“Being on a ship was like ‘all for one’ … like we were all one big family,” Morgan Walker stated of his time served in the active Navy and reserves, and later experienced as a member of veteran service organizations. But as the veteran noted, there was a time when he was uncertain whether he would even qualify for service in the military.
Prior to his graduation from high school in Marshfield, Missouri, in 1960, Walker made the decision to enlist in the Navy, but was concerned whether he would meet the physical requirements.
“As a kid I had polio and didn’t know if I would make the cut,” he said.
The aspiring sailor did manage to pass his entrance tests, enlisted, and went on to complete his basic training at Great Lakes, Illinois. He then returned to Marshfield and began attending classes at a local college under a Navy initiative that allowed an enlistee to complete their education before beginning active duty service. In June 1962, with four semesters of college behind him, the young sailor chose to break from his education and embark upon his sworn commitment. Walker was immediately assigned to the USS Spiegel Grove—an amphibious assault landing ship he says was “about the size of a football field and a half.”
He explained, “I was assigned to the operational division as a radioman because I already knew Morse code—growing up I had been an amateur radio operator … and still am.”
For the next two years, the sailor gained a lifetime of experience sailing the world on numerous deployments to the Mediterranean and Caribbean, in addition to witnessing firsthand major events of both national and international consequence.
“Our ship was part of a contingent of several ships that circled Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Walker recalled. “You could hear shots being fired in the distance (from Cuba), but I don’t think they we’re trying to actually hit us,” he added.
During the deployments, the young sailor’s duties found him in the radio room where he would decode incoming messages to be delivered to the appropriate personnel. He would also encode outgoing message traffic being sent to upper level authorities. Toward the latter part of his enlistment, he participated in a “goodwill tour” to South Africa, during which time the ship delivered supplies such as livestock and perishable groceries to poorer countries affected by war in the region.
While still in the Navy, Walker began communicating with the Missouri Highway Patrol, who, at that time, was in the process of hiring individuals with a knowledge of Morse code to add to their communications staff. Walker was promised a job and when his enlistment expired in June 1964, he relocated to Jefferson City, where he went to work for the patrol as a communications specialist. He spent the next 39 years employed in a communications capacity for the patrol, later transferring to Springfield and Rolla before finally returning to Jefferson City and retiring in 2000.
While still in Springfield, Walker wished to reconnect to the camaraderie found during his military service, and made the decision to enlist in the Navy Reserve in 1977. He left the reserves in 1988 after finding the dual commitment of a full-time job and reserve obligations left him with little free time. Several years ago, Walker also became involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion to satisfy his desire to continue in the spirit of “service to others,” and in the years that followed, dedicated countless hours in such capacities as the adjutant for the American Legion Post 5.
In addition to the camaraderie he found in the service and through his voluntary endeavors with veterans’ organizations, Morgan asserts that the one of the most significant payoffs of his service time has been the priceless skills garnered from his time in service.
“The Navy gave me a lot of good training that reinforced and built upon my experience as an amateur radio operator—training that allowed me to apply my skills in a real-world environment,” he said. “This training,” he added, “proved to be quite valuable since it was recognized by the (highway) patrol and provided me with a good job for so many years after I left the service.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.