AUBURN – Auburn University dedicated the Max Adams Morris ROTC Drill Field and historic marker today at the Nichols Center on campus.
The new field is located in front of Nichols Center; the marker was placed near the building, as close as possible to the old Max Morris Field, which was located on the current site of the Village Residence Halls and adjacent parking lot.
Morris was a 1942 graduate of Alabama Polytechnic Institute, or API, where he was an honor military student and a varsity football player. As a student, he received the Carnegie Medal for Heroism after he suffered severe burns rescuing Wayne Nelson Jr. and attempting to rescue H. Daughtry Perritt from electric shock at ROTC summer training camp at Ft. Benning, Ga., in 1941. Another cadet, Donald Kelly, saved Morris.
Charles Hendrix, Auburn professor and board member of the Auburn Heritage Association, came across Morris’ story while working on another project. He began working with the Auburn University Board of Trustees to have the area in front of Nichols Center named as the new Max Morris Field. He also wanted to place a historic marker near the former site because, to him, Auburn is about heroes.
“Morris’ story is one of courage, selflessness and love for your fellow man,” he said. “It is a story of scholar athletes. It is a story of love of country. It is the story of a simple, unassuming man. It is a story of ‘making a difference.’ It is a story of how many people are touched when even one life is saved. There is just so much humanity behind this story.”
Following a storm, a four-and-one-half foot radio antenna had become electrically charged and the ground was soaked from the storm. Perritt touched the antenna, was shocked and fell unconscious. Nelson thought he had been overcome by heat and went to tend to him when his wrist came in contact with the antenna. He, too, was shocked and fell unconscious.
Morris grabbed Nelson’s arm and was shocked, but was able to pull himself free. Balancing on the rubber heels of his shoes, Morris again grabbed Nelson and pulled him free from the charged antenna. Morris then used a pillow to knock Perritt free of the contact, but the antenna broke and fell across Morris’ shoulder, neck and back. He was shocked and fell unconscious as well. Kelly was then able to use a board to lift the antenna off Morris. He and Nelson were both revived, but Perritt could not be saved.
API President Luther Duncan and Ralph Draughon, then-secretary to the president, wrote a letter nominating Morris for the Carnegie Medal for Heroism. He was selected as one of the winners for 1941, receiving the medallion and $250, which “was to be paid for a worthy purpose” to be approved by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission’s executive committee.
Morris was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army upon graduation, and served eight years of military duty. For his service in World War II, he was promoted to the rank of major and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Army Commendation Ribbon. He was killed in action in the Korean War in 1950; his remains have not yet been recovered.
Members of the Morris, Nelson, Perritt and Kelly families were brought together for the ceremony. Douglas Chambers of the Carnegie Hero Fund surprised the Morris family with the presentation of a duplicate medal to replace the original, which was stolen.
The original Max A. Morris Drill Field was dedicated on May 14, 1953, under the leadership of API President Ralph Draughon.
(Written by Carol Nelson.)