Oldest serving Army reservist retires after 60 years of service
The Army is celebrating its 238th anniversary this year, and Hector Morales has served a quarter of that legacy.
He is the oldest serving member of the Army Reserve, and he's stationed at U.S. Army Reserve Command on Fort Bragg. On Thursday, generals to privates honored Morales' 60 years of service during his retirement ceremony.
Morales was born in Puerto Rico in 1931, the year Herbert Hoover was U.S. president, Bing Crosby's crooning was all the rage and a gallon of gas cost 17 cents.
When he was 20 years old, he received a letter from the Selective Service stating, "Your friends and neighbors have selected you to be inducted for military service."
"I never went back to see my friends and neighbors," Morales said.
He served as an Army infantryman and fought in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
He was assigned to the U.S. Army Depot at Fort Richardson before Alaska was even a state and worked out of the American Embassy in Guatemala during civil unrest, where he was the first to read the message that informed the embassy of President John F. Kennedy's death.
Morales retired from active duty in 1981 as a sergeant major, and he had only logged one sick day during his 30-year stint.
But two years later, he reentered the Army as a civilian employee and later helped U.S. Army Reserve Command move to Fort Bragg in 2011 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure law.
He is now retiring as chief of the command's Records Management and Publishing Branch. More than 70 people attended his ceremony, and Tad Davis, Reserve Command's chief executive officer, asked Morales if he had a favorite moment during his 60-year Army career.
"I'm pretty sure the two things that weren't my favorites were Korea and Vietnam," Morales quipped.
Morales was showered with more than a dozen plaques, framed photos and commemorative coins.
The service pin he received represented only 50 years. They're minting him a special one.
His wife, Felicita, looked on. They met at a baseball park in San Juan, where they ended up sitting together.
He didn't think anything of it at the time. But he married her after the Korean War and it's been 57 years since.
"The reason you are here is because of Felicita," said Maj. Gen. Luis Visot, deputy commanding general of operations for the Army Reserve. "She gets all the credit. She's the one who's been waiting a long time for you to come home."
The audience applauded as Felicita waved a bouquet of red roses over her head like a victory flag.
One of their daughters, Adaline Morales-Knox, attended the ceremony with her husband.
She said her father has given her a great love of country and history.
Her father still remembers some Vietnamese and Korean words. He pulled an MG car out of a Guatemalan river once and restored it. He picked apples in Boston to afford a Singer sewing machine for his wife while stationed at Fort Devens.
"From carpentry to fixing the car, he can learn anything," Adaline said.
And now facing retirement, Morales wants to visit the Grand Canyon before he dies. Spend some restful days fishing. Walk the Appalachian Trail.
After everyone finished their speeches, Morales gazed upon the audience for a moment, speechless.
Then he said, "You will always be with me in my memories."