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Valley View by Fereva

March 10, 2005

He is 27 years old, stands fit and trim at 6'2'' and will return for a second tour of military duty in Iraq sometime this month.

His name is Cpl. Michael T. Morton and he is a U.S. Marine. For me, the war in Iraq now has a face.

I met Morton and members of his family last Saturday night during a surprise birthday party for his father, Marty Morton, who is director of Maintenance, Facilities and Operations for La Cañada Unified School District. The party in La Crescenta celebrated a dual purpose, as it was also a farewell send-off for Mike.

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Locals Cliff Jones and Bob Tanabe had invited me for an interview with the younger Morton. Jones and Tanabe are in the initial planning stages of a program to adopt Morton's unit in Iraq, by sending care packages containing donations from the States. Jones was inspired by a similar effort his brother, ex-Marine Randy Jones, initiated in Illinois.

The party Saturday night was low-key, which gave me the opportunity to speak at length with Mike and his wife, Julie. I found him to be a very

bright and personable man. Highly principled but easy going - a remarkable combination in all, complimented by Julie's dry sense of humor and obvious affection. Morton told me that a half dozen years ago, he felt frustrated working in what appeared to be a dead-end job

doing retail sales.

"I wanted to make a difference and feel good about myself," he said.

Mike's family's background in the Navy inspired him to investigate all branches of the military for enlistment options. In January of 1999, he made the rounds, investigating the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. All the while, he noticed that an officer in the Marines was observing his progress without comment, other than an occasional, imperceptible shake of the head. Perplexed and slightly irritated, Morton was intrigued enough to return for an interview with Marines recruiter SSgt. McKinney the following day.

Sufficiently impressed during the interview, Morton signed up afterward and began testing for possible placement in the Marines.

"McKinney was fired up," Morton said. "He was excited, enthusiastic about what he does. He told me the Marines were where I wanted to be,

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