Service Number: 276033
Birth and Early Life:
Morris West was born in Bibb County, Alabama on August 19, 1919. He was the sixth of Joshua and Mary West’s seven children, and when Joshua died in 1929 the family relocated from the tiny village of Ashby to the slightly larger town of Calera.
The West family had a military past – five brothers, Hugh, Charles, Elbert, Pleasant, and Jefferson had fought with Company C, 25th Alabama during the Civil War. Jefferson, Morris’ paternal grandfather, died of pneumonia in 1862. (1) Although all five brothers passed away before Morris’ birth, the strong Southern family tradition probably played a significant role in his decision to join the Marine Corps.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
West enlisted on October 20, 1939, and was sent to Parris Island for boot camp. He qualified as a marksman and, having impressed his instructors, was sent to Sea School at Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia.
Service Prior to World War II:
After months of schooling, Private West was deemed ready for sea duty. He boarded the carrier USS Wasp on April 1, 1940. He was stationed with one of the ship’s 5-inch antiaircraft batteries as a gun striker, and was promoted to Private First Class in the fall of 1941. During the months leading up to Pearl Harbor, the Wasp patrolled across the Atlantic from Bermuda to Iceland. They had recently completed gunnery drills and were at anchor off Bermuda when they received word of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
For the first five months of the war, the Wasp continued patrolling and made a pair of tension-laced but successful ferrying runs between Great Britain and Malta, delivering badly-needed Spitfires to the RAF. In May, following the news of American carrier losses in the Pacific, Wasp was ordered back to the United States, and then to San Diego. She set out for the Solomon Islands in July.
Morris West was promoted to corporal, and may have left his position with the guns. He was appointed Corporal of the Guard; with more that two thousand sailors, flyers, and Marines aboard the Wasp, there was almost always someone in the ship’s brig.
Date Of Loss:
On September 15, 1942, PFC William T. Ellison was standing guard over the ship’s brig. The crew was at general quarters; most of the Marines were at duty stations on the flight deck and the sailors – save the one cooling his heels behind bars – were in a state of casual readiness as the ship recovered several of her fighters and bombers from a morning patrol. At around 1430, half of the Marines were allowed to stand down for a brief rest and chance to wash up.
When the word came down, Corporal West headed below decks to relieve Ellison. Ellison, having spent several hours standing sternly in the heat below decks, could almost taste his first off-duty cigarette, and hurried topside.
Ellison had barely reached the deck when the world lurched and exploded around him. A torpedo had struck the carrier just below the brig, killing dozens of Americans instantly. Among the dead were the hapless prisoner, who never had a chance, and Corporal of the Guard Morris West. (2)
Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Mary West
Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) Goss Family Tree, ancestry.com. Sergeant H. R. West died December 16, 1863 in a Union hospital near Chattanooga. Charles and Pleasant were both wounded at Murfreesboro on December 31, 1862; Charles was captured at Nashville two years later. Elbert survived the war unwounded.
(2) James Edward Ellis memoirs