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thedrifter
04-14-06, 05:01 AM
Soldier's dad: Cross bears such sacrifice
The meaning of a 6-foot crucifix in Mount Angel is as powerful as it is deep to the men who built it
Friday, April 14, 2006
MARK LARABEE
The Oregonian

MOUNT ANGEL W hen Tony Morris looks at the crucifix these days, the meaning and messages that fill his heart are a lot more complex than they were a year ago. But they're also crystal clear.

Morris, director of the Father Bernard Youth Center in this small Willamette Valley town, sees special meaning in the cross watching over the center's peaceful, sky-lit chapel. He and his son, Joe Morris, made the 6-foot-tall cross from Douglas fir beams. And in a pilgrimage of sorts in December, they traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to buy the wooden sculpture of a tortured Jesus Christ to complete their project.

Today, on Good Friday, the day Christians honor Jesus' sacrifice, Tony Morris will be thinking about Joe and his buddies in Iraq and the sacrifices they are making. Cpl. Joe Morris is with the U.S. Marines in war-torn Fallujah.

"Soldiers are giving it all, everything they've got, down to the last drop of blood for many of them," Tony Morris said. "Christ died on a cross on Good Friday, which came down to his last drop of blood. When you get right down to it, each one of those soldiers are willing to do that."

Morris doesn't say where he stands on the politics of the Iraq war. And it really doesn't matter. But Joe Morris certainly didn't think war was the answer. Tony said his son was a "long-haired wild man" who supported Sen. John Kerry's presidential bid when he signed up with the Marines in June 2003, shortly after graduating from high school.

It seems a bit incongruous that a kid who loved to ride a skateboard and party hard would sign on for four years on the tip of a spear.

Other forces steered him toward soldiering, ones he learned growing up listening to his grandfather's World War II stories. The romance of that bygone war and the sacrifices of a generation were more powerful motivators than politics ever could be.

"Joe and every kid I talked to who has been over there have others in mind," Tony Morris said.

Which brings their story back to the cross.

The Father Bernard Youth Center is a place for high school- and college-age students to talk about life, religion and the troubles, confusion and questions such weighty subjects often bring.

Joe Morris was essentially sitting out the war with an amphibious assault unit at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, when he switched units to go to Iraq.

Tony Morris was putting the finishing touches on the newly remodeled youth center when he learned of his son's new assignment. The two agreed to spend some time together. The trip to Mexico gave them time to reflect and to finish the crucifix before Joe shipped out in January.

Now, group discussions at the youth center often begin with the cross and the Crucifixion and inevitably turn to freedom, sacrifice and Iraq.

"Joe wanted the kids to understand freedom, Christ's freedom of the soul," Tony Morris said. "Like we can in Christ on Easter Sunday, can the Iraqi people see the resurrection? This gives us the place to ask the right questions."

It has not been easy for Morris, who sees the destruction in Iraq on television and reads Joe's descriptive e-mails about the carnage just outside the walls of his bunker. As he worries about his son, Tony Morris still manages to see something positive in the horror Joe witnesses.

"I am proud as heck," Tony Morris said. He is angry his son is over there, "but at the same time, the growth as an individual is tremendous. There are powerful things going on in his life."

Joe Morris turned 21 on April 2. He celebrated that night with buddies and sent home a letter that included a $650 donation to the Father Bernard Youth Center.

Dumbfounded by the money, Tony Morris proudly chalked it up to more sacrifice from an Oregon kid growing up fast in a place where his motives may not be completely understood.

While Joe Morris fights a war, back home his father holds retreats for Oregon National Guard soldiers who've returned from Iraq, helping them find answers for why they and life in America aren't the same as when they left. The talks give the soldiers some tools they'll need to face missing limbs, and wives and girlfriends -- the often unexplained and unexpected casualties of war.

"They come here and they see the cross and they're asking those questions," Tony Morris said. "Is there something beyond the cross? Can they see the resurrection?"

Mark Larabee: 503-294-7664; marklarabee@news.oregonian.com

Ellie