Monday, December 11, 2006
By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Shortly before he
deployed to Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division, Staff Sgt.
Daniel Morris bought a new door for his Central Texas family. The front door of the New Testament Christian
Church's house needed replacing and Daniel made sure it was taken care of before he left in September.
Daniel kept a room
at the house, which sits next door to the chapel on Old Florence Road.
New Testament is a
worldwide network of churches located near Army posts. It serves as a home away from home where service members and their
families can go to worship, and even provides a retreat for soldiers wanting a break from barracks life.
Daniel was one of
those soldiers. The congregation at Killeen's New Testament Christian Church is
like a family. Many of the soldiers know each other from previous duty stations.
But for the church's
leaders, Matthew and Deborah Reed, Daniel was more than just one of the soldiers who lived at the church – he was a
son. The "Number 1 son," they joked.He helped around the house, becoming Matthew's right-hand man. The church had only a push
lawnmower to mow the large yard so Daniel bought Matthew a riding one. When the time came for a new front door, Daniel was
Whenever there was
a need, he was there, Matthew said.
It was while standing
at this new blue front door where the Reeds found out that Daniel wouldn't ever walk back through it again.
The doorbell rang
on Nov. 25, it was a Saturday, and Deborah went to the door. She had to walk past the entrance to Daniel's room, which was
just to the right of the main entrance. The new door didn't have a peephole like the old one, just a fan-shaped window near
the top. She asked who it was and learned that two soldiers in dress uniforms stood on the other side.
They asked for Mrs.
Morris and Deborah knew they were there about Daniel. She thought for a split second that maybe he was injured or hurt. Living
in a military community, she knew what the Class A's the soldiers were wearing meant."No, no, no, not Daniel," she said.
The soldiers couldn't
tell the Reeds, because they weren't relatives, why they were there, but Deborah knew.
"Staff Sgt. Daniel
Marshall Morris, 28, of Clinton, Tenn., died Nov. 25 in
Al Judiah when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle," read the notice from Fort
Hood's Public Affairs Office."
Morris entered the
military in October 1999 as an infantryman and was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat
Team, 1st Cavalry Division, since April 2002."
Daniel had called
the Reeds four days before he died.
He had received a
care package full of some of his favorite foods.
Deborah had spoken
to Daniel a week before that and told him that she loved him.
"I don't normally
tell soldiers, I love you,'" she said. "But I told him."
The news shocked the
congregation, which had about 100 members before the 1st Cavalry's deployment, and 25 to 30 now. Daniel's death immediately
brought everyone closer, Deborah said. Telling the congregation was one of the hardest things Matthew has ever had to do.
The day the Reeds
found out about Daniel, one iris bloomed in the flower bed by the house. It was a sweet blessing, Deborah thought, because
the irises usually bloomed in the spring. The iris is the official flower of Tennessee,
Daniel's home state. It reminded the Reeds of Daniel – their "Tennessee
The usually meek and
gentle man, which is how Deborah described him, was transformed when he put on his uniform. It was like Clark
Kent and Superman, the Reeds like to joke.
"He put on that uniform
and he was rock solid," Matthew said.
He cared about the
other soldiers and would often bring them to Sunday services. He brought seven with him the last Sunday before he left for
Iraq. Five of those still attend the church, Matthew said.
After life in the Army, Daniel planned on attending a Bible seminary in Washington
When the Reeds were
told details of what happened Nov. 25, they knew Daniel left doing what they had seen him do so many times. He was the type
of man who would lie down in a mud puddle so you could cross, Matthew said.
The Reeds were told
Daniel took the brunt of the IED explosion and three other soldiers were injured."He took the brunt and they lived," Matthew
Since Daniel's death,
church members have shared stories about him, going from tears to laughter, remembering the silly things he did.
"Aw, he was funny,
too," Matthew said. "The dude could make you laugh."
Daniel was a hunter
and fisherman, spending hundreds of dollars on gear.
He bought a salt lick
for deer shortly before deploying so he would be ready for hunting season when he returned.
The hunting camouflage
he bought was still hanging in his closet Nov. 29. The Reeds were packing up his room to get ready for the long drive to Clinton,
Tenn., where Matthew would perform Daniel's eulogy.Matthew pulled Daniel's Class A uniform
out of the closet and held it up, admiring the ribbons and stripes. Deborah looked at it and sighed. She ran her hand over
the big 1st Cavalry patch on the shoulder and over the yellow rank stripes. Then she walked out of Daniel's room.
Daniel's room looked
as if he would be walking through the front door any minute. The shelves next to his twin bed contained aircraft and soldier
Four watches sat lined
up on one of the shelves. Matthew picked one up Nov. 29 and remembered that Daniel bought it when they went shopping together
Daniel had bought
a matching one for Matthew, too, which he was wearing that day.
While walking out
of the room, Matthew found an open pack of cool green apple chewing gum on a table by the door. It was Daniel's favorite gum.
The Reeds left Killeen
for Tennessee the last day of November. The weather was cloudy and rainy the
entire 15-hour drive. Matthew and Deborah noticed that the clouds broke open once they reached Tennessee.
A burial at Arlington
National Cemetery couldn't compare to the next few
days they spent in Daniel's hometown, Matthew said Dec. 6.
The Reeds got into
town just in time to meet Daniel's remains at an airport in Knoxville, a little
more than 15 minutes from Clinton. Matthew rode with Daniel's father, Glen, to
the airport. They spent the drive sharing stories and reflecting."
It felt like two fathers
riding together," Matthew said.
Matthew and Deborah
also finally met Daniel's 10-year-old daughter, Alexis, the "sunshine of his life." Matthew had talked to her on the phone
before in Texas, but it was his first time meeting the little girl who is "all
"She's Daniel wrapped
up in a female," Matthew said.
The town's first Iraq
war death brought the more than 9,000 residents of Clinton together. Daniel received
a hero's welcome and farewell.
More than 800 people
attended the eulogy Dec. 2. Members of the Patriot Guard, motorcyclists who attend the funerals of service members, lined
the sidewalks of the funeral home, holding up flags to create a tunnel to the entrance.
Deborah made a slideshow
with photos from Daniel's life at Fort Hood,
and that was played at the eulogy. The crowd laughed at photos of him acting goofy, like pretending to eat a can of cat food.
Sunday, Dec. 3, is
a day the Reeds say they will never forget. The procession to the Oak Ridge Memorial
Park cemetery was led by a procession of policemen, military honor guard and more than 200 Patriot
It stretched 2 miles
long and contained more than 500 people, Matthew said. The procession wound through Clinton,
passing the house he grew up in. Even more people lined the streets, waving flags, placing hands on hearts and crying. Veterans
in their uniforms stood and saluted as the hearse passed by."
I get shivers thinking
about it," Deborah said Dec. 6.
On the outskirts of
town, two firetrucks extended their ladders and hung a huge American flag over the street. When the procession drove onto
the interstate, traffic stopped. No police officers made the cars stop, the drivers just did it on their own, Matthew said,
Daniel was the first
Iraq war soldier buried in the cemetery's Garden
of Valor. He was placed on the side of a hill, "loaded with deer," the funeral
director told Matthew – fitting for a hunter.
Daniel was a humble
man who shied away from praise, the Reeds said. He would've reacted the same way to his funeral, too, Matthew said.
"He would say, No,
don't do this. Not me. Don't do this for me. This is too much,'" Matthew said.
Knowing Daniel and
being in Tennessee for his funeral was incredible, the Reeds said.
"I found peace," Deborah
said. "I did."
It has helped them
look within and has brought home what they have dedicated their lives to. Others in the congregation questioned why Daniel
was taken and Matthew tells them, "God gets the cream of the crop and Daniel was definitely the cream."
"I'm a better man
because Daniel Morris passed my way and was part of my life," Matthew said.
The blue door on Old
Florence Road still swings open for soldiers. The room just to the right no longer contains the
uniforms, hunting gear, new golf clubs or watches of Daniel Morris. Instead, on an end table on the other side of the blue
door, a gold-framed photo of the staff sergeant sits as a reminder of the soldier who, in life and death, changed the lives
of the folks at New Testament Christian Church."
He was a hero to us
before any of this happened," Deborah said.
Taken from the blog,
“One Less Stone, How Can I Be Silent?” By Debbie R.
Article written by Amanda
Kim Stairrett, Killeen Daily Herald