Virginia Tech cadets will hear a powerful message about the true meaning of service and duty when Medal of Honor recipient Melvin Morris speaks on Nov. 14. Morris, a retired U.S. Army sergeant first class, received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 17, 1969, during combat operations in Chi Lang, Vietnam.
He will speak at 3:30 p.m. in Burruss Auditorium on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus.
The event is free and open to the public and sponsored by the Major General Thomas W. Rice Center for Leader Development as part of the Cutchins Leadership Lecture Series. Public seating is available behind the cadets in the back half of the auditorium.
As the academic arm of the Corps of Cadets, the Rice Center’s mission is to develop cadets into the next generation of global leaders through a comprehensive program of coursework, leadership experiences, ethics education, and guest speakers. Each year, center Director Elaine Humphrey searches out diverse speakers that offer cadets — and the general public — perspectives that expand their ideas of good leadership and challenges each of them to become better leaders themselves.
The most anticipated lectures of late have been the Medal of Honor recipients, which Humphrey brings in through a partnership with the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.
“These lectures are meant to instill in our cadets both a profound appreciation for the service and sacrifice of these particular people,” Humphrey said. “More importantly, they drive home the fact that these heroes and their legacy of service are never forgotten, that we continue to honor them and aspire to be like them.”
These messages connect to the history and core values of Virginia Tech. Seven alumni have received the Medal of Honor, and their names are inscribed on a cenotaph at the center of the War Memorial Pylons.
“Listening to Medal of Honor recipients talk about their experiences is very sobering,” said Justin Clipson, a senior in Air Force ROTC majoring in Russian and international studies, both in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Clipson is serving as this semester’s regimental commander, the highest rank a cadet can achieve.
“As I prepare to step into my military career, the most important lesson I have learned from these Medal of Honor talks is the importance of humility,” he said. “These people didn’t commit their acts for glory or fame. They committed them to save their comrades and to defend our country. This concept of service before self resonates deeply with the kind of person I want to be and makes me strive to always be a better version of myself.”
One of the first soldiers to become a Green Beret, Morris distinguished himself by acts above and beyond the call of duty while serving as commander of a strike force drawn from Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces.
His five-person team was supporting South Vietnamese troops near Chi Lang when fighting broke out. Upon learning that a fellow team commander had been killed near an enemy bunker, Morris, then a staff sergeant, and two volunteers from his team crossed enemy lines to retrieve his body.
Observing the maneuver, the hostile force concentrated its fire on Morris’ efforts and wounded both men accompanying him. After assisting the two wounded men back to safety, Morris charged forward alone, destroyed four enemy bunkers with hand grenades, and ultimately retrieved his comrade’s body and the classified documents he was carrying.
“Listening to Medal of Honor recipients allows us to understand the breadth of the sacrifices men and women before us have made,” said Mame Ngom, a junior in Air Force ROTC majoring in political science. “Behind every story we are able to take principles and lessons valuable to our leadership development. Some of the lessons I have taken from listening to these heroic stories are the importance of hard work, integrity, discipline, and resilience.”
Past speakers have included Clinton L. Romesha, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant who received the medal for his actions on Oct. 3, 2009, during a deadly attack on Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan, and Leroy Petry, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant who received the medal for actions on May 26, 2008, during an attack in Paktya Province, Afghanistan.
The Cutchins Leadership Lecture Series is named for the late Clifford A. Cutchins III, a former bank chairman and Virginia Tech Board of Visitors rector. A member of the Class of 1944, Cutchins received his degree in accounting as a member of the Corps of Cadets.