5:01 | Rock Merritt had no knowledge of what he was training for in Nottingham, but soon the paratrooper was part of the vast invasion of Normandy. He describes the huge scope of the effort, the airplanes they used, and a unwanted responsibility he had regarding a bicycle. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Keywords : Rock Merritt paratrooper Nottingham England D-Day Operation Overlord Normandy France 82nd Airborne Division 101st Airborne Division 6th Airborne Division (United Kingdom) Douglas C-47 Skytrain Cherbourg France bicycle anti-aircraft (AA) ack-ack
He was set to join the Marines but when Rock Merritt saw a poster recruiting paratroopers that promised extra pay and a special uniform, he went Army. The 508th Parachute Infantry regiment was activated at Camp Blanding and prepared to join the fight in Europe. The first order of business was trimming the number of men, which was an interesting process. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
They jumped at 0230. Paratrooper Rock Merritt missed the drop zone and he was lucky because it was flooded. After struggling out of his parachute and unpacking his weapon, he deployed his Crackerjack cricket and clicked once when he heard a noise. Part 1 of 4. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Rock Merritt had no idea where the rest of his unit was. The paratrooper had dropped into Normandy and soon became part of a group of 37 men from many outfits. A chaplain among them did a great job of keeping up morale as they tried to get a foothold and move on the Germans. When his unit finally assembled, his platoon was issued weapons with which he was totally unfamiliar. Part 2 of 4. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
You will never forget the first combat order you are issued. Paratrooper Rock Merritt was a corporal when he was given his first real task during the invasion of Normandy. Part 3 of 4. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Rock Merritt was dug in listening to a German propaganda speaker when a machine gun started up. The paratrooper grabbed some Gammon grenades and crawled 500 yards under constant fire. He was able to walk back and the push into France continued. Part 4 of 4. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Operation Market Garden, a huge airborne drop into Holland, was considered a failure, but, to paratrooper Rock Merritt, it was a great success following the chaos of Normandy. Years later, he would meet the author of A Bridge Too Far, which documented the battle. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
The paratroopers traveled through Belgium to the cheers of onlookers, but they were miserable in the open trucks. Rock Merritt says it was the coldest he's ever been. There had no cold weather gear except snow shoes as they rushed to defend Allied gains in the Battle of the Bulge. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Rock Merritt tells the incredible story of a man he pulled from a bomb crater and sent back to the rear. He was sure the man was dead, but six years later, he got a surprising phone call. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
In the spring of 1945, paratrooper Rock Merritt was selected in a program that sent one man from each line company home for a ten day leave. He returned to Europe on the day the war there ended. His outfit, the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was then chosen to be the honor guard for Eisenhower's headquarters in Frankfurt. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Former paratrooper Rock Merritt discusses the origin of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment's logo, the Red Devil. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
He had thirty years in the Army, but Rock Merritt was tapped for a job in Vietnam as Sergeant Major to a general in Cam Ranh Bay. It was a plum post that he volunteered for because of a policy that all Sergeant Majors had to serve a tour there. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
He already had a long, distinguished career in the Army but Rock Merritt wasn't done. He served in the Dominican Republic, where he had a hard time believing that taxpayer money was being used to buy off the combatants, and in Panama, where he got to bring his wife with him. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
He was the communications specialist for the forward observer team, so Charles York had the job of laying phone wire back to the headquarters position. There was one problem, it was right through the middle of an active mine field.
The Russians were close enough that the American POW's could hear the fire in the distance. Their guards roused them all and put them on the road in a forced march, leaving their camp in Poland and heading for Germany. It was seventy nine days of freezing cold out in the open, with very little food. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
Shortly after the Battle of the Bulge, Charles York was startled by the sight of a German jet fighter easily outrunning two Allied fighters. It was a frightening thought, that the enemy might have been able to manufacture more of them.
Jack Houston had just helped his buddy dress a wound when he volunteered to return to the Okinawa hilltop where they were getting the enemy cleared out. When he got the jump on three of them, his muzzle flash gave him away and he had to leave in a hurry. He flung himself off the hill where he came face to face with a rifle. Part 5 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
Charles York describes the effects his artillery fire had on enemy positions and then the frightening feeling of being under an enemy artillery barrage. The air bursts were the worst. You could hear mortars or artillery pieces but there was one weapon, the 88mm gun, that fired with such a rapid velocity, you could not hear the round coming.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
They dug in every night from the fall of 1944 through the Spring of 1945. It was always rainy, and Charles York remembers waking up cold and wet. All the men in his unit had good German down coats, though, liberated from a factory, and they avoided frozen feet, thanks to some good advice.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
He had to serve in the post-war occupation of Berlin and that was an experience in itself. Charles York describes the chaotic times and the hustles of the victorious Allied soldiers as they tried to make a buck. For a while, the currency standard was a pack of American cigarettes.
One of the units from his group was surrounded and outnumbered by a large German force and Frank "Lindy" Fancher's platoon was ordered to keep the road open so they could escape. Later, back in a supposed safe area, he couldn't sleep and was the first to hear over the radio that the German armor was coming.
Charles York had found an excellent observing position in a house overlooking the river. When his Lieutenant left to summon support to hold the position, he heard a clatter and saw eight Germans approaching up the hill. He waited until they passed, stepped out demanded that they surrender.
Several of the German weapons were far superior to his own, according to Frank "Lindy" Fancher. The Panzerfaust bazooka and the MG 42 machine gun were two that he really liked and he had more than one occasion to turn them on their makers. Sometimes he got orders that made no sense to him, like the time he was sent to a defensive position in a place that was impossible to defend.
Frank "Lindy" Fancher, in an incident that earned him a Silver Star, had to get his unit across a minefield into some bunkers where they would guard a Ruhr River crossing. Halfway across the mine field, someone sneezed, a flare went up and the machine gun fire started. He inched his way out of there, but before it was over, he would cross that field several times to aid the wounded, repair the telephone wire, and get his men into the bunkers. He would also be on the receiving end of a Screaming Mimi barrage.
After six months of continuous combat, the 100th Division was sent into reserve and Charles York got some much needed rest. He came down with a case of yellow jaundice and had to spend some time in the hospital. Once he recovered, he guarded a train of returning Soviet slave laborers, which gave him some ideas about the Soviet regime.
Hal Puett joined the Navy ahead of the draft in 1942. He was sent to radio school where he was top of his class and earned a rare Radioman's rating while still there. Finding some action was his goal but the Navy had other ideas and made him an instructor at Pre-Flight school, teaching communications to student pilots.
They had to take the hill. Patton needed to cross the Moselle River where the German guns were targeted and Frank "Lindy" Fancher's platoon was pinned down. He was so mad that he grabbed a 30 cal machine gun and some ammo belts and charged the hill. When it was over, the crossing was secure and Fancher had won a battlefield commission.
On Kwajalein, a tiny atoll in the Pacific, the Naval personnel manning the communications station were very resourceful, says Hal Puett who was in charge there in 1945 at the end of the war. They had some appropriated steaks and some blowtorches, so you can guess how they worked that out.
He passed a test in high school that sent him to Cornell University with the promise of a commission and an engineering degree, but the Army needed infantry more than engineers so Charles York went to basic training and became part of the 100th Infantry Division. After a queasy Atlantic crossing, he landed in Marseille where he was advised by veteran troops on the dangers he would face.
The classrooms and the headquarters were on different parts of the sprawling University of Georgia campus, so the instructors at the Navy's Pre-Flight School were issued a motorcycle and sidecar to get around. Hal Puett recalls a couple of times that this arrangement went a little sideways.
It was cold and the snow was up to your waist. Your skin would stick and "burn" if you touched metal. You couldn't see through the fog during the day and you huddled together at night in snow caves because it was twenty below. That was when you weren't fighting at the Battle of the Bulge, recalls Frank "Lindy" Fancher.
Charles York was fortunate to be assigned to the 100th Infantry Division. It was being filled at the same time as the 106th, which was decimated at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. His first job in the artillery battalion was just carrying shells but they need more forward observers and he was glad to move into that job. That outlook was soon modified.
Rock Merritt had no knowledge of what he was training for in Nottingham, but soon the paratrooper was part of the vast invasion of Normandy. He describes the huge scope of the effort, the airplanes they used, and a unwanted responsibility he had regarding a bicycle. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Charles York had just been reassigned as a forward observer when he pushed toward the Maginot Line, where the Germans had turned the big guns around to face the advancing American troops. He was close when they fired over his head and glad the shells were directed elsewhere. He was charge of communications for the team which usually meant laying phone wire because the radios were unreliable.