You Say it’s Your Birthday!

Happy 100th birthday to my father-in-law, Steven Evo Morelli (b. 19 Dec. 1913)!

2013 1201 Morelli Steve 100Amazing guy!  Here is a picture of Steve taken by his grandaughter, Meryl, in San Antonio where he lives with his daughter and her family.

Steve is a child of Italian immigrants, Olinto & Maria (nee Vanni) Morelli, who came on separate ships in 1909, settling in the Italian community in the Avon, CT area.  The family lived on the dairy farm where Olinto worked.  Steve graduated from high school, the first of the family to do so.  He decided to go to Iowa State University because that’s where his friend was going.  “It was a really long drive.  I thought it would be much closer.”  They must not have had maps back then.  🙂  Steve majored in Dairy Science.  In 1936, his junior year, Steve enrolled in ROTC which “almost paid for the education.”  After six weeks of summer camp he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. [1]

Steve then went to work in Wichita Falls, KS for Carnation for a year and a half, until he was called to military service in approximately 1940 (probably later than that).

Basic training was conducted at Ft. Riley, Kansas; then the group went to Ft. Hood for more training.  At that time, he was assigned to the 90th Infantry Division, Field Artillery unit, 344th Battalion.   After that training, he was transferred with the 90th to Louisiana (near Shreveport) for more field training for a year.  Steve was a 2nd Lt. but was promoted to 1st Lt. in Louisiana.  Steve was in charge of the firing batteries.

In the winter of 1944, the unit was sent overseas to England where they experienced more training until D-Day.  The unit was located north and west of London in Sennybridge, South Wales. [2]

 June 6, 1944:  D-Day.

“Everyone knew it was going to happen; it was just a matter of when.”

 The unit was told about a month in advance when the invasion would take place, and then preparations seemed to intensify, with more practice firing on the ranges.  The first part of June the unit moved near the coast but Steve couldn’t remember exactly where.  The assignment was for the battalion to land at Utah Beach, support the infantry, and go to a particular position about 4 to 5 Km. inland.  The artillery was to provide support for the infantry and just move with the group.  It took about two days to load the artillery on the boat.  They then moved all personnel onto the boat.  The Channel was calm; Steve didn’t get seasick.  Infantry was gathering on the coast as well.  For miles, up and down the coast, ships were visible. Steve didn’t know how they kept it a secret.

Since the artillery follows the infantry, the unit, all five batteries, landed at Utah Beach on 7 June.

The boats left the 5th, and got into position closer to France.  Paratroopers went in the early morning hours of the 6th behind the lines, and then the boats left to take the infantry.  The Airborne Division landed the morning of the 6th, at approximately 5:00 AM near the coast.  Steve could see the infantry land but there was not much fighting back by the Germans.

The Artillery landed about 9:00 or 10:00 the next morning, went inland 6 or 7 KM, and organized.  “It was a lot easier than we thought it would be.”  The battalion arrived at the appointed position on time.  By June 10th and 11th, the unit was organized at St. Mere Eglise, France.  There was no activity because of the light resistance.

The unit went inland 10 to 15 KM before they met any resistance.

“On the fifteenth of June we moved to Amfreville to support the 357th Infantry, which was between the4th and 9th divisions, who later pinched us out.  We remained there until the night of the eighteenth when we made a night move to the vicinity of Gourbesville.  This was a night of slow movement and great suspense, as roving German planes flared the roads.  The days in Normandy were long, the nights short; the men were tired and rest came in short doses; a night march increased attention and put the men on edge. “ [3]

The artillery followed the infantry as they moved east and south, mostly east, moving fast, for 1 to 2 weeks.  The tempo of the fighting seemed to be on and off again.  The German artillery would be active or the aircraft would flyover and shoot for a concentrated period and then …nothing.  By 29 July, the unit had, with other units, stabilized the Cherbourg Peninsula.   Then the unit stayed there and waited for what seemed a long time of 6 or 7 months.  There was almost no resistance.

“On the fifteenth of June we moved to Amfreville to support the 357th Infantry, which was between the 4th and 9th divisions, who later pinched us out.  We remained there until the night of the eighteenth when we made a night move to the vicinity of Gourbesville.  This was a night of slow movement and great suspense, as roving German planes flared the roads.  The days in Normandy were long, the nights short; the men were tired and rest came in short doses; a night march increased attention and put the men on edge.” [4]
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“The Falaise Pocket, or Gap, as the papers always managed to title it, was a valley bounded by high hills in dense forests, with the towns of Chambois and Le Bourg-St. Leonard on one side of it, and the other small settlements of Ste. Eugénie and Tournai-sur-Dives located on the small dry river that was really the only available outlet left.  From our present position we covered that one outlet with a murderous fire.  It was here that the 90th finally eradicated the German7th from the High Command’s list.  It was here that the remnants of 20 German divisions were annihilated.” [5]

Le Bourg-St. Leonard is about 80 miles south and west of Utah Beach.

While stationed in Nancy, Steve received leave and went to Italy for about 4 weeks.  He flew to Rome in an Army plane, commandeered a jeep and drove north to visit the relatives in Foiano.  They were very surprised.  The war had made them impoverished and Steve gave them all he had.  He visited relatives, including his brother and his family (did not immigrate until the 1950’s), an aunt in Foiano and uncle in Rome.  The children in Foiano ran into the fields and hid because there was a soldier (Steve) on the property!  The family described how they were subjected to a lot of control by the Germans and limited in what they could keep of their farm products.  A large percentage had to be given to the Germans.  Steve stayed 3 weeks.

Steve went back to Nancy, then traveled north…to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Holland.  This was an opportunity that he wouldn’t have ever had and is a treasured memory.

As a single man, Steve still had to wait to accumulate enough points to leave and did by late fall of 1945.  He was, however, still in Europe on November 11. The Battalion was to be shipped to Japan via the US.  The boat left in January or February of 1946 from Nancy, France.  It took 9 or 10 days to cross but Steve spent a lot of time on the deck because he would get seasick below deck.  By the time the ship landed in North Carolina, the war was over.

They were told to go home.

At the time of landing in North Carolina Steve was a Major, a commissioned officer. He went into the Reserves. Steve was promoted to Lt. Col. in 1952/3.  He was promoted to Col. end of the 1950s (or later).  He retired from the Reserves in 1988.

Steve met Molly, his future wife and an army nurse, through a friend while in Nancy, France.  After combat was over in Europe and the unit was in Nancy, France, three men, one of whom was Steve, roomed together.  One of them had a nurse sweetheart and this nurse happened to be in Molly’s unit. Molly wasn’t well pleased with Steve as “I was half stewed at the time.  She was totally disgusted with me.”  After he was back in the States, Steve visited her in Wisconsin and eventually asked her to marry him.

Happy Birthday, Steve.  And you can call me Susie anytime!

Love,

Jill

The information from the website is in italics.  Some facts from the website are interspersed with Steve’s recollections.

[1] Steven Morelli (2214 S. Memorial, Tulsa, Oklahoma), interview by Jill Morelli, June 2003; transcript privately held by Jill Morelli, [address for private use,] Seattle, Washington, 2013.

[2] Joe Abrams (Lt.), “A History of the 90th Division in World War II,” online 90th Division Association (http://www.90thdivisionassoc.org/History/UnitHistories/index.html : accessed 15 December 2013), various pages.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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4 comments on “You Say it’s Your Birthday!

  1. Mary Swenson says:

    Happy Birthday Mr. Morelli!
    What a wonderful tribute to another American hero!

  2. Andrea Musgrove Perisho says:

    Nice article and a great tribute to your father-in-law.

  3. Linda in Lancaster says:

    No way he’s 100! Wow! My mother is 94 and she looks a whole lot older than Mr. Morelli! Happy Birthday! May you live to see 110!!

    • jkmorelli says:

      Well, I found out that the picture was not taken “recently” but rather a couple of years ago. He has physically deteriorated quite a bit in this last year. Jill

      Professional genealogist Give the gift of family!

      >

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