U.S. Army Sgt. James L. Morris led a small party of soldiers on a four-day, 350-mile pursuit in the summer of 1873, trying to reclaim a southern New Mexico ranch seized by Apache Indians who were fighting American settlers and the federal government.
Morris was awarded the Medal of Honor after he and fellow soldiers killed three of them and captured 12, in addition to their horses and a mule. Morris, born in 1845 in Ireland, died in New Mexico in 1903.
Morris was buried in a patch of ground in the middle of Fairview Cemetery in southeast Albuquerque under a lime headstone that, over the years, disintegrated, and was already falling apart when a vandal knocked it over last August.
On Saturday afternoon, around 30 military veterans and others gathered to commemorate a new, gleaming headstone for the Medal of Honor recipient. A group of retired military veterans, known as the Jerry Murphy Detachment of the Marine Corps League, organized a donation drive to replace the headstone and received around $3,500 from more than two dozen other donors, including other leagues, individuals and even a Navy commander stationed in Afghanistan.
“It’s disrespectful to have a grave look like that,” said John Cleveland, a member of the detachment and U.S. Marine Corps veteran who helped to organize the headstone effort. “Even though the guy is Army, he’s a brother.”
The detachment and other groups, including the Albuquerque chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, tried to search Internet and other archives for any information about Morris or his family. He died alone, they said, and they couldn’t find any living relatives. In cemetery records, the “parents” section is blank, said Larry Golden, another member of the detachment.
The ceremony Saturday was well attended, however, by military members of several generations, from the retired veterans who gave Morris a gun salute to the adolescent Bear Canyon Young Marines, who presented the colors.
Patricia Barger, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, said she and other members have visited Morris’ grave each year for at least the last 10 years – so often that she feels a connection to him and calls him by his first name.
“We have kind of just adopted him,” she said. “We know what it’s like to not have anybody close by.”
Cleveland said the detachment has found another Medal of Honor recipient buried in Silver City, and they sent an Medal of Honor decal, identical to the one recently installed on Morris’ headstone, to the cemetery there.