Monday, June 02, 2008

Doug Morton Memorial Day Article

Kenneth G. Kraetzer of recently sent me this very interesting article on Doug Morton. This past Memorial Day he also told Wahoo's story to a radio station. Keep up the great work, Ken!

May 25, 2008

Ex-Westchester resident comes to terms with hero father's death

Phil Reisman
Journal News columnist

Doug Morton has a personal memorial day that he observes every year without ritual.
"It's the day the Wahoo went down," he said from his home in Englewood, Colo.
The USS Wahoo was the legendary World War II submarine commanded by Morton's father, Cmdr. Dudley W. Morton, that was sunk in the Soya (La Perouse) Strait between Hokkaido, Japan, and Sakhalin, Russia, on Oct. 11, 1943.

Morton was a genuine hero in the darkest days of the war when heroes were sorely needed to bolster morale on the home front. Over the course of four patrols covering 11 months, the Wahoo, under Morton's command, was credited with sinking 19 Japanese ships totaling 55,500 tons. In one 23-hour period, the sub destroyed an entire enemy convoy.

Known as a "daredevil skipper" and an "undersea ace," Morton was awarded four Navy Crosses, the fourth posthumously.

Morton looked and acted the part of a hero. He was a strapping 6-footer, a wrestling champ at the U.S. Naval Academy.

People sought his autograph. His exploits were splashed on the front pages of newspapers all over the country. He did radio interviews and gave talks at schools.
When he died, he was only in his mid-30s, and the sad, undeniable fact is that at the time of his death the public knew "Mush" Morton better than his own son did.
"When he was lost, I was 4," said Doug Morton, who is 68 now and has only a single, dim memory of his father.

"It's just absolutely the vaguest," he said. "He was on a coast-to-coast radio program, and I think I remember sitting in this auditorium and he was up there being interviewed. But you know that may be stretching it."

Morton's picture of his father is mostly painted in broad strokes from the stories and memories given to him over the years by his mother, uncles and grandmother. There's a scrapbook, too. And at least two or three books about the Wahoo have helped fill in some of the blanks.

One time a man, who had served under his father, came up to Morton and said, "Just looking at you, I know who you are." So he has that as well - his dad's looks.
But Doug Morton's grown son bears an even uncannier resemblance to the submarine skipper. Named Dudley after his grandfather, he is about the same age his grandfather was when the Wahoo embarked on its last mission.

It's an astonishing fact that more than a million American fathers served in World War II. More astonishing is that 183,000 children were left fatherless, according to the American WWII Orphans Network, or AWON.

Children from that era are often referred to as members of the so-called "Silent Generation." But those whose fathers never came home comprise a poignant subgroup - the silent sufferers.

There were no support groups for them, no process of intervention to soothe the pain of grief.

"You didn't talk about it," Morton said. "My mother didn't talk about it."
In 1944, the widowed Harriet Morton moved from Los Angeles to Eastchester to live near her sister. Five years later, she married Bob Bradford, an Army veteran who had fought in the Philippines and periodically suffered from the symptoms of malaria. The family moved to Pelham, where Doug Morton and his sister attended public schools.
Morton loved his stepfather, who died in 1960, but he never got over the loss of the father he never knew. It gnawed at him day and night. He would dream of his father and sometimes wake up crying.

Worse, he would go through dark periods that began around September in the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the Wahoo's sinking.

"I didn't know why," he recalled. "I'd just blow. It lasted my whole life."
Therapy helped him understand what was going in inside his head, but it didn't lighten an enormous burden of grief. It was especially difficult for him to talk about his father and his service on the Wahoo.

Once he gave a talk to a service group and barely got through it. Afterward, a man came up to him and told him he hadn't even been born when his father was killed on Okinawa.

"He said he never told anyone before, but he felt he could talk to me," Morton said.
Then an amazing thing happened. You could even call it a miracle. The wreckage of the long lost Wahoo was found lying in 213 feet of water. Japanese fishermen knew where it was and reported snagging their nets in the hulk, but the sub wasn't officially discovered until a Russian dive team photographed it in July 2006.

The Wahoo will remain in its final resting place in keeping with Navy tradition for sailors lost at sea. It is a fitting grave for Morton's father and the 77 other men who served aboard the sub.

But what's more important to Doug Morton is this: Last year, on Oct. 11, a special memorial service was held in Pearl Harbor to honor the sailors of the Wahoo.
Morton said the service calmed him down in a way he never expected. It brought closure. In the past, he couldn't give interviews about his father without paying a psychic price for it afterward. That is no longer the case.

"It really got me past all that grief, a lifetime of grief," he said. "That ceremony did it. It really did it."

Morton said he has always been a supporter of the military.

"But whenever I see people getting killed, I don't care who they are, bad guys, good guys or whatever, I immediately think about the kids who are left behind."

Morton was left behind on Oct. 11, 1943. Only now is he beginning to catch up.



About Me

The first 'grown up' book Paul Crozier ever read was "War Fish" by George Grider. Since then he has spent most of his life researching the U.S. Submarine Force in WWII and USS Wahoo (SS-238) in particular.


This blog is dedicated to all who have served in the U.S. Submarine Force. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

Admiral Chester Nimitz

"We shall never forget it was our submarines that held the line against the enemy while our fleets replaced losses and repaired wounds."

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