Kenneth “Rock” Merritt is a legend in the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
He’s a World War II paratrooper whose battle resume reads like a history book of the U.S. Army: Operation Overlord, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, Korea, Vietnam and more. He served in the Army for 35 years and is the only soldier to be the corps’ command sergeant major twice.
Today, he’s in what the XVIII Airborne Corps calls “rough shape.’’ Through its Facebook page, the corps is asking the veteran community (or anyone who wants to help an old soldier get well) to send him a letter.
“We cannot talk about Rock's condition, but he does not have COVID-19,’’ the post said. “We know he'll pull through.
“We plan to deliver your letters to him in the hospital. We want letters pouring in; we're hoping to deliver him hundreds of get-well notes.”
Merritt, 97, was born in 1923 and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps when he was 18. The CCC started in 1933 during the Great Depression and provided environmental conservation jobs to young unmarried men.
He wasn’t there long. The year was 1941.
When the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, he sought a discharge from the CCC so he could work for the war effort, building camps and ships on the West Coast. In October 1942, he enlisted in the Marine Corps -- because he liked their uniforms.
But something much more interesting soon caught his eye. While waiting in a Marine recruiting office, he saw a picture of an Army paratrooper.
"I was standing there in that recruiting station and saw that picture of a paratrooper under the canopy with a Thompson submachine gun resting on top of his reserve,” he told Army.mil in 2010. “At the bottom of the poster, it said, 'Are you man enough to fill these boots?' Well, between that and the $50 a month in jump pay, I told the recruiter to sign me up.”
Merritt was among the new recruits who formed the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He jumped into Normandy on June 5, 1944, the night before D-Day, and fought the Germans in Western Europe through the end of the war.
He parachuted into Holland during Operation Market Garden and later fought Hitler’s last major offensive and only chance of turning the tide against the Allies, the Battle of the Bulge. When the time came to reenlist, he did. The Army became part of his family.
He retired in 1977 at Fort Bragg but continued to visit the base often and speak to soldiers. Even today, paratroopers know and love Rock Merritt as an “all-around awesome guy.”
Send Rock your letters, notes, get-well cards or one of each to:
XVIII Airborne Corps PAO
2175 Reilly Road, Stop A
Fort Bragg, N.C. 28310
Update: Command Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Kenneth "Rock" Merritt died on Mar. 10, 2021 of an unspecified illness, unrelated to COVID-19.
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