Southeastern town of Morenci remembers and celebrates local veterans


TED SIMONS: JUST ABOUT EVERY COMMUNITY IN THE STATE SAW SACRIFICES DURING THE VIETNAM WAR BUT PERHAPS NONE MORE THAN A SMALL MINING, COMMUNITY IN EASTERN ARIZONA. AND ALYSSA ADAMS HAVE THE STORY OF TRANSFORMING FROM BOYS TO SOLDIERS IN VIETNAM.

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REPORTER: IN THE HILLS OF EASTERN ARIZONA JUST UNDER THE TREE LINE OF THE WHITE MOUNTAINS EMERGENCY IS IN THE LANDSCAPE OUT OF THE MINE WITH COPPER AND LABOR.

JOE SORRELMAN: IT WAS A GOOD PLACE TO GROW UP IN. THERE WAS THREE RIVERS HERE THAT YOU COULD GO FISHING TO, A LOT OF OUTDOOR ACTIVITY AND WE ARE AT THE BASE OF THE WHITE MOUNTAINS.

Reporter: JOE WAS A TEEN IN THE MID 60s GROWING UP IN A COMPANY TOWN WHERE EVERYONE KNEW EVERYONE AND THE MINE HELD ALMOST ALL OF THE OPPORTUNITY.

JOE SORRELMAN: AND IT WAS PROBABLY 5,000 PEOPLE COUNTING CATS AND DOGS AND IT WAS A JUMPING OFF PLACE TO NO WHERE.

Reporter: BUT NO WHERE HELD A LOT OF PROMISE FOR MILITARY RECRUITERS LOOKING FOR YOUNG MEN TO HELP THE AMERICAN CAUSE IN VIETNAM.

KYLE LONGLEY: AS OUR BOYS DIED I USED TO FEEL IT WAS SUCH A WASTE BUT I NO LONGER FEEL THAT IT WAS A WASTE. THESE ARE TOUGH KIDS. I MEAN, THEY LIVED OUTDOORS AND A LOT OF THEM WERE BOY SCOUT. IF WE WANT TO TALK ABOUT PATRIOTIC FOUNDATIONS AND HUNTED AND CAMPED THESE WERE NOT CITY BOYS.

Reporter: KYLE IS THE AUTHOR AND AS THE WAR RAMPED UP IN VIETNAM RECRUITERS SPENT A LOT OF TIME MAKING THE ROUNDS OF SMALL TOWNS.

KYLE LONGLEY: WORE DRESS BLUES AND STORIES OF OPPORTUNITY AND THE YOUNG MEN HAD TWO OPTIONS ONE JOIN THE MILITARY OR GO STRAIGHT IN THE MINES AND WORK LIKE THEIR FATHER'S.

Reporter: HE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST TO MEET WITH THE MARINE RECRUITER IN MARCH 1966 AND HE WAS NAVAJO AND THOUGHT BEING A MARINE WAS JUST PART OF THE NAVAJO TRADITION. IT WASN'T LONG BEFORE OTHER CLASSMATES FOLLOWED. FIRST IT WAS HIS BEST FRIEND LARRY WEST.THEN SIX MORE. LEROY AND MIKE CRANFORD AND CLIVE AND VAN WHITMER AND SAM KING WHO ALREADY GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL SIGNED UP A FEW DAYS LATER AND THE NINE AS THEY WERE KNOWN WENT TO BOOT CAMP TOGETHER AND HE REMEMBERED THE PHYSICAL PART WAS DIFFICULT BUT THE MENTAL GAME WAS THE REAL TEST AND IT WAS NICE TO KNOW SOMEONE ALWAYS HAD YOUR BACK.

KYLE LONGLEY: BOBBY J. DRAPER WHO WAS HEAVIER SET WOULD FALL BEHIND ON THE LONG RUNS AND SOMEBODY WOULD PICK UP HIS PACK AND HELP HIM OUT.

Reporter: BUT THAT MUDDY WAR IN VIETNAM WAS LOOMING AND WHEN ORDERS CAME THE MARINES WERE BROKEN UP AND HE WAS IN THE FIRST GROUP TO HEAD IN COUNTRY.

JOE SORRELMAN: THAT'S ME.

Reporter: HIS FIRST ASSIGNMENT GUARDING A HELICOPTER BASE WAS TEDIOUS AND LACKING THE ADVENTURE THAT HE YEARNED FOR. I WANTED TO GET IN THE REAL ACTION OF WHAT COMBAT WOULD BE LIKE SO I VOLUNTEERED TO GO TO DIVISION.

Reporter: HE WAS SENT TO A MILITARY BASE JUST OUTSIDE THE DE-MILITARY ZONE AND THE WORST FIGHTING OF 1967.

JOE SORRELMAN: AT THE TIME I WAS SCARED TO DEATH. I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU EXPLAIN THAT. I MEAN, IT'S A DIFFERENT KIND OF AFRAID. IT'S NOT LIKE WHEN SOMEBODY JUMPS OUT IN FRONT OF YOU AND SAYS BOO TO YOU AND YOU GET SCARED OR IT'S A SCARED THAT IT'S KIND OF YOUR BODY KIND OF LIKE JUST TAKES OVER TO SURVIVE.

Reporter: AND EVEN A WORLD AWAY FROM THE DESERT MINE IS A HUMID JUNGLE OF VIETNAM HE STAYED CONNECTED WITH HIS FRIENDS.

JOE SORRELMAN: LARRY AND BOBBY AND WE ALL KEPT IN TOUCH.

Reporter: HE AND HIS PEOPLE HAD A STRONG PULL ON THE BOYS.

JOE SORRELMAN: AND THIS IS LARRY WEST MY VERY BEST FRIEND.

KYLE LONGLEY: A SMALL TOWN, YOU DIDN'T GET TO QUESTION, YOU KNOW, WHAT THE DUTY WAS. THIS IS NOT BERKELEY THIS IS NOT MADISON, THIS IS ARIZONA SOUTHEASTERN ARIZONA AND THEY ARE VERY PROUD OF THE MILITARY SERVICE THAT THEIR PEOPLE HAVE GIVEN THROUGHOUT MOST OF AMERICA'S WARS.

Reporter: HE LIKE MANY SMALL INDUSTRIAL OR FARMING COMMUNITIES IS USED TO SACRIFICING FOR COUNTRY.

JOE SORRELMAN: OF THE NINE BOBBY DALE DRAPER IS THE FIRST THAT DIES AUGUST 2, 1967.

Reporter: THE TOWN IT SEEMED WAS ASKED TO SACRIFICE AGAIN AND AGAIN.

KYLE LONGLEY: NEXT TO GO HE HAD BEEN IN THE COUNTRY TWO WEEKS THEN APRIL RIGHT AFTER THE OFFENSIVE AND VAN WHITMER AND LARRY WEST WHO CAME BACK FROM THE SECOND TOUR DIES AND ROBERT DIES JUST OUTSIDE OF CASON SO IT'S BANG BANG BANG IT BECAME SO BAD THAT PEOPLE WOULD LOOK AND SEE THESE GOVERNMENT SEDANS AND START PRAYING DON'T STOP AT MY HOUSE BUT KNEW THEY WERE GOING TO STOP SOMEWHERE.

Reporter: THREE OF THE ORIGINAL NINE MARINES CAME HOME AND LEROY AND SANFORD PASSED IN RECENT YEARS AND ONLY SORALMAN IS LEFT AND THERE ARE TWO DISPLAYS AT THE HIGH SCHOOL REMINDING TODAY'S TEENS ABOUT THE PAST. º AND HIGH ON A HILL THAT OVERLOOKS THE SISTER TOWN CLIFTON IS A MONUMENT BUILT BY OTHER VETS REMINDER THAT TOWNS LIKE THESE PAY A BIGGER PRICE THAN SOME.

JOE SORRELMAN:: IT'S BUILT IN THE PSYCHE AND WON'T GO AWAY ANY TIME SOON.

Reporter: HE SAYS HE THINKS A LOT ABOUT HIS FRIENDS.

JOE SORRELMAN:: I GO BACK AND SOMETIMES THINK ABOUT THE THINGS THAT WE DID, YOU KNOW. AND GUYS WE USED TO HANG OUT WITH.

Reporter: HIS BOY HOOD MEMORIES ARE RICH IN THE MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS HERE AND MORE THAN THE BATTLES OF VIETNAM MORENCI SHAPES WHO HE IS.

JOE SORRELMAN: BECAUSE IT'S HOME.

TED SIMONS: IT'S WEDNESDAY ON ARIZONA HORIZON HEAR FROM THE ORGANIZER OF A LOCAL SCHOOL WALK OUT ON ONE MONTH AND ANNIVERSARY OF THE SCHOOL SHOTTINGS IN FLORIDA THAT IS IT AND I'M TED SIMONS THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING. º

The town of Morenci, Arizona, located in the southeastern part of the state, remembers the military veterans of their community, and especially those known as the Morenci Nine.

The Morenci Nine were a group of young men who enlisted together. They trained in boot camp together and were later separated as many of them were sent to different areas overseas during the Vietnam War.

“These are tough kids,” Kyle Longley, author of “The Morenci Marines,” says. “They lived outdoors. A lot of them were Boy Scouts. Almost all hunted. These were not city boys. These young men basically had two options: go into the military or go straight into their mines and work like their fathers.”

Joe Sorrelman is one of the nine who fought in Vietnam. He was witnessed some of the worst fighting of 1967. He stayed connected with his friends as best he could.

“I wanted to get into the real action of what combat would be like so I volunteered to go to division,” Sorrelman says. “At the time I was scared to death. I don’t know how you explain that. It’s a different kind of afraid… It’s a scared where it’s kind of your body takes over to survive.”

Only three of the nine would return home from the war.

Today, there are nine flags on a hill that overlooks Morenci’s sister town of Clifton. There is a monument made by local veterans to honor those who have survived and are currently serving.

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In this segment:

Kyle Longley: Author, “The Morenci Marines”
Joe Sorrelman: Vietnam Veteran

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