Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a two-part story.
Recently, Max Morgan sent me an e-mail in response to our Friday Veterans Page request to submit your name, military branch and dates served.
When I read his e-mail, I was instantly enthusiastic to make his acquaintance and to conduct an interview. As soon as he began speaking I was simply galvanized upon hearing his experiences, some of which really grabbed my heart strings.
Max Philip Morgan was actually named Max Philip Hopping when he was born Oct. 9, 1948 at Santa Barbara, California’s Cottage Hospital.
Max later changed his last name to Morgan in honor of his maternal grandparents who raised him during his teenage years. He said his less-than attentive mother divorced his birth father, George Hopping, a World War II Veteran who fought the Japanese in the Philippines, when Max was a just baby.
His father George, as an infantry platoon Sergeant, earned a Bronze Star for Valor and the Combat Infantryman Badge, among other awards.
Sadly, during his early years, Max never had contact with his dad.
“While growing up my mother and I bounced around a lot,” Max said. “But Mom ultimately married Robert Greene which led us to moving to Woodland Hills.”
Max’s stepdad adopted him, but never exhibited any love whatsoever and there was some abuse. It was an extremely harsh time in Max’s life.
The Hand of God
When Max was 13 years of age, his mother divorced Robert Greene and the two of them moved to Sherman Oaks where Max lived for the next two years.
His mother, however, continued her undisciplined lifestyle so Max moved back to Santa Barbara where his grandparents raised him.
Max attended Santa Barbara High School and graduated June 17, 1966. While in high school, Max was elected editor of the school paper and coincidentally, his birth father, George Hopping, was a teacher at a cross town rival high school.
George spotted his son’s name in a school newspaper and managed to meet Grandma Morgan in a super market in 1964 which led him to writing a letter to Max.
When Grandma gave Max his father’s letter to read, he was tremendously emotional as he felt as though he never had a true loving father. Soon George came to their house for dinner where a joyous reunion ensued.
“Had I never ran for school editor I may never have met my Father, though we lived just 7 miles apart,” Max said. “It was the hand of God at work.”
An Only Child – Not!
The hand of God continued working when Max met his one half-brother and five half-sisters. And, here he was an only child his whole life, or so he thought.
His new family has been an integral part of his life ever since.
Max learned that his own mother and stepfather had shamefully prevented Max from learning his true identity.
“After I got to know my true father, I realized how much in common we had; love of Country, political leanings, religious faith and right down to enjoying the same type of food,” Max said. “It was a terribly sad day for Max and his family in 2015 the day that George Hopping passed away.
In The Navy!
As high school graduation loomed, Max began thinking that he should relieve his grandparents their burden of raising him.
Joining the military just seemed right to him and after all, his father served honorably in WWII and Grandfather Phillip Hopping fought on the front lines in France during WWI.
With the Vietnam War heating up, Max visited a local Marine recruiter, but due to some hearing loss, the Marines rejected him and suggested going next door to the Navy recruiter.
On Halloween Oct. 31, 1966, Max enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Hey Max, that’s one wild trick or treat stunt.
Sea Air Land Teams
Max took his eight week Boot Camp in San Diego, then he took Hospital Corpsman School for the next four months and then he went to Pharmacy School at Balboa Navy Hospital for the next year.
After Pharmacy School graduation, Max was assigned for one year to Indian Head Naval Explosive Ordinance School in Maryland.
As the base pharmacist, and to supplement his Navy pay, he moonlighted as a commercial pharmacist. Obviously, Max possessed an ambitious nature.
Meanwhile, Max began learning about Navy Sea Air Land Teams at a time when no one was aware of their existence, though their roots can be traced to WWII.
President John F. Kennedy, aware of the situation brewing in Vietnam, recognized the need for unconventional warfare and special operations as a measure against guerrilla warfare.
In a speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, Kennedy announced his intention to spend over $100 million to strengthen U.S. Navy special operations forces. JFK, of PT109 fame in WWII, was impressed with the U.S. Army’s Green Berets, hence his decision to expand the Navy’s own Special Forces.
Seal Team 1
Max was fascinated with the Navy SEALs so he applied and was accepted. He was sent to Key West, Florida, for the Navy’s grueling underwater swim school and scuba training.
Afterwards, Max was assigned to Lake Hurst Naval Air Warfare Center in New Jersey, site of the Hindenburg tragedy, for parachute training.
Max worked hard graduating at the top of his class and he was assigned to Seal Team 1 at Naval Base Coronado, in San Diego for a rigorous two months of cadre training.
Next Max was sent to Warner Springs, California, for two weeks of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Training (SERE) and then to the Philippines for two weeks of physically challenging jungle school and survivor training. Having made it that far, it was his final leg of training before deploying for combat in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
Max fulfilled his goal through his strong desire, perseverance and hard work to become a full-fledged Navy SEAL. Of all his Navy Special Forces Corpsman Training, he graduated at the top of his class and Max was the only one chosen to become a Navy SEAL as the others went into the Marines or the Underwater Demolition Team.
SERE Code of Conduct
I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.
If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades.
If I am senior I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth.
I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability and I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
– Chapter II Coming Next Week –