A Life Care Center of America Facility May 2004
Sun Catchers: Our Residents
This column in the Terrace Tidbits profiles a resident each month. We consider our Terrace residents “Sun Catchers,” because not only have their lives shone in adversity and sacrifice, reaching celestial brightness, but they have just as much given “sun” – warmth and light and love and an unfailing beam to their families and friends and communities. They nurture and inspire. They serve as role models for the rest of us and this surpass their infirmities, transmuting them into the invincibility of human spirit. You will see unfold each month their remarkable lives. They are more than survivors; they are “Sun Catchers”. Each month on the first Wednesday at 10:00 a.m., our “Sun Catcher” resident will be honored in the dining room. In addition, a framed, color photo and biography of our Sun Catcher will be displayed in the lobby for the month.
Morris Bertsch, Orange Court
“Copter saves 2 girls, 3 men on Erie Isle”; “Plane Crashes, Pilot Saved . . Helicopter to Rescue”; “Icy Death Beaten by Whirlybird”; “Canadian Fliers Rescued off Port Stanley, 1957.” Some people in their lifetimes make headlines; others are headlines. Morris Bertsch is both. Some men flirt with danger and death; few skirt it repeatedly – and strive to rescue their fellow man. Judging by the above headlines, Morris Bertsch in his distinguished naval career, particularly at the Grosse Isle Naval Air Base (disbanded in the ‘70s), has the stories and newspaper photos and ink to prove it. Morris’ extensive reservoir of daring air and naval rescues is matched only by his admiring fraternity of fellow comrades who visit Morris regularly at the Terrace. His sparkling and engaging personality, together with his ready smile, quick and probing intelligence, and downright good manners – according to Dolores Gleason, longtime friend – have garnered for Morris countless friends across the U.S. Delores met Morris’ wife Mary, who worked in the Riverview Clerk’s office. Soon, Delores and her husband became enduring friends with Morris and Mary. In a word, wherever Morris with his beloved wife Mary traveled, often with Delores and her late husband in the 1960s, someone knew him in any given state.
Now for the man behind these headlines: Adopted as an infant, Morris was born in Fargo, North Dakota. His adopted parents took him to California, where his stepsiblings reside, and one natural sister lives in El Paso, Texas. Post high school in North Dakota, Morris enlisted in the Navy, served in WWII aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, CV II. USS Saratoga CV III and USS Enterprise CV VI, before coming to the Grosse Isle Naval Air Station. Morris served there until the end of the 1960s, according to Delores, when he was honorably discharged.
What little we know of Morris’ private life – Mary and he were the parents of one daughter, now deceased – is surely made up for with his naval years and stories that must plump many a scrapbook and merit preservation for future generations. Besides hair-raising sea rescues – involving airmen, fishermen, plane crash victims or survivors – Morris as helicopter crewman with his designation ADI delighted in naval air shows over the Detroit River. For the stories – let them speak: Morris and the helicopter crew rescued a Naval Reserve Pilot who had crashed in Livingston Channel off Grosse Isle on an arctic December day at 5:45 p.m. in the 1950s. A photo depicts Morris guiding a “litter” (rescue sling) to a safe recovery aboard the helicopter. On a summer night in 1957, Morris is an HUP-2 (helicopter utility) with the pilot saved the crew of a Royal Canadian Air Force plane. “Mayday” distress call of a Royal Canadian Naval Reserve plane that ditched and later sank in Lake Erie, south of Port Stanley. Low on fuel and after 50 minutes of searching in descending darkness, Morris’ HUP made one last pass, spotted and saved the crew, arriving in London with only “three buckets of fuel.” In January the following year, a woman and her son, after incredibly swimming through ice floes, were air-lifted from a small island Down River, three days after her husband had drowned. Operating the rescue sling another time, Morris after some unsuccessful attempts lifted a Windsor, Ontario man who had been 9-1/2 hours in the water, dragging him about 200 feet to the helicopter. The man’s 40-foot boat ran into a barge near Fighting Island while en route to a water intake project. Morris always rose to the task, for no crisis was ever too daunting or ever considered hopeless. Take the amazing rescue of an Amherstberg, Ontario man, stranded for 3 wind chilled days without food in a duck blind on the Detroit River; or the two 11 year old girls, a 20 year old youth, a soldier and another man who themselves were rescued after they failed to help the girls and youth. Morris himself survived a HUP crash in North Carolina one summer afternoon on weekend training exercises.
A robust 84, Morris was golfing two days before his fall that eventually brought him to Rivergate Terrace in September 2003. A life full and filled with helping – even saving – others from death. A “Sun Catcher” to be sure. Now, it is our turn.
Copyright © 2004NASGIVM All rights reserved.
Revised: June 30, 2010