5:53 | 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.)
Keywords : Rock Merritt Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) paratrooper Camp Blanding Florida Jump School Fort Benning Belfast Ireland Nottingham England
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.)
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 might dig three foxholes in one day. Andy Negra's field artillery unit was moving so fast, he would have to leave his newly dug hole and hit the road again. He got an amazing Christmas dinner when he reached Metz, then was sent to help at Bastogne.
Wes Ruth was eating breakfast when he saw the planes coming in. He thought they were ours until the bombs started falling. As he drove frantically to his hangar on Ford Island, he saw the USS Arizona hit. The Japanese had made their move. As a photo-recon pilot, he was dispatched as soon as the attacks ended to search for the enemy fleet.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
Andy Negra was with a field artillery battalion that was sent by Patton to subdue the Germans on the Brest peninsula. He was rotated through several jobs in the armored outfit during what became a mission of containment.
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.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
The American fighting man came home after World War II and just wanted to be left alone, according to Andy Negra, who had fought his way across France and Germany in a field artillery outfit. They were just young kids who went and did a job that started on that fateful day in December of 1941.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
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.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
Andy Negra has some memories that really stuck with him from the war, not combat but odd little things that he saw. In Frankfurt, he liberated some German banners and some schnapps. He passed Buchenwald and wound up on one side of a river with Soviet troops on the other.
Hannah Deutch was a teenager when the Kindertransport rescue effort became her means of escape from Germany. England was taking in thousands of Jewish children and she got her papers in order and left. Right away, as the oldest one in the large group, she became the leader on the journey.
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.
There were some things that Andy Negra saw in the war that really made him stop and think. German soldiers who were using horses to pull their artillery, both dead along the road. Newly liberated French villagers shearing the hair of a collaborator. These were only two of the striking images and experiences that stuck with him.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
During one mission, B-17 pilot George Stamps was startled when another formation of bombers passed through his at the same altitude. That was scary but the Germans had something that was also very frightening, the Messerschmitt Me 262, the first jet fighter.
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.
Rufus Dalton was at the Maginot Line bouncing mortar shells off an old citadel. His unit was suddenly pulled and sent to take Patton's place in the line after the general was summoned to the Bulge. Once they got there, a fierce ten day battle ensued due to the last major German offensive, Operation Nordwind. Part 1 of 2.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
It was a fierce week long battle for the city of Heilbronn. Even though they were only delaying the inevitable, the Germans weren't beat, yet. Forward Observer Rufus Dalton went into the demolished city looking for a rifle company he was instructed to find. It was an eerie setting with the city in flames all around him. Part 2 of 2.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
The men of the 92nd Infantry Division had to fight on three fronts. They had to fight the Germans. They had to fight the racial animosity of their fellow soldiers and commanders. And they had to fight Congress, which wanted to maintain segregation in the Army. Lyle Gittens made it through all that with an undampened spirit.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
He was lacking in points, having been drafted in 1943, so Andy Negra had to stay on in postwar Germany for a while. Finally he was allowed to return and he immediately went looking for the girl he met just before he deployed.