Kansas Vietnam veteran known as the ‘human mortar’

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Ed Morland was called the “human mortar” in Vietnam because of his arm.

His father was a farmer and dug water wells, and his mother taught school. There were six children, so he said they didn’t have a whole lot of money. The family didn’t even have a rifle, so Ed says he would throw hedge apples and knock squirrels out of trees so they could eat them. He also remembered tossing a baseball from his backyard to the garden that was about 400 yards away. When he was young, he went to a track meet with his older sister.

“I asked my sister what are they throwing, and she said, ‘oh, that is a javelin,’ and I said that is what I want to do,” Ed said.

He went straight home, grabbed a pipe from the chicken house, and ground it down for his first javelin.

“I used to never run down the runway unless I had goosebumps.”

He also talked about another ritual, where he held the javelin above his head before every throw.

“That was my dream. I wanted to go to the Olympics.”

Morland knew he could if just given a chance. He had some engaging experiences over the years, thanks to his many athletic abilities.

He tried out for the Pittsburgh Pirates because his Dad said he knew he could make the roster. The tryouts were in St. Joseph. The man clocking the ball said it came in at more than 100 mph, which landed him a top spot on the farm team.

Ed also talked about going to San Bernardino Valley College and trying out for baseball. He said he told the guy catching his pitches to get a catcher’s mitt. When he got done throwing three pitches, the man had blisters.

Years before that, his talented arm landed him on the U.S. Army Track and Field Team. A recruiter convinced him to sign up, promising he would compete on the team rather than go to Vietnam.

After basic at Fort Bliss and advanced training at Fort Polk, he heard from the service and was told due to his special orders, he needed to drink lots of milk and eat steak to put on some weight.

“It was not a real good place to be,” Morland said.

Morland thought he was going to California to compete in the javelin, but instead, he ended up in Vietnam, where the only comforts of home were letters.

“I didn’t sleep in a bed for six, seven months.”

He said one night, a small platoon was guarding the perimeter.

“A guy slipped up and cut the guy on the corner bunkers head off with a machete, and then took the machine gun and turned it around on us.”

Morland was a squad leader.

“I said we gotta get out of here because they are going to be on top of us. and we won’t be able to see.”

Three hundred Viet Cong attacked the 30 American soldiers.

“You can’t imagine how heroic the men are.”

He also remembered that they were taking a lot of sniper fire, so they needed to launch grenades.

“They were hesitant to do it, and I don’t know. I just happened to come by.”

Ed told the officer he could throw the grenades at the enemy.

“He called me a dumb private, and he says that is at least a 100 yards down there, and there’s no one in the world who could throw a grenade that far,” Morland said.

That’s when he showed them he could.

“I knew that thing was going a long way, and I finally looked over, and the grenade, go down and right before it got to the vegetation, it blew up in the air.”

From then on, he carried a bag full of grenades.

“Everybody carried a bunch of grenades, so if I ran out, they could get me some grenades,” Morland said.

They could always call on the “human mortar” for launch.

“He says you just start throwing grenades, and I will tell ya whether to tell you to throw them harder or not as hard or left or right.”

They got the sights set, and Morland walked away with this 7.62 pistol.

“I took it off of a VC.”

He still has the gun, holster and the VC soldier’s dog tag. The gun and holster were on a belt once worn by an American soldier.

“I just imagine he got it off of one of our guys.”

On patrols, Morland was often the first to see what was ahead.

“As big as I was, I walked point a lot.”

That’s because his Kansas country raising taught him a lot about what to be careful of, and he also knew when to call in the guy with the metal detector.

“The Lord just looked after me.”

He said he knew that for sure when a commanding officer, who was looking to jump rank, signed them up for a very dangerous patrol.

“We just got it, and all heck broke loose,” Morland said. “They wiped out the first five people.”

Once again, Morland was there for his fellow soldiers.

“I carried several guys out, put them in this boat, and pushed them across the Saigon River.”

After nearly losing his life again, Morland told the Army he was done with the frontline fight.

“After you get close to getting killed, you hesitate to move.”

Morland ended up at a Base Camp, where he really got moving. First, he made a basketball goal and then got his hands on items to make a barbell.

“I took a smaller pipe and put it in gallon cans, so I made my dumbbells.”

He said the cook also liked to work out, so that, along with some friendly soldier swapping, kept him in food.

“I would trade my cigarettes for food.”

Ed returned home from Vietnam weighing more than he ever had and went on to throw the javelin for the U.S. Army Track and Field Team. After the service, he had offers from many universities, but he had his sights set on K-State.

“If you don’t want to get beat every track meet, you better go up and see my nephew.”

That’s what Morland’s uncle told the field coach, and he showed up on the family farm.

“I threw that javelin down and hit the high lines and soared and went up in the air, and Bill Favrow said that is good enough, you’ve got a full ride.”

Ed loved to make his teammates laugh and is even pictured with his pet raccoon he would sometimes bring to the locker room. He said they looked up to him because of his age and Vietnam experience. He was chosen as the most inspiring guy both years he threw for the team.

“It was really great to compete for K-State.”

Still to this day, Ed graces the record books at the university and qualified for the Olympic trials while throwing.

However, he eventually put down the javelin for many years due to PTSD. Ed credits his loving wife, Karen, with getting him through the dark times.

Since he started throwing the javelin again, he’s found a way to deal with those challenges. He is still competing to this day, and he’s still got it showing an extensive collection of medals he has earned over the years.

Besides all that, Ed has raised a bunch of wild animals and a beloved mule named Giner. He taught her how to do many tricking including sitting on a bale of hay and shaking hands.

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