In 18 months, the Army had trained Kenneth “Rock” Merritt for combat in World War II, he said. Now a retired command sergeant major, Merritt jumped into Ste Mere Eglise, France with the 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day as a corporal assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He jumped in Operation Market Garden and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
During his 35 years of service, Merritt was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit Medal, Bronze Star Medal with Two Oak/Leaf Clusters, Meritorious Service Medal with Two Clusters, Combat Infantry Badge, Presidential Unit Citation and a slew of other awards.
At Hill 131, Merritt left his bootprint in Army history.
“It was raining, 2 o’clock in the morning. A loud speaker on the trees telling us to surrender ... it kept going on all night long.”
Men had tried to take the hill. They were killed.
Then, it was Merritt’s turn.
Before he and his battalion could advance, Merritt made a decision that would earn him a Silver Star. He decided to disable a German machine gun nest. Before advancing up the hill, he said he told his noncommissioned officer, “Just tell your people not to be trigger happy, that I’ll be out there but I’m coming back.”
Merritt used Gammon grenades to disable the machine gun nest, which helped secure the way for his battalion to push through. Lt. George Lamm nominated for Merritt to get the Silver Star. He was penned by the Maj. Gen. Matthew Ridgway on July 4, 1944.
According to the Department of Defense website, on June 6, 1944, nearly 160,000 Allied troops landed along the French coastline in the historic operation known as D-Day. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded on the beaches of Normandy, but by day’s end, the Allies had gained a foothold to begin liberating Europe.”
He was nominated for the position of Sergeant Major of the United States Army in 1963, 1970 and 1973.
Before Merritt retired at Fort Bragg in 1977, he had become command sergeant major of the XVIII Airborne Corps twice, the only man to hold that distinction.