Vol. 25, No. 3 • Mailed monthly to over 13,500 homes in the Gateway & Parkrose Communities Free • July 2009
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Sewing experience comes full circle
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Mel Morasch: Timberwolf starts meat company


Mel Morasch started out as a welder, served as a medic in WWII, returned to become a government physicist, gave that up to sell freezers and has owned Morasch Meats for the past 53 years.
Morasch kept volumes of correspondence and photos from the war, both memories and education for future generations.
Army Doctor Captain James Bertoglio, pictured with his pregnant wife at Pike’s Peak in May 1944, became friends with Morasch before he was killed by friendly fire later in 1944. Morasch located Bertoglio’s daughter in 2005.
Mel Morasch took this photo of the effects of friendly fire (an aerial bombing) on his unit where six medics, including his friend, Army Doctor Captain James Bertoglio, were killed.
Photo of page from Morasch’s WWII scrapbook
“It’s fun to get old,” mild-mannered Mel Morasch tells the young. “We have stories that you will never be able to know. You will do the same thing with your own life; maybe that will make you live a little differently.”

Aided by a chronicle of letters -- 400 from World War II alone -- Morasch’s volumes of memories present a living history. “It is a wonderful thing getting old and having something to remind you that you can’t deny, (that) this is what you were thinking and doing,” he said of the letters. More than just a narrative of past events, Morasch’s life and times stand as souvenirs of little miracles, the fantastic interlopers to intention.

Born in Portland in 1923 and residing here all but a sliver of his 86 years, Morasch, slight and self-effacing said, “I’m strictly an Oregon boy. I have always referred to Oregon as God’s country. God started dumping all the good stuff on the earth in Oregon and it was too small to hold it all, so now you can go anywhere and find some good stuff, but we got it all.”

Yet the city of his youth stirred up few memories. “When you’re growing up you don’t really think of things about the city. You are just busy growing up. You don’t have all the news. You don’t know what you have. When you get old then you look back and you finally realize what you had.”

What he had was little. His father, a German/Russian immigrant (Morasch, like many Americans is of mixed descent. His father's family came from Germany originally; they moved to Russia when the Tsarina was giving out free land. So they were of German descent living in Russia. Once they tried to draft Morasch’s grandfather into the Russian army, they moved to Canada -- Morasch's father was six years old at the time. In Canada, Morasch’s father told everyone he was German, until WWI began and the tide turned against Germans. He then moved to Oregon and told everyone he was Russian. It's tricky because his father never lived in Germany, and he wasn't ethnically Russian; Morasch's mother was Romanian, adding another ingredient to the Morasch ethnic stew pot) struggled to find work, moving the family often. Morasch attended five different grade schools: Kellogg, Creston, Russellville, Vestal and Parkrose. After skipping two half-grades, he graduated from Benson in 1940 and promptly moved to live with a sister in Renton, Wash., where he could work at Boeing, one of the few employers who hired 17-year-olds. There, his brother-in-law taught him welding, a skill he used to earn employment at the Commercial Iron Works shipyard upon his return to Portland. Eighteen months later, after Pearl Harbor, the country entered World War II and took this Oregon boy with it.

Morasch spent four months of Air Force training in Atlantic City, N.J., where the service utilized a hotel as barracks and the boardwalk for parade grounds. One day they staged a test that involved identifying the colors in a piece of rope. “I’m color-blind,” he announced. “So they said, ‘Whoops, you can’t be in the Air Force.’”

His high IQ made him eligible for the Army Specialized Training Program, a higher education program instituted to provision the Army with junior officers and soldiers with technical skills. They sent Morasch to Fordham University in New York City. “That was heaven,” he said. “You got to see all the plays, all the sports. Frankie Sinatra was the big thing then and they let you in free if you were wearing a uniform.” But after only nine months, D-Day reorganized the ASTP’s priorities. “They realized (they) didn’t need any more officers: (They) needed bodies.” They transferred him to the 104th infantry division training camp in Camp Carson, Colo.

The 104th, nicknamed the Timberwolf division, was activated in 1942 out of Camp Adair, just north of Corvallis. It moved to Camp Carson where it culled the ASTP students, creating a highly educated infantry with 15,000 college men out of 34,000. “Not that that makes a bit of difference. You can educate a fool, too,” Morasch said. Designated as a medic, “I was upset at the time not knowing “ Not knowing what he was in for and how shallow the pomp and bravado of an eager, inexperienced young solider stacks up against the realities and horror of what he was headed. Morasch was like any patriotic young kid, he wanted to be on the front lines out fighting the war. “I am kind of glad now that I did that. It would be hard to kill somebody, whereas here you were busy picking them up and patching them up.” As for his medical qualifications, Morasch had none, and joked, “The Army didn’t make any sense. If someone knew how to drive a truck, they would have him be a cook.”

Morasch landed in Cherbourg, France, just 90 days after the D-Day invasion. The Timberwolves entered combat on October 23, 1944, at Wuustwezel, Belgium. In their 195 consecutive days of front line combat, the group pushed across the Netherlands into Germany, where the enemy’s resistance became known as the Battle of the Bulge. “War is not nice,” Morasch said, “but it’s an important part of the country and the world’s deal. It’s 11 months of something I would never trade.”

The Timberwolves, known for their night-fighting initiatives championed by General Terry Allen, suffered 13,407 casualties during the war. Morasch credited their stealth invasion techniques for capping their losses. “We (would) go with a small group, try to get into town, get two or three houses on the outskirts. Now we’ve got a foothold and it’s a lot easier. It’s scary: You go in and you have no guns, you have guns but you don’t use them. If you hear a shot, you do something, but you don’t shoot. We lost a lot less men because of that.”

Two wartime experiences especially resonate with Morasch. One occurred on April 11, 1945, when the division entered Nordhausen, Germany, site of the Mittelbau Dora concentration camp for political prisoners. The soldiers knew nothing of the camps until their captain related their grim mission that morning: to rescue the few emaciated survivors out of the thousands dead. The Nazis had worked and starved 5,000 of the 6,000 inmates to death, not bothering to bury many in their retreat. The state of the camp affected even hardened soldiers.

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