SE: The Human Mortar | Part 1

Ed Morland, K-State javelin thrower from 1970-72, lifts weights he made out of pipes and concrete while serving in Vietnam in 1968. Photo courtesy of Ed Morland.

Ed Morland (K-State, 1970-72) vividly remembers the first time he saw a javelin being thrown. 

He was in the eighth grade and his older sister let him tag along with her to an Everest High School track and field meet. 

“I saw some guys throwing the javelin and I asked my sister what they were doing,” said a now 69-year-old Morland as he sat in his kitchen surrounded by photo albums and medals from his numerous years competing in the sport. “She told me they were throwing the javelin, and I decided right then and there that that’s what I wanted to do.”

Morland grew up on a farm in Lancaster, Kansas. He loved to throw things – rocks, hedge apples, anything – so when he saw a sport completely dedicated to throwing, he wanted to give it a shot. 

“I went home and stole the chicken roost. I carved it up and made a wooden javelin,” laughed Morland. “I didn’t know how to throw, I just threw it. I didn’t know how to throw it all the way until I got to junior college. I just ran up and threw the thing as far and as often as I could.” 

Little did he know then, but throwing the javelin would soon take him around the world. 

Morland began his javelin career at Highland Community College where he became an instant star. He went on to break the national community-college record with a throw of 230 feet and 2 inches in Garden, City, Kansas, in May of 1967.

Colleges around the nation, including BYU, Nebraska, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, became interested in Morland, but an offer to throw with and travel the world with the U.S. Army Track and Field team was too good to pass up. 

The talented javelin thrower planned on moving out to Fort MacArthur, California, with the Army Track and Field team after his basic combat training at Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1968, but the Army had other plans. Following basic training, Morland found out his orders changed and, before he would compete with the track and field team, he would spend a year in Vietnam with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade.

“I told them that I was signed up for the Army track team and that I was not supposed to go over to Vietnam, but they didn’t believe me,” said Morland. “They kept promising to get my orders changed.”

But his orders were never changed, and at just 19-years-old, Morland spent a life-changing year overseas.  

“I called my dad and told him I was going to Vietnam, and that was really difficult,” said Morland. “I remember his words today just like it was yesterday, he said, ‘Son, there’s a lot of guys going to Vietnam, but you will come back. You’re a good hunter, you’re a good shot; you’ll make it back.’ And if I would not have hunted and thrown a lot when I was a kid, I know I wouldn’t have made it back.”
 
Morland had his first taste of action in Vietnam shortly after he arrived in the country in the summer of 1968. 

“When I first got there, I got to this big camp where they pushed dirt up all the way around the base of the camp,” Morland explained. “One of the guys was setting a mine out and a sniper shot at him. He scampered over the mound of dirt to get behind it and fight. 

“Well, it was about 100 yards to the vegetation where the sniper was, and I knew I had an unbelievable arm,” Morland continued. “They were talking about shooting mortars, but it was so close they’d have to shoot the grenade so high up and they were concerned it’d drop back on us. Well, they didn’t know me from Adam, but I piped up and said, ‘Why don’t you just throw a few grenades down there?’ They laughed. The average distance to throw a grenade is about 35 yards, and we’re talking about 100 yards.”

They laughed because they didn’t know Ed Morland. They didn’t know his story or what he was capable of.  

“The sergeant looked at me and said, ‘You dumb private! There is no way anybody could throw a hand grenade that far.’ He just kept chewing on me, so I got mad. I said to him, ‘Look, you don’t know who I am or where I come from, but I’ll tell you what, sergeant, I can throw a hand grenade down to that vegetation.’”

Morland’s sergeant finally agreed to give it a shot.

“I let everything I had into that thing,” Morland said, “and just before it got to the vegetation it blew up in the air. So anyways, this sergeant, he just looked at me and said, ‘I can’t believe my eyes. Think you can do that again?’ So I threw another, and another. I threw a lot of grenades over there.”
  
It was then Morland garnered the nickname the Human Mortar and would carry a bag of grenades with him wherever he went. 

For the majority of his year in Vietnam, Morland was in the field fighting and throwing grenades.

“I didn’t sleep in a bed for seven months. We slept on bridges. We slept in the mud,” he explained. 

So, after spending nearly eight months in the heat of battle, Morland had had enough. He lost much of his hearing in the fighting and was diagnosed with battle fatigue. Morland finished the rest of his year-long deployment in Vietnam working at the fire support base of the 199th Infantry Brigade. 

“I wanted to go to the Olympics and I wanted to stay strong, so I made these weights and I would lift weights every day,” said Morland, pointing at a picture of himself at 20-years-old lifting weights he made out of pipes and cement at the camp. “I tried to take very good care of my body over there, as good as I could. I’d always take my boots off whenever I could (to prevent jungle rot), and I never had a smoke or a drink. I just took care of myself. In the C-Rations we got cigarettes, so I’d trade them for food. I tried to eat everything I could get.” 

During his time in Vietnam, Morland earned two Purple Heart awards and a Bronze Star with Valor, and, like his father told him before he left, he would return to the United States. Outside of his hearing, Morland returned home healthy in 1969. He married his high school sweetheart, Karen, and finally joined the U.S. Army Track and Field team. 

“We got married and I was able to travel with him,” said Morland’s wife, Karen, with a smile. The two are now going on 46 years of marriage. “We were stationed at Ft. Louis, Washington, during the off season, then during the on season, we were at Ft. MacArthur, California, training and traveling with the track team. It was just one big honeymoon.”

Morland competed with the Army Track and Field team for one year with his highest accomplishment, a third-place finish, coming at the Conseil International du Sport Militaire (International Military Sports Council) meet in Viareggio, Italy on June 14, 1970.

Following his time in the military, he moved back home to his family farm in Kansas, and it was then that the colleges came calling, again. 

Stay tuned to tomorrow’s K-State Sports Extra’s for Part 2 of Ed Morland’s story focusing on his time at K-State and how he has continued throwing the javelin over the years.  

 

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