Pam Orebaugh

Ray Morris felt the blast from the atomic bombs dropping on Japanese cities to end World War II.

But that's just a "sidebar," if you ask Morris.

Morris, 85, has lived a full enough life that, yes, he can play down a front-row seat to a turning point in world history as simply a sidebar.

Some of that is humility. Morris knows he hasn't made his way entirely on his own, despite a fierce independent streak.

Born Sept. 18, 1927, in a four-story farmhouse in New Jersey, domestic strife inspired him to hit the road at the tender age of 12. In about a month's time, hitching rides and riding rails, he made his way across the country to Arnold.

If not for the kindness of strangers pointing the way in the heart of Texas, he might never have made it.

Morris became "what I call a soldier of fortune, a knight of the road," he said. "I was tutored by some of the nicest people in the world. I met them on the road, in the boxcars, at the railyards."

His aunt and uncle took him in upon arrival in Arnold. He reunited with his family in Stockton soon afterward and they moved to Sheep Ranch for a season before settling in the San Joaquin Valley city. German Lutheran grandparents and a square "Episcopalian/Presbyterian" aunt "so steeped in the Old Testament, I thought everybody in the world was Jewish" influenced his upbringing.

"Independence got me into trouble sometimes," Morris said. "My faith got me back out of it. (I) grew away from it in my traveling … but I always felt in my heart I'd never give it up."

Morris left Stockton High School to join the U.S. Coast Guard. He served on a trooptransport ship but is quick to note, "I was no hero. I was never shot at. I never shot at another man … our ship was never in danger."

In 1945, afloat in Buckner Bay at Okinawa, "we saw the percussion of the (atom) bombs being dropped," he said

Honorably discharged, Morris became "a free man," he said, on Feb. 9, 1946.

He might have stayed in the Coast Guard and been an officer candidate if not for his lack of a diploma.

"The rest of my life turned out pretty rosy," though, he said.

He returned to Stockton High and graduated in 1947 alongside younger sister Nadine.

Then "I became a soldier of fortune again," he said, traveling the world as a drill operator for Herbert Hoover's United Geophysical Service, an oil exploration firm based in Pasadena. That job took Morris to the Mediterranean and the Arctic coast of Alaska.

He wed Roberta Lauraine in 1949. They celebrated their 50th anniversary shortly before her death in January 2000. The couple had a brief stint running Mosbaugh Station in Arnold in the 1950s. They had two children, Victor and Laura, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Morris moved to Murphys full time in 1984.

As a truck driver for more than 40 years, he took pride in earning two million-mile accident-free safety awards during his career.

His hobbies were rewarding, too. For 34 years, Morris has been a part of the Barbershop Harmony Society and traveled to national and international competitions as a member of the Stockton Portsmen chorus.

As a bowler, he rolled an average in the 220s. His most memorable game took place at the opening of the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, competing as a team alongside his son, son-in-law, granddaughter, grandson and best friend.

Morris and his late wife raised show Shih Tzus for about 14 years with the Sierra-Tuolumne Kennel Club, traveling to shows in Oregon and Arizona.

Morris has also put himself to good use in service of his community.

"In order to enjoy something, you must share it," Morris said.

He spent a decade teaching square dancing to teens, five years as a pinochle instructor and three more as a bingo caller at the Murphys Diggins retirement community.

He serves in a volunteer leadership role for the Murphys Senior Center. He also taught confirmation classes for four years at Zion Lutheran in Stockton and is active in the Faith Lutheran congregation in Murphys.

He said he has simply had a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

"I've been lucky as all get out," Morris said. "I got hit in the butt with a bag of gold."