PLAINS TWP. — Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton promised David Morgan that he would enjoy a beer before the end of St. Patrick’s Day.
While serving in the U.S. Navy Military Police in Kuwait in 2009, Morgan, 38, suffered a traumatic brain injury. On Tuesday, Leighton and his staff surprised Morgan with an invitation to serve as one of two Wilkes-Barre St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshals.
Morgan, now a resident of the Veterans Administration Community Living Center, Plains Township, was on active duty in Kuwait when he and his partner, Brian Patton, were in a vehicle accident that took Patton’s life and left Morgan severely disabled.
Last year, some time after St. Patrick’s Day, Leighton said he was visiting the VA Hospital when he met Morgan, a Wilkes-Barre native.
Leighton learned that Morgan looks forward to the Irish holiday every year. Last year, Morgan was unable to attend and Leighton said he got the idea to appoint him as grand marshal for this Saturday’s parade.
Morgan, though confined to a wheelchair, communicates with hand signals and subtle expressions that his mother and father, Peggy and Charles, have grown keen to during the last three and a half years.
In the living center Tuesday, surrounded by flashing cameras, Peggy and Charles doted over their son who smiled wide-eyed as Leighton presented him with the ceremonial shillelagh, an Irish club or stick, and expressed his appreciation for his sacrifice.
“David, thank you for your service to our country,” Leighton said. “We believe you’re going to do a great job for us Saturday.”
The grand marshal appointment is reserved for those whose commitment to public service stands out above anyone else’s. But the grand marshal also has to be dedicated to preserving Irish traditions.
Peggy Morgan showed off some of the tattoos her son got before his deployment, a Celtic Cross and a Welsh Dragon.
She said that when she first saw them, she got excited.
“I asked ‘Why did you get such big tattoos?’ He said, ‘Mom, I want them to know what I stand for,’ ” Peggy Morgan said.
Before he joined the military, Morgan also served in the Army Reserve, he worked as a corrections officer for the state prison system.
Peggy Morgan said he was an ambitious public servant who worked with fervor. She said the accident came about because of his commitment to his work.
“He volunteered for that last mission and that’s why I’m not sad about it, because he was doing what he loved,” she said.
Peggy said Morgan still enjoys the taste of beer. She said her other son serves in the Air Force and the two would always try to meet each other in Ireland to swill beer.
She said that just before his accident they had just missed each other.
She laughed and said the two of them could get rowdy.
“Maybe that’s good because the two of them in the same place, at the same time, with beer…” her voice trailed off.
Also surprised on Tuesday, Joe Clark of Ashley, son of an Irish immigrant and an Ashley native, was appointed as the other grand marshal for the city’s 33rd annual parade.
As is tradition for the city, Clark was brought to City Hall for the announcement. Clark’s jaw dropped when the mayor announced his appointment.
Clark was an iron worker for his entire career, retiring in 1985. He is the the last surviving charter member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, St. John Neumann Division 2. He is also an active member of St. Leo’s Church and the Knights of Columbus.