PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Kind, gentle, and charismatic, Anita Morris is a mother and grandmother.
But it may be hard to believe that the Jacksonville resident is also a World War II veteran.
“I’m very proud that I served my country,” Morris told News4JAX. “I feel like maybe I’ve given a little bit back to my country when it has given me everything. I love America. I love the service.”
Now 100 years old, Morris is talking about the time when she proudly served in the United States Coast Guard, enlisting 80 years ago at the beginning of the deadliest war in history.
Morris is the daughter of Italian immigrants. She said her family built up wealth with a small business but lost just about everything in the Great Depression. Then, her father died. That left her mother to raise two daughters.
As World War II began in 1942, Morris felt a need to serve her country and provide for her family.
“I was watching everything and, of course, I didn’t want to leave mom, but I was saying to myself I need to do something for my country,” she said. “I just had this urge and it was so strong in me. I did not have any man in our family who could serve. And I felt it was my duty to do it. So I enlisted during the war.”
She worked to protect America’s coasts, guarding ports and broadcasting on the radio from Jacksonville to keep the public informed.
“There were so many of us in the service,” she said. “And I was just fortunate and having some outstanding assignments.”
She met her husband in the service and they married right after the war ended in 1945. She went on to work for the United Service Organizations and have two children.
She was met by tragedy once again. Her husband and son would pass away a year apart. Her daughter Melody became her only child and is now her caretaker.
“It’s been a very happy and sad life,” she said. “We all have sadness, and we all have happy times. We just have to go with the flow. Just enjoy it when you can. And when you can’t, then you have to pray a lot. It works.”
Morris is a distinguished guest at this year’s military appreciation ceremony at The Players. A big focus is on women veterans. She’s the oldest at the event, with a front-row seat to the patriotic presentation Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “I know it’s important for the country at the time. After all these years, I’m just amazed that you would go through all this trouble. I feel very honored. I’m very honored.”
Morris said she’s proud of her life and recommends military service to those who are interested.
“I would recommend (military service) highly,” she said. “It a great place to learn how to be with people, how to do for people.”
She said a positive outlook and prayer are important pillars to her happy life.
“Just love the world,” she said. “Hug the world, because we are so blessed.”