Palatine native, Army sergeant dies while scuba diving off Okinawa
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matt Morgan was remembered Wednesday by his former Palatine High School baseball coach as a hard worker and someone who made the most of his opportunities.
Morgan, 30, was found dead Monday in the waters off Okinawa, Japan, one day after he went missing while on a recreational scuba dive.
Longtime Palatine High baseball coach Paul Belo got to know Morgan as a pitcher on his teams and regularly kept in touch with him over the years. Morgan attended Palatine High from 2003 to 2007, according to Palatine-Schaumburg Township High School District 211 spokesman Patrick DeGeorge.
Belo said he last talked to Morgan on Dec. 28, when he was in town visiting family. Morgan, who was married, wanted to make the military his career and enjoyed being stationed in Japan, his former baseball coach said.
"He absolutely loved Okinawa," Belo said during a break at school Wednesday. "Loved the culture of it. Loved the ease in which life was lived. Just absolutely loved the culture and community of Okinawa. Embraced it.
"He had learned some Japanese and really ventured off the Army pathway where he became a certified diver and then did that not only recreationally, but then found a way to make that a part of his military duties also."
As a pitcher for the Palatine High Pirates, Morgan didn't have raw talent. However, he was willing to put in the work to improve, Belo said.
"The thing that comes to mind, always, is the willingness to do what it takes to really kind of realize his own dream, which was to pitch in varsity baseball games," he said. "That's one of the resounding things he and I would talk about."
Belo said he would get together with Morgan when the soldier was back in Palatine. And at Belo's request, Morgan visited Palatine High's after-school leadership classroom geared for athletes in January 2019.
"He spoke of chain of command," Belo said. "He spoke of mental toughness and dealing with adversity, learning how to deal with people that may not be on the same wavelength as you, but yet you have to achieve a common goal. He was wonderful."
Army Lt. Col. Vinston Porter said Morgan's main duty was as a contract specialist. He said the diving accident remained under investigation.
According to Stars and Stripes, Morgan disappeared while diving near the USS Emmons, a sunken World War II warship off Okinawa. The captain of the dive boat reported seeing Morgan drifting away then sinking with his gear on, according to the report.
District 211 officials issued the following statement regarding Morgan's death: "Our thoughts and hearts go out to the family and friends of Staff Sgt. Morgan during this difficult time, and we wish them peace."