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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 28, 2006

Isle-based Marine saw himself as a target

A Salute to the Fallen
Read the stories of fallen service members with Hawai'i ties, most of whom were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the spring of 2003. Follow our coverage of Hawai'i troops and read the messages from friends and family in Dispatches.

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Stephen Morris, who was killed in Iraq's Anbar province this past weekend by a roadside bomb, met his girlfriend, Lacey De Guzman, on Mother's Day 2006. They're shown here on Maunawili trail.

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On Saturday morning, Stephen Morris called his parents at their home in Lake Jackson, Texas a young Marine's long-distance holiday greeting from the war in Iraq.

His father will never forget that conversation.

"He said he was cold and fearful of the new job that he had," said Lloyd Morris Jr. "He said, 'Dad, pray for me driving this Hummer.' He said it's a target."

The next day, Christmas Eve, found Lloyd Morris standing at the front door he'd just sent his wife off to choir practice when a pair of Marines arrived to tell him that his son was dead.

"I saw them drive up and I said, 'Oh, my God,' " the father said by telephone from his home yesterday. "I was hoping they were going somewhere else. But they weren't."

Morris, a lance corporal assigned to Marine Corps Base, Hawai'i, was the 19th Marine killed in combat since the Kane'ohe-based 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment deployed to Iraq in September.

He was 21.

The Marines at his home told Morris his son was driving the vehicle when it was blown up by an improvised explosive device in Anbar province.

"They said he was killed instantly," Morris said.

The young Marine's greatest passion in life was his religion. He attended a Baptist church in Texas and the Word of Life Christian Center in Honolulu.

"He loved the Lord," said the elder Morris, a 58-year-old retired prison chaplain. "He was very committed to the Lord and His will and he led a number of Marines to the Lord in Iraq."

'QUITE A SHOCK'

Morris joined the Marines after graduating from Brazoswood High School in 2004. He arrived in Hawai'i that November for his first assignment.

His parents never understood why he signed up.

"He just came home one day from school and said he joined the Marines," the elder Morris said. "It was quite a shock to his mother and I."

The Marine was a veteran of one deployment by the time he left for Iraq. His unit spent eight months in Afghanistan, returning in January of this year. The Iraq deployment is scheduled to end in the spring.

Morris was a mortarman, a job that required him to fire mortars to support reconnaissance missions. His father had talked him out of becoming a sniper, telling him they wound up as targets themselves way too often.

"But he was an excellent marksman," his father said. "He enjoyed shooting guns. I don't think he enjoyed any of the aspect of shooting at people."

The Marine was awarded the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and two Sea Service Deployment Ribbons.

While at church in Honolulu this past Mother's Day, Morris met Lacey De Guzman. The pair began to date and to indulge in the Marine's other great passion: surfing.

"He had a really great smile," De Guzman said yesterday. "The first time I saw him, he smiled at me."

'WONDERFUL DREAMS'

An English major at Hawai'i Pacific University, De Guzman grew up surfing on the North Shore, so it was easy for her to join Morris when he suggested they surf off Waikiki at night.

To this day, a full moon reminds her of Morris.

The Marine made an impact on De Guzman that she can't fully explain.

In a recent letter, Morris told her how dangerous it was in Iraq, how nearly every day someone was getting shot at or blown up, she said.

But he told her that he loved her and promised to come home to see her graduate next summer "all those wonderful dreams," De Guzman said.

"The only word that comes to mind when I think about Stephen is love," she said. "That is what he is. That is what he was made for. That was all he could express. That was Stephen."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com.