Karl Lindholm: John Morton: A lifetime in sports

“I was training for the Winter Olympics in Alaska when I got my orders for Vietnam.” 
That’s how John Morton began his presentation to my class on the Vietnam War. 
“Even when the plane landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, I was sure the Army had made a mistake and I would be getting right back on the plane.” 
In general, college boys found ways to avoid serving in Vietnam. That’s not so true of Middlebury College boys.
All Middlebury men in the 1960s were required to take Army ROTC classes for two years — and a significant percentage continued in the program. That’s what John Morton did, and that decision sent him to Vietnam. 
“With the Vietnam War raging, many of us assumed we’d be better off on active duty as officers, so we stayed in ROTC,” John explained to the assemblage of 275 celebrants at his induction into the Middlebury Athletics Hall of Fame two weeks ago. 
“In retrospect, it was probably my military commitment that led me to biathlon, which in turn was my ticket to the Winter Olympics. Of the six members of the 1972 U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team to Sapporo, Japan, four were Middlebury graduates.
“If the ski trails and classrooms of Middlebury provided me a world-class undergraduate education, Vietnam was a crash course in practical application.”
I didn’t serve in Vietnam, but I taught a Vietnam War course in the American Studies Program at Middlebury College. I always made sure John Morton spoke to my students in that class. 
He would describe his year as a “mobile advisory team leader” in a tiny hamlet in the Mekong Delta, and would do so in a manner of humility and honesty that never failed to transfix the students. 
Leading a five-man team, John was part of the Pacification Program in Vietnam. At the same time we were fighting Gen. Westmoreland’s “war of attrition,” we were also trying to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese. Such were the paradoxes of the Vietnam War.
“The VC (Viet Cong guerillas) could have come into our village any night and killed us, but they chose not to.” 
About that year in Vietnam, John says, “it instilled in me the healthy perspective of not sweating the small stuff … and recognizing that almost everything is small stuff.”
“I wouldn’t want to repeat my tour in Vietnam, but it was a remarkable education.” 
John was selected for Middlebury Hall of Fame recognition not because he served in Vietnam, but because he was a champion skier as a student at Middlebury … and thereafter! 
He has spent a lifetime of leadership in sports as an athlete, coach, official, writer, designer of cross-country ski trails.
Captain of the Middlebury Ski Team for two years, 1967-68, he was the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (ESIA) Cross-Country champion in his sophomore year, and again his senior year. That senior year, 1968, he came in first in every Carnival race he entered! 
After Vietnam, John returned to Alaska and made that 1972 Sapporo Olympic biathlon team he was training for when he was called for duty in Vietnam, and he competed in the next Olympics, 1976, in Innsbruck, Austria. He served as a coach and official at five other Winter Olympiads. 
As a young man, John skied successfully for both the U.S. Biathlon and Cross-Country national teams, competing in events across the world. He won the U.S. Championship in Biathlon in 1974 and again in 1976.
In 1989, realizing the full emotional weight of his experience in Vietnam some years before, John helped lead a challenging six-day Outward Bound type expedition to the mountains of Soviet Central Asia, with a group of 14 American veterans of Vietnam and 20 Soviet veterans of their ill-fated adventure in Afghanistan.
This trip was a powerful emotional acknowledgment of the mutual fate of the soldiers, American and Soviet, in hopeless, unpopular wars, far from home. It represented a rare opportunity to address and heal the wounds of war.
John wrote a stirring account in the Middlebury Magazine of this experience in the mountains of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, with combat soldiers from vastly different worlds, “learning, sharing, and working together for world peace.”
As John grew older, he maintained his love of competition by entering masters events in skiing and running. In 1990, he won his age group in the U.S. National 50K race. He has finished over 40 marathons, with a personal best time of 2 hours 43 minutes. 
After serving as the head ski coach at Dartmouth from 1977-89, John turned his talents to writing (publishing two books on skiing — a “how-to” book, “Don’t Look Back,” and a novel, “Medal of Honor”) and to designing cross-country ski trails. 
John has designed well over 200 trails here in the U.S. and abroad; his company worked on the trails at Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton. There are golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, and ski trails designed by John Morton. His trail design work is a synthesis, a perfect expression, of John’s creative and athletic gifts. 
Also among the eight honorees at this year’s Hall of Fame celebration was Terry Aldrich, skiing and cross-country coach at Middlebury for 36 years. Terry led his Middlebury teams to many NESCAC, regional, and national championships. 
1968 MIDDLEBURY GRADUATE and Middlebury Hall of Famer John Morton, center, is flanked by classmate Karl Lindholm, who introduced him at the Nov. 3 induction ceremony, and Middlebury Athletic Director Erin Quinn.
Terry and John are best of friends. In fact, Terry was the best man at John’s wedding in 1971. Terry says of his friend and occasional coaching rival: “If I had to choose one person to coach my children or grandchildren, it would be John Morton. He is a man of principle and strong moral character … and he has a great sense of humor.”
John is a member of three other Halls of Fame. So this recent event was Middlebury’s opportunity to say, on behalf of so many who have benefitted from John’s presence in their lives: his teammates, friends, colleagues in sport, athletes he coached, clients of Morton Trails,
Thank you for your service! 

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