Jim Morrison’s Dad Played A Role In The Gulf Of Tonkin Incident

(Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images, US Navy/ Wikimedia Commons, and Andrew Maclear/ RETIRED/ Getty Images)

For hardcore fans of ‘The Doors’, it is relatively well-known that lead singer Jim Morrison’s father was a flag officer in the US Navy.  A lesser-known fact is that Jim Morrison’s father, Captain George Stephen Morrison, commanded the Carrier Division during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident famously gave the Johnson Administration the justification they needed to escalate the Vietnam War.

Early Military Career

Jim Morrison and George Morrison
Jim Morrison and his father George Morrison on the bridge of the USS Bon Homme Richard. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy/ Wikimedia Commons)

George Morrison was born on January 7, 1919, in Rome, Georgia. He graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1941. After graduation, he was sent to Hawaii to join the crew of the minelayer, USS Pruitt.  He was present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked the naval base.

After completing several combat deployments as a surface warfare officer, George Morrison decided to attend flight school. After graduating from the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida in 1944, Morrison flew combat missions over Wake Island and Honshu, Japan, in the last year of the Second World War.

After the Second World War,  Morrison was an instructor for secret nuclear-weapons projects in Albuquerque. During the Korean War, Morrison was assigned to the joint operations center in Seoul. During this conflict, he earned a Bronze Star for his role in combat operations against North Korean and Chinese forces.

Morrison’s role in the Gulf of Tonkin Incident

Gulf of Tonkin August 2
Photograph from the USS Maddox during her engagement with three north Vietnamese motor torpedo boats on August 2, 1964. (Photo Credit: Official U.S. Navy Photo/ Naval History and Heritage Command/ Wikimedia Commons)

In 1963, Morrison took command of the Essex-Class aircraft carrier, USS Bon Homme Richard. In August 1964, Morrison was aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard commanding the US Naval Forces in the Gulf of Tonkin.

On August 2, 1964, several north Vietnamese patrol boats attacked the US destroyer, USS Maddox. There were no American casualties, and the USS Maddox escaped this attack, having only been hit by a single bullet.

Admiral George Morrison
Admiral George Stephan Morrison (Photo Credit: US Navy/ Wikimedia Commons)

Allegedly, on August 4, 1964, both the USS Maddox and Turner Joy reported that several unidentified vessels were approaching their positions. Both boats began firing at what they believed were Vietnamese torpedo boats. Almost immediately, doubts emerged as to whether or not this attack had really occurred.

On August 7, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that authorized President Johnson to escalate US military efforts in Vietnam.

Lyndon Johnson signing the Tonkin Resolution
President Lyndon Johnson signing the Tonkin resolution. This gave him power to escalate the Vietnam war after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in which it was alleged American vessels had been attacked by the North Vietnamese. (Photo Credit: MPI/ Getty Images)

The details of the Gulf of Tonkin incident were distorted between George Morrison, the commanders on the scene, the White House, and the Pentagon.

This miscommunication on August 4 between Morrison, the White House, and the Pentagon was perhaps intentional. After the second event of August 4, Morrison and his staff told Navy headquarters in Hawaii that the radar returns the destroyers had targeted were probably false returns generated from the bad weather. Navy Headquarters relayed this message from Morrison to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who failed to give those details to President Johnson.

After the Gulf of Tonkin Incident

Jim Morrison circa 1970
Jim Morrison circa 1970. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty Images)

In 1967, George Morrison was promoted to the rank of rear admiral. In 1972, he became commander of naval forces in the Marianas. Here, he organized relief efforts for nearly 100,000 Vietnamese refugees sent to Guam in 1975. He called this assignment “the most satisfying of his career.”

On July 2, 1971, George Morrison was the keynote speaker at the decommissioning ceremony for the Bon Homme Richard. One day later, on July 3, 1971, his son Jim Morrison died of an accidental overdose in Paris, France.