Morris Walker never wanted a desk job. The former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student enlisted in the military last year and served his country in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Pfc. Walker was killed Aug. 18 when an explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was 23, and one of the 802 soldiers (PDF) who have been killed in Afghanistan since the war started in 2001.
Sam Rosenthal was one of his best friends, and he shared his memories with us:
"I met him at a party freshman year. He was a year older. I guess I was just talking to somebody that he knew and I guess we just hit it off right away. It was a girl I was talking to, and he had known her, and he was like, 'Who's this kid talking to my girl?' And I guess he thought I was funny, and so he kind of I guess decided to be like an older brother figure to me.
"He was one of the best friends I'll have, it's very rare that you get a friend who can know you for who you are and not judge you, and you know you can tell them anything.
"With school he could never concentrate on the schoolwork; mentally things would get in his way. He was always about physical stuff; when he was in school he was always working out and playing basketball.
"He wasn't scared of any physical challenge, and that was one of the reasons he thought he was suited for war, that he could be a warrior. He was physically and mentally tough. He eventually wanted to be Special Forces. He was ready to be in danger; he was ready to stare everything in the face."
I asked Rosenthal about the phone calls and e-mails he received from Walker at war:
"He would talk to me some, I'd ask him about what was going on over there. He tried not to make me worry. He didn't really convey a sense of what was going on. I'm sure he was in pain. I'm sure it was really tough on him, but he didn't let that show. It was just very interesting he just wanted to be in contact with everybody back home just to know that we were all still there and there was something waiting for him. He had a listserv, wanted to stay in touch with everybody and let them know he was all right."
Rosenthal often worried about his friend, but he felt fortunate that Walker went to Afghanistan instead of Iraq:
"I felt like we had some business in Afghanistan, and with Iraq it was more of a mess. As far as just reason for him to be there, I thought he was doing something worthwhile, but we knew from the start that it was supposed to be worse than Iraq, so I was always worried about him. The odds were really small that he would be one of the ones killed, that's one of the tough things about it.
"My dad was very angry when he first heard about Mo. He was around in the '60s for Kent State. We were driving back from Busch Gardens when we got the news. We were playing a lot of songs to help with it: 'Woodstock' by Joni Mitchell, 'Fortunate Son' by CCR, 'Ohio' by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
"That kind of to put in light that he shouldn't have been there whether he was ready for it or not. He was prepared to do what he had to do, but that's not where he should have ended up.
"He passed away in the middle of war where the last world he knew was a horrible place where horrible things were going on away from his family and everyone that he loved. That's no way to go."
Rosenthal told me that Walker was always eager to volunteer for the most dangerous missions and that his supervisors already had identified him as a valuable leader.
"He'd already won a couple of awards, the Aircom with V-Device, an award to outstanding soldier in dangerous situation and the Combat Infantryman's Badge.
"He'd been in charge of his platoon, giving him responsibility and he was excelling. For that, I'm incredibly proud of him. He was proud of himself.
"He went over there to succeed. He was ready to make a career out of the military and to really keep moving up the ranks. I have no doubt he was going to do so.
"What people should know about Mo is who he was as far as how he made other people feel when they were around him. He was just a joy. I think that he epitomized cool, but he was never too cool. It was just kind of him, and he wasn't perfect. He had his insecurities and his flaws, and I think that's what endeared him to people, was that he was so perfectly comfortable with who he was and who everybody else was.
"The last conversation I had with him, he was giving me girl advice thousands of miles away. He was still one of my best friends, and that never changed and it still won't. ... It will in some regards, I can't ask him stuff anymore."
Walker's funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Our Redeemer Church in Fayetteville. Arrangements are by Wiseman's Mortuary. Contact them at 910-483-7111 to send flowers. Read Morris Walker's obituary.