Outliving Abuse, Cancer, and Combat

Morgan Lee (left) as an airman
Morgan Lee (left) as an airman

organ Lee is now 89 years old. But six decades ago, when he was serving as a tech sergeant in the United States Air Force, longevity looked impossible.

“In 1957, I was put in a hospital in France,” he said. “The doctor told me I had colon cancer. Back then, it was a death sentence. He said he did not have the equipment to operate on me properly and did not have enough knowledge, either. He said if he tried, he would just cut me up inside and I would die on the table.”

Lee was in that hospital for six months before being transferred to the medical center at Keesler Air Force Base near Biloxi, Mississippi.

“One month later, the doctor came into my hospital room and told me some good news,” Lee recalled, grinning. “The doctor said he did not know how, but he called it being in ‘spontaneous remission.’ A month after that, all the x-rays came back that I was completely cancer-free. I told them I had a higher Doctor.”

This was just one of many signs and wonders the Lord has performed for Lee through the years. The Poplarville, Mississippi, resident recalled another potential life-threatening situation he faced in the Air Force.

“I was assigned to diffuse a time bomb. Someone had mailed it to the base, and no one knew what to do with it. Eventually someone told the general that a machinist might be able to do something about it out in the hangar, so they brought it out to me.”

Lee went to work with a drill, and the general asked why his hands were not shaking. “I told him there is no sense in being scared about it, shaking could set if off, so why not handle it the way I did the rest of my work—relax, and it will go much better.”

Lee’s calmness paid off—the bomb was disarmed and disposed of safely.

Dealing with an explosive environment was nothing new for Morgan, for his childhood was volatile. He was born as the third son of a family who three months earlier had lost its firstborn.

“My father never got over my oldest brother dying,” Morgan said. “My father hated me. He never had any use for me. He told me to be quiet all day long or I would get a beating, and then would try to do things to get me to make a sound. He would beat me so hard and for so long that he would be out of breath when he was done.

A month after that, all the x-rays came back that I was completely cancer-free. I told them I had a higher Doctor.

“On three occasions, my mother had to intervene, or I would have died. He told me I was his property and anything I made was his and anything that I got was his also. He told me if I tried to leave before I was 21, he would kill me.”

Meanwhile, Morgan’s siblings were treated quite differently. “They thought he was a saint. But my father never forgave me for my older brother dying.”

Lee had to quit school when he was 12 to support the family when his father nearly died in an auto accident. He returned to school for one more year thereafter, only completing a sixth-grade education.

Lee had various jobs, including working a lumber mill in Terry, Mississippi, where he had another near-death experience. Lee fell inside the mill’s machinery, which caused debris to fall on him. He was removed by two African-American men.

“I was paralyzed for several hours. My father did not even check on me. He was a millwright, and a good one. He did not think I was really hurt. Two black men dragged me out to a shady area. They were very concerned about me.

“My father threatened the black men to get back to work. They did not want to, but felt like they had no choice in those days. They looked behind at me as they returned to the mill. Father forgot I was out there, but after about four hours, I began to regain feelings. I forced myself up and made myself move. I actually went back to work and finished a 12-hour day.”

Even through the most difficult times, Lee always knew who oversaw his life. “I said a prayer to the Lord. I said if I grow up and become a man, don’t let me get married and have kids. I don’t want to do harm to them.”

When he recovered from colon cancer, he learned the treatment given to him prior to remission caused permanent damage to his reproductive organs. “Doctor said he would not advise me to have kids after all that radiation. He said any children would have permanent damage. So, I never tried to get close to the ladies after that. I did not want any kids to have to suffer anything like I went through.”

Lee served in combat during the Vietnam War and was a part of fierce fighting in Southeast Asia. However, he does not remember specifically where he fought. He said he has memory gaps from that period of his life. Today, he still suffers from nightmares of war. He retired in 1974 with the rank of master sergeant.

Through it all, Morgan Lee has continued to profess his faith and study the Bible. He became a member of the Mitchell Chapel Church of God in 1978, and has attended the church ever since. His mother was a Spirit-filled Church of God member.

“I spent 23 and a half years in the Air Force and retired,” he said. “I was a manager of a ranch for two years after that, and a machinist at a local company before they went out of business.

“When I got saved, there was only one place I ever wanted to attend . . . and that’s Mitchell Chapel Church of God. I agreed with what they believed, and I wanted to be baptized by a Church of God preacher.”

Even though he did not finish school, Lee scored high on military tests. He eventually earned a high school GED and many college certificates. He had the opportunity to enter officer-training school, but turned it down.

He concluded, “I don’t understand why I am still here. I have survived all these things for what?”

As his pastor, I reminded him of Revelation 12:11: “They have conquered him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (ESV).

Morgan smiled.

Nick Ray, M.A., is an ordained bishop who pastors Mitchell Chapel Church of God in Poplarville, Mississippi. [email protected]