‘He was always smiling’: Wife of Aviano airman mourns loss of husband who died after contracting COVID-19


Tech. Sgt. Michael Morris always wore a smile and was a “big brother” for the younger airmen in his unit, his wife Amanda said.

Since his sudden death last month after testing positive for COVID-19, Amanda and her family are just taking it one day at a time as they remember him.

“The No. 1 thing: you know, he was always smiling,” Amanda Morris told Air Force Times.

“He was a father and husband,” Amanda said. “He was a big brother for the younger airmen in his unit….mentoring everybody, always had people smiling and trying to bring out the best in everybody, including myself.”

When he wasn’t at work, Amanda said he loved spending time with his family and was a very caring person.

The Air Force announced last month it was investigating Michael’s death, and confirmed he had COVID-19 when he died on Jan. 12. He was 36 years old.

Michael and Amanda met in early 2006 — a few months before Michael enlisted. There were several reasons Michael joined the Air Force: one, Amanda’s brother encouraged him to do so, and two, he wanted to honor a friend who’d been killed in action.

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“My brother just kind of talked him into it,” Amanda said. “He’s like, ‘You should really join the military.’ And you know, he always wanted to because the year prior, his best friend actually was killed in action in Iraq. So that was a huge part of why he wanted to join.”

The couple got married in April 2007, and have since been stationed at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, RAF Lakenheath in England and Aviano Air Base in Italy. Michael also served multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Amanda said.

Together, they share three children: Matehya, 12; Brayden, 10; and Makenna, 5. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Amanda and the children returned to their home state of Minnesota while Michael remained in Italy.

The last time they saw him was July 2020.

“The day of his passing was our daughter’s fifth birthday…that makes it even harder,” Amanda said.

Tech. Sgt. Michael Morris, of the 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy, died Jan. 12. Morris had tested positive for COVID-19, and the Air Force is investigating whether the disease killed him. (Courtesy of Morris family)

On or around Dec. 28, 2020, Michael started to feel ill and experienced COVID-19 symptoms, she said. He was tested on Jan. 4, and the results came back positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 6.

“He told me, he’s like ‘I can breathe, but I just can’t take a full breath,’” Amanda said.

Although his symptoms started to become more mild, they became more severe again a day or two prior to his passing. Things worsened on Jan. 12, and he called an ambulance before he died later that day.

“We had talked to him that morning, and he didn’t make it about himself,” Amanda said. “He just made it about her and it was her day and he was just telling her happy birthday. He sounded OK, he didn’t express anything. I don’t know if he was not trying to make it about himself or that’s just kind of how he was. It was just like later in that evening, I didn’t hear from him and we were supposed to FaceTime for our daughter so he could see her cake and help be there to sing.”

U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa disclosed in January that Morris’ death was under investigation, and told Air Force Times he did have COVID-19 when he died. But the command said it was holding off on disclosing the cause of death until the autopsy results came in.

USAFE did not respond to a media inquiry from Air Force Times regarding an update on the investigation.

Meanwhile, Amanda believes that COVID-19 was the cause of her husband’s death, and said she’s already been informed there were no signs of foul play. Even so, she said she’s wrestling to understand his death because he had no underlying conditions.

“I just feel like it could happen to anybody,” Amanda said. “Like I said, he was healthy and I’m trying to make sense of everything. And it just still seems so unreal — like why him?”

Michael was assigned to the 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Those who worked with him echoed similar sentiments as Amanda about Michael’s personality, noting that Michael was beloved by those he surrounded himself with.

“Mike was well-known and highly respected in our community,” Maj. Christopher Clark, the squadron’s commander, said in an Air Force news release last month. “He was a friend to many and we’ll miss him dearly.”

At least 21 service members have died as a result of COVID-19, according to Pentagon figures updated on Feb. 8.

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