Rear Admiral Morton says veterans share a secret — the benefit of service, sacrifice

Navy Rear Admiral Douglas Morton, left, chats with Dr. Nelson Large, a retired Navy dentist and former chief of dental service at the Hefner VA Medical Center.
Navy Rear Admiral Douglas Morton, left, chats with Dr. Nelson Large, a retired Navy dentist and former chief of dental service at the Hefner VA Medical Center.

SALISBURY — Navy Rear Admiral Douglas Morton’s childhood years in Salisbury were fairly typical.

He attended Overton Elementary School and St. John’s Lutheran Church. He played Little League baseball on the field behind Ketner Center.

Morton and his friends had the run of Eagle Heights, where they would build forts in the woods and camp out overnight.

Morton first experienced the sacrifice inherent in a military family when he watched his Reservist father, Jim, leave the Charlotte-Douglas Airport in Charlotte one Sunday morning for a year’s tour of duty in Vietnam.

Douglas Morton experienced it again as a 12-year-old when his father returned in 1972 and moved the family to Virginia Beach, Va., where Jim was assigned to serve at the Atlantic Division of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command.

“That was the worst part,” Douglas Morton said.

Morton spoke Monday to a meeting of the Central Carolina Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America.

Having been in the Navy now more than 30 years, Morton told the retired officers they all share an important secret — that feeling only they can know from having served and made sacrifices from that service.

“There’s something really great in this idea of service,” said Morton, who received his appointment as a rear admiral in August 2012 and now heads the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic.

His current assignment gives him the responsibility for planning, design, acquisition, maintenance and operation for the Naval Shore Establishment, spread over two-thirds of the world.

In Iraq, Morton commanded Seabee Battalion 40, putting him at the tip of the spear supporting the Marine Division leading the second invasion of that country.

Earlier in his career, Morton was the officer in charge of 200 Seabees deployed to Hungary, Croatia and Bosnia in support of the 1st Armored Division peacekeepers of Operation Joint Endeavor.

Morton and his wife, Margaret, have been kept busy in his visit to see his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Morton of China Grove.

On Sunday afternoon, Morton helped to dedicate the Seabees monument installed at the Salisbury National Cemetery by the Navy Seabee Veterans of America.

He also spoke to classes at Sacred Heart School Monday morning as part of their Veterans Day observance.

Morton said it probably took Margaret and him four years before figuring out what sacrifice in the military service meant to them as a married couple.

Morton found himself separated from Margaret and deployed to Okinawa, Japan, for nine months with the Seabees.

While assigned to Rota, Spain, he missed the birth of a daughter — another sacrifice.

Morton said today’s Navy can be present almost anywhere in the world. Just recently, the presence of four destroyers off the coast of Syria sent a message to the Syrian government that the United States meant business, he noted.

With the aid of maps, Morton showed the group where the Navy has bases, places of influence and monitors crossroads or “choke points,” such as the Suez and Panama canals, to make sure those passages are never shut down.

“Our Navy is all about presence, being on the mark,” Morton said.

During his Veterans Day talk, Morton made special mention of the Civil Service and the importance of dedicated civil servants who have supported the military throughout its history.

The Civil Service lost two employees during the recent Washington Navy Yard shootings in which 12 people were killed.

Morton said thousands of civil servants and their families were affected by the tragedy, but the employees returned to their work because they also are dedicated to the idea of service and sacrifice.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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