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Why I serve: IUPUI vet reflects on service, sacrifice

From a young age in a small town in Arkansas, Clifton Morlan knew what he wanted to do.

Clifton Morlan, IUPUI staff member and veteran Clifton Morlan, IUPUI staff member and veteran

“I grew up wanting to serve,” said Morlan, who is the administrative coordinator at the IUPUI Multicultural Center and the IUPUI LGBTQ+ Center. “My stepfather served in the Air Force, and I wanted to carry on that tradition. It was really important to me.”

So much so that on his 17th birthday, he had his parents sign a special waiver so he could join the Army, and he was sworn in a month later during his junior year of high school.

He went on to serve in the U.S. Army from 1992 to 2003, spending time in the Army Reserves and the Arkansas National Guard before serving on active duty for five years. He served in South Korea for nearly three years, which was where he was on Sept. 11, 2001.

“In Korea, it was late at night when the attack happened,” Morlan said. “We heard military police coming through the base and the local towns with their lights and sirens on, announcing we were at the highest threat level, meaning we were at a time of war. We knew immediately something had happened, but we weren’t sure what it was. We were then on lockdown for a couple weeks. It really renewed my passion to serve my country and protect our freedoms.”

Clifton Morlan in 2001 in South Korea, serving with the 8th U.S. Army. Clifton Morlan in 2001 in South Korea, serving with the 8th U.S. Army.

After he was medically discharged after a training accident, Morlan moved to Indiana and started volunteering for numerous organizations to support veterans in any way he could. He is a lifetime member of the American Legion and the past commander of the University Veterans Post 360 of the American Legion. It’s with the American Legion that he volunteers to help keep a small cemetery clean on Indianapolis’ northside.

“Last year, we were able to help clean up an abandoned cemetery off of West 96th Street in town, which had about 30 veterans buried there,” he said. “Last December, we held a wreath laying ceremony for those veterans who were buried there. They were veterans from every war from the Spanish American War to Vietnam. We invited their families and loved ones to lay a wreath on their tombstone, and it meant a lot to all of us.”

Morlan helps clean a cemetery on the north side of Indianapolis. Morlan helps clean a cemetery on the north side of Indianapolis.

Morlan received his bachelor’s degree from IUPUI in arts and humanities in 2011, and he has worked on campus since 2013. He also serves on the Veterans Faculty Staff Council at IUPUI.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized on Veterans Day,” he said. “We appreciate it on that day, and I’d ask anyone: If you see a veteran on the street or in passing, reach out or stop to say hi. Ask for their story and see how you can help if they need it.

“I’d also ask: There are veterans who are struggling financially or emotionally all year long, not just on Veterans Day. If you come across any way to support veterans or veteran organizations throughout the year, it is always needed and appreciated more than you know.”

Morlan invites all faculty and staff veterans to get involved with the Veterans Faculty Staff Council at IUPUI. They have brown bag luncheons once a month that are open to the public. The next meeting is set for Nov. 24. Email for more information.

IUPUI will celebrate Veterans Day with a flag-raising ceremony in Taylor Courtyard at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11, followed by a ceremony in the Campus Center Atrium at 11 a.m. 

IUPUI is also bringing back its Military Tattoo Project in the Campus Center Cultural Arts Gallery. That will be available to see Veterans Day through December.

Teresa Mackin is a communications consultant with IU Studios.