By Frank Morris
With much noise and effort, the big L&N steam locomotive shuddered its long string of cars to a stop at the combination freight and passenger railroad station of Opelika, Ala.
It was a small town of 8,000 and there were just a few people waiting on the platform to board for the trip on to Atlanta. Only four or five passengers disembarked. There was a cold nip in the air, but lots of bright sunshine at mid morning on this December day in 1945. As the train chugged out of the station the small group of people on the platform disappeared , leaving one disembarked passenger standing alone looking at the hand lettered sign which announced the name of his home town and its railroad station.
He wore a blue naval officer’s uniform with one somewhat faded gold stripe, an ensign, the lowest commissioned rank in the United States Navy. He was not quite 20 years old, but looked much older. On his breast were several campaign ribbons and some battle stars. As he picked up his bags he remembered that this was the same concrete platform from which he boarded a train almost three years earlier to begin his naval service. Now, by God’s grace, the war was over and he was coming home again.
No one was at the station to meet this sailor because no one, including him, knew just when, and on which train he would arrive. His beloved mom knew he was being processed for release from active duty at the Naval Air Station in New Orleans, they had talked by telephone several times, but the procedure would take three days or more and no one knew he would be dismissed the night before and be able to catch a train from New Orleans in the wee hours of this particular morning.
Seabag in hand, he strode west along the railroad track just as he had planned to do, as the family business was located adjacent to that track just about a mile from the station. As he walked, Frank Morris reflected upon his departure in Leyte Gulf less than a month ago from the USS Hercules attack cargo ship which had been both his home and duty station for many months. He remembered names and faces of shipmates he knew he would never see again. Faraway places in the Pacific with names like Eniwetok, Saipan and Iwo Jima were vivid in his recollection. He reflected once again upon acts of heroism and selflessness on the part of his shipmates. He bowed his head as he walked and thanked the God who had created them all and who inspired their bravery that now it was over, and many, such as he would be coming home. He prayed for the families whose loved ones would not be returning too.
Coming into view ahead was his destination, the small shop established by his dad in 1929 which manufactured cemetery memorials- the present day site of Cherry construction co.
F.M. Morris had made a living for his family through the great depression here and had earned a reputation for good, honest work at fair value. The cutting, polishing, carving and lettering was all done in their little shop with the help of a few dedicated employees. He and his wife Julia had both worked at the business while raising their only child, Frank.
F.M. had died one week before the attack on Pearl Harbor, leaving Julia to operate the firm with whatever help Frank could render while in high school. Then, World War II took Frank and left her to run the business alone for several more years.
Now Frank was turning into the back of the shop premises. On either side were quarry blocks and sawed slabs of good Elberton, Georgia granite and marble from the quarries at Tate, Georgia. He was walking much faster now as he saw his mother’s car parked at the office. As though providentially motivated, she suddenly opened the office door and ran, crying to meet him.
He dropped his sea bag and lifted her completely off the ground with his embrace. From her own desk inside the office came Julia’s beloved bookkeeper and lettering designer, Francis Troup. This lady had worked for F. M. during his years at the firm and had been Julia’s right hand in the business ever since. She had always been like a member of the family and was now a big part of Frank’s homecoming. When the three finally stopped hugging and wiping tears, they went hand in hand into the warmth of the little office.
“I was so in hopes you would get here today, said Mrs. Troup, “not because tomorrow is Christmas Eve, but because today is Dec. 23, your mom’s birthday.”
This Christmas, remember those serving our country that can’t be home, and pray for their safekeeping until they can be.