An uncommon life
On a warm afternoon, Martin Morisette can be found reading to fellow residents at Carriage Place in Prineville.
Although not an uncommon event, Morisette's life has been anything but common. He has been a Navy officer, an author and a world traveler. One fascinating part of his life is how he went from dropping out of high school to becoming a United States Navy Officer.
Morisette recently became a resident of Carriage Place and became acquainted with a fellow resident who didn't have good eyesight, so he offered to read to her daily.
"I asked her if I could read to her, and she was very excited," he said.
Morisette shares a series with his friend by Wilbur Smith, who has written more than 30 books — mostly about Africa. Smith was born in Kabwe, Zambia, and is best known for his stories set in Africa during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Morisette has always been an avid reader, with this passion starting at age 25. His life took a large turn, however, when he was a senior in high school.
"I was a terrible student in high school. I was told I was dumb, so I acted like I was dumb," Morisette said.
Six weeks into his senior year at Crook County High School in Prineville, he dropped out. He would have graduated in 1954, when a friend who was on leave from the United States Navy visted, the uniform caught his attention. He joined the Navy at 17 years old. All he needed was a parent's approval.
He ended up on a nuclear submarine, assigned as an education coordinator.
"They didn't realize they were dealing with a dropout," he said. "This was crazy to me, as I didn't know what to do."
Morisette said the first order of business was to have him draw up a training program for the division, which he put together, and it was well-received. His Navy ship then decided to offer college courses because they were at sea for long periods.
"I was asked to go to Harvard and meet with the director of the graduate school and tell him how this should work and what the men would do on the ship — and just talk," he said. "It was just wonderful."
Morisette said it was a rewarding time. "I was mystified as to 'why me?"'
He was later sent to New York to attend an Evelyn Wood seven-day speed reading class. He was escorted around, so he didn't have to navigate on his own. His captain's objective was to have him bring back what he learned and teach his colleagues on the ship to speed-read.
"I was convinced from seeing the demonstrations and seeing it as a student, it worked. Even this dummy could read faster."
The next time he went to sea, he set up an Evelyn Wood speed reading program, and he had more than 10 sailors sign up. They met in the officers' quarters at midnight while the officers slept.
After serving as an enlisted man aboard a U.S. Navy surface ship —aircraft carriers to ocean tugs dodging Russian spy ships in the Tonkin Gulf — Morisette transferred to the Submarine Service in Hawaii. He served as a quartermaster first class, specializing in navigation.
About that time, the Navy was ramping up its Polaris missile fleet. According to Morissette, this was seen as the top level of service in the U.S. Navy.
"I was aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600) for about three years, when my commanding officer recommended me for officer training school in Virginia Beach, South Carolina," he added. "Upon graduation, I reported to the ship, dry-docked in Vallejo, California, where Roosevelt was built."
When construction was finally completed, the submarine was ordered through the Panama Canal to Cape Canaveral for final missile testing prior to deployment. With missile testing completed, the sub was ordered on her first duty assignment, an underwater trip from the coast of Florida to Morisette's patrol station in the North Atlantic, which required the submarine to cruise under water for about 60 days before being relieved by the next sub in line. That trip was, at the time, the longest a submarine had remained submerged in the history of the Navy.
"Upon arriving off the coast of Scotland, we surfaced," Morisette said. "I had the joy of being the man that opened the hatch to the outside air, which stank so bad that I almost got sick. The submarine's air was close to pure; I can't say the same for clean ocean air."
Morisette was in the Navy 21 years, 17 of which were spent at sea on a submarine. Morrisette joined civilian life in 1975. He wanted to go to college immediately.
"I wanted to be the world's best clinical psychologist," he said.
Because he didn't have a high school diploma, he was required to attend community college initially. He went to Ventura Community College in Ventura, California. Then he moved to San Francisco and attended Laney College near Oakland before moving back to Prineville in 1988.
Morrisette was the office manager for community education at Central Oregon Community College for three years. He taught night classes in management supervision.
He also bought some land and tried his hand at raising cattle. He eventually moved to Post for a time to get away from people, and he wrote a book. "Green Gold" covered the history of the timber industry. The book took him several years to complete and was published in 2004.
Morisette still loves to study and read. He is currently interested in theology, and he was in the process of moving his extensive library to his current room at Carriage Place.
Just as he was in the process of moving his books and furniture, the coronavirus hit. So for now, the project is on hold.
Morisette has spent much of his life traveling and meeting interesting people. "I have friends all over the world," he said.
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