked up the ship, and asked her Pop — Pop why he’d never mentioned earning another prestigious medal for his actions.
He said he didn’t know he had.
Her inquiry triggered a campaign of letter-writing and advocacy to get Morris the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation, with a combat “V” for valor. The ship’s commander had nominated those onboard for the award in 1945, but “somehow or another, it fell through the cracks,” Morris said when he got the long-overdue medal.
He and his wife credit Terry Moore and Bill Snyder, then-captains with the Navy base at Dahlgren, with going above and beyond to make sure the World War II veteran was recognized.
When he received the award, he said he was more scared that night, standing in front of family and military officials, than he’d been during the attack.
He said the same thing about his fear factor when he worked up the nerve to introduce himself to a certain college student, Marceline Weatherly, many years earlier.
Elmer Morris was ready to get on with his life after the war and use the GI Bill to get a business degree, but no spots were available at William & Mary. The governor encouraged veterans to take classes at the University of Mary Washington, then known as Mary Washington College and a school for women.
Morris was among about 35 males who enrolled at the same place his mother had earned a teaching degree in 1918. During his second semester, he noticed Marcy Weatherly, a dancer, drum major and member of the May Court.
He nervously walked up behind her one night at the C-Shoppe, where students gathered for music and dancing, according to a 2013 story about them in the University of Mary Washington Magazine. He tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she’d go with him to a Valentine’s dance for veterans.
All these years later, he doesn’t know how he found the nerve to do it, but is glad he did.
“He tells me almost every day that was the best tap he ever made,” Marcy Morris said, her eyes shining.
The Morrises dated through the rest of college and married two months after graduation. Her parents insisted that her maiden name be on the diploma just as decades later, Elmer Morris insisted that a donation to their alma mater be made in the name of her parents, William Rupert and Lavon Gardner Weatherly.
“That surname will now live on at the University of Mary Washington, with a significant gift from the Morrises to name the Weatherly Wing in the newly renovated Seacobeck Hall,” stated the announcement on the UMW website.
The Morrises attended the November 2022 dedication of the wing’s 150-seat multipurpose auditorium, used for lectures, recitals and other special events. UMW President Troy Paino praised them for their support of UMW, which has educated five generations of their family.
Paino also heralded other donations from the couple: the Marceline Weatherly Morris Musical Theatre Scholarship and funding for the renovation of the Morris Stage at Heslep Amphitheatre, where she was crowned May Queen in her senior year.
“Your generous gifts help our students learn, grow and pursue their interests and passions, just as the two of you did while you were here at Mary Washington,” he said.
‘Love each other dearly’
Elmer Morris’ mother called him Junior, and Marcy Morris just couldn’t do the same. She wasn’t too fond of the names Elmer or Rudolph either, so she shortened Junior to Juney.
After the war and college, Juney Morris prospered in his hometown. He opened Morris Chevrolet, next to the current Opp — Shop on State Route 3 in King George, and ran it for 47 years. He also dabbled in real estate and investments, and the couple owned more than 30 rental homes and businesses. They retain a trust company to manage them.
Juney Morris served 20 years on the King George School Board and was a founding member of King George Union Bank. Marcy Morris directed church choirs, formed the Backyard Players theater group and helped found the Woman’s Club of King George.
Their life together has been “a role model for a loving relationship,” said Ann Revercomb whose husband, Hal, is a retired Circuit Court judge. “They’re a very sweet couple, and they always seem to cherish their relationship.”
The Revercomb and Morris families go way back, but these two couples are from different generations. The Revercombs are closer in age to the children of Juney and Marcy Morris, but they’ve enjoyed spending time together, Ann Revercomb said.
She’s heard about ways the Morrises supported each other in their different activities. When Marcy was busy directing youth musicals, Juney was the grill master, feeding and serving the actors and their families after the shows.
And when the foursome talk about times past, Marcy regularly asks her husband the name of so-and-so.
“Sometimes it make take him a few seconds, but he comes up with it,” Ann Revercomb said.
As the years have passed and their age has caught up with them, the Morrises have changed some of their rituals. He’s no longer able to bring her coffee in bed. They both “get up slower” and head to the dining room for breakfast where “he pours the water now,” she said.
They used to dine by candlelight every night. Marcy Morris doesn’t always have the energy to cook, so their daughter and granddaughter, Ellen and Kelly Lewis, who live on either side of them, bring dinner about five nights a week.
Likewise, Jan Clarke, the assistant vice president of gift planning at UMW, regularly delivers groceries or other items from Fredericksburg stores when he visits. Clarke has known the couple for years but said “our connections grew stronger” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of lingering health issues, the Morrises have avoided shopping, and being around large groups of people, for the better part of four years. She jokes that it’s a good thing they’re such good friends or they might never have stood the confinement.
But whenever Clarke’s been there, the Morrises are holding hands, just as they did long ago at the Mary Washington campus or when they returned for special events.
“They are just sweet people and love each other dearly,” he said.
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