William P. "Bill" Morris is a font of living history, and he has the pictures to prove it.
In a recent Letter to the Editor, Morris wrote, "The ranks of Veterans of World War II and Korea are rapidly shrinking. Many of us have stories which are historically significant, and should not be lost to posterity. In other words, we are living history."
As the lines from his letter indicate, Morris is just such a veteran. He enlisted in the Army Pictorial Service in 1942, and spent World War II on the front lines in Europe, packing not only his regular gear, but also the gear of a combat photographer.
He brought several years of hands-on photographic experience when he enlisted. When Morris's family moved to Anaheim, Calif. from Omaha, Neb., they took the long way around, vacationing through the Rockies and Northwest. All during the trip, the 17-year-old documented their travels.
Morris had always been interested in photography and always had a camera, something he attributes to his father, who took up the hobby in 1905.
Enrolling in the Anaheim high school as a senior, Morris became friends with a fellow student who was the editorial editor of the school newspaper, so he signed up to work on the paper, and from there, he and his friend earned spots on the annual staff. That work led to real jobs for the two pals, serving as correspondent photographers for the Los Angeles Times, "We did our own captions and did stories for the Times," he said.
When the time came to consider life beyond high school, Morris' friend said he did not want to be drafted, so, they enlisted in the APS.
After Morris had his basic training, he was sent for his specialist training in 1943 to a school in New York City.
While in New York City, he went to a luncheon for service men and women at a church. At the luncheon he met a WAVE (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). Her name was Edie, and she became Mrs. Bill Morris. After Morris shipped out, he said, Edie tells people she didn't have anything better to do, so she went on to officer candidate school and was commissioned. So, the Morris house has two World War II veterans residing within its walls.
Combat photography is not taking pictures of men in their best uniforms, grinning at the camera, Morris said.
"We were assigned to combat infantry teams in the field. We had one officer, two still photographers, two motion picture photographers and two drivers," he said.
The photographers were not non-combatants either.
"The first rule (for combat photographers) is when the unit is in a firefight, put down the camera and pick up a rifle. You're a soldier," Morris said.
And in boot camp, one of the first thing the drill instructors told them was, "Kill or be killed."
There was another unspoken rule for combat photographers, "One for me and one for the government." Every print coming out of the labs had a double, and that was given to the photographer. Consequently, Morris has a tremendous collection of photos from the European theater during World War II.
It was no point and shoot job either -- photographically speaking. Morris said they carried 4x5 Speed Graphics, their film, changing bags and other photographic paraphernalia. Combined, the equipment had a weight of about 35 pounds, "We were more weighed (down) than the average soldier -- We called them grunts."
Additionally, the cameras had no range finders or light meters, so the photographers learned to estimate range and light before shooting their shots.
At one point Morris was attached to the 101st Airborne Division, and is still a member of its association. While with the 101st, he went into the field in gliders and on occasion parachuted in, he said.
Morris would like to share his war stories, and his combat photographs, with students in the schools and civic groups. To make an appointment for him to speak call 474-0370.
"There are a number of veterans in Payson that would be willing to share their stories," Morris said. He can help make arrangements with them as well.
When the war was over, Morris went to work for the city of Orange, Calif. He worked there until retiring, serving as a purchasing officer.
They took a vacation in Arizona one year, participating in an elderhostel program over in Cottonwood. They had some old friends that had retired to Payson, and came over to see them.
They went back to California and after one especially bad day for both of them, Edie suggested they move to Payson.
Morris thought it was a great idea, so they packed up after a lifetime in California and came to Payson. That was 12 years ago and they have never looked back.
Name: William P. "Bill" Morris
Occupation: retired purchasing officer
Employer: City of Orange, Calif.
Birthplace: Clarinda, Iowa
Family: Wife, Edie; two children; two grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
Personal motto: Go for broke, the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team
Inspiration: My parents
Greatest feat: I stayed alive during World War II
My favorite hobby or leisure activity is photography, writing and computers
The three words that describe me best are brass, gabby, caring
I don't want to brag, but I'm proud of my family
The person in history I'd most like to meet is Abraham Lincoln
Luxury defined: Time to relax
Dream vacation spot: Maui
Why Payson? One visit and we were sold. We've been here 12 years.