The last time Ed Black saw Joe Morro was June 8, 1944. But Black never forgot Morro. You don’t forget a guy who, when you’re almost dead, risks his life to help you.
The U.S. Navy brought Morro, a New Jersey boy, and Black, from North Carolina, together. They were World War II shipmates on the USS Rich, a destroyer escort in the Allies’ D-Day invasion. Two days later, the Rich was off the coast of France, helping a damaged American ship, when the Rich itself hit three floating mines.
It sank in 15 minutes, and 92 men died with it. Many more were wounded, including Black, who had a fractured skull, broken jaw and “burns and wounds over my entire body,” he said recently. Still, he jumped off the Rich safely with another shipmate, and the two were rescued by an American ship — which was still under attack.
Morro made it onto the same ship, with just minor wounds. He found Black’s other buddy, Charlie, and asked where Ed was.
“Charlie told him, ‘Ed’s in the back, with the dead,’” Black said.
But Morro didn’t give up on his friend.
“I don’t know how Joe found me, but he did,” Black said this week. “I just vaguely remember him calling my name. ... I could barely say, ‘Water. Water.’ ... He went and got water, and put it on my lips, my face. I thought that was really something for a guy to do, because the ship was still in combat.”
Black spent a month in a coma, and 10 more months in hospitals. But he recovered and got on with his life, mainly as a radio broadcaster.
Morro moved on after the war, too. He was a shipbuilder in Philadelphia, then worked at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May when he moved from Glassboro to Cape May Court House in 1969. He and his now-late wife, Ellen, raised three kids and had eight grandchildren.
Morro was 88, long and happily retired when he died last month. His daughter, Joanne Leonard, of Cape May, thought she should send word of his death to a Navy group her dad had recently heard from about a Rich reunion.
Within days, the family got a call from Black, saying he’d spent years trying to find Morro, with no luck — because the Navy apparently misspelled Morro’s name.
“I’ve been looking for him ever since the ship got sunk,” said Black, now 89.
He wrote a tribute that was read at his old buddy’s funeral. The story made tears flow freely in the church.
As a young vet, Morro didn’t talk much about the war. But he opened up more lately, so his family knew about his ship sinking — although not about him helping a wounded friend.
But Black said, “I had told that story many, many times, how Joe Morro brought water to me. And I’ve never been able to find him.”
Morro’s family is thrilled he finally did.
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