Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

KERRY MERRITT

 

 

1925 - 2011


80th Infantry Division

 “Blue Ridge Division”

Patch

319th Infantry Regiment

 “Willing and Able”

Unit Crest


KERRY G. MERRITT

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 Army, WWII, Europe

 

Kerry Merritt was born in Luling, Texas in 1925, the youngest in a family of three brothers.  The Merritt’s moved to a farm at Lockhart, three miles out on the San Marcos road, when Kerry was about a year and a half old.  During the great Depression, the family operated the “Merritt Dairy.”  Starting at 4 a.m. they milked thirty cows, bottled the milk and delivered it to people’s doorsteps, ten cents a quart.  The father drove the truck and youngest son, Kerry, delivered the milk and picked up the empties at the homes along the route.  Then, it was time for the boys to go to school. There are no days off for a dairy and the family never had a vacation break during the years the boys were growing up.

 

Kerry graduated from Lockhart High School with the Class of 1942.  He graduated on a Monday, and on Friday registered for classes at Texas A&M.  He attended A&M for two semesters but, anticipating the draft because there was no exemption for college students, he did not return to College Station.  He worked briefly for Sam Glosserman’s clothing store in Lockhart and then took a job working in the personnel office at the Houston Shipyard, busy at the time building Liberty Ships.  His draft call came after he had been in Houston about three months. He was inducted into the Army on April 28, 1944 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

 

He volunteered to go into the Infantry, and Kerry later said, “I was crazy !”  He was ordered to Camp Joseph T. Robinson, near Little Rock, Arkansas for four month’s training.  That was a camp for Infantry training in Intelligence and Reconnaissance.  After that, he was given two weeks leave, back home in Lockhart, and then was sent by train to Fort Meade, Maryland, where he awaited overseas movement orders for about a month.  On weekends he went into Washington, D.C. and attended dances at the USO.  He was then sent to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, just across the river from New York City for another week, and pulled KP duty every day he was there.  On October 22, 1944, Kerry and a ship-load of other replacement troops sailed for Europe from the port of New York on the Saturnia,” a former Italian luxury liner that had been converted into a troop transport.

 

On November 2nd, they arrived at port in Southampton, England, and loaded onto a much smaller vessel that took them across the channel to Normandy.  At that time all dock facilities were being utilized for ships unloading ammunition and other cargo, so PFC Merritt’s troop carrier moved close in to the beach, put a cargo net over the side of the vessel and the replacement troops climbed down into knee-deep water and waded ashore.  Kerry’s group was then held temporarily on the beach.  They pitched their pup tents for shelter and awaited transportation for two or three days.  Then the men were moved by train, packed into “forty and eight” boxcars for a slow trip across France to join their new units.

 

Kerry Merritt was assigned to Company F, 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division, a part of General George Patton’s Third Army.  The 80th, known as the “Blue Ridge Division,” originally made up of men from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, had been sustaining battle losses since being committed to action in August 1944.  Kerry was one of many individual replacements being sent in to keep up the unit’s fighting strength. He arrived shortly after the division had crossed the Moselle River south of Paris.  At that time, they were generally encountering only light resistance while moving forward and taking towns from the Germans.  That continued to be the case for the next several weeks after Kerry’s arrival, but then they came up to the Maginot Line and found it to be stoutly defended.  The old French installations along the line were being used as command posts, supply centers, and troop shelters by defending Germans.  Field fortifications were prepared around those strong points and manning the reversed line were newly arrived Nazi units. General Patton ordered that the German defenses be taken, and it was in doing that that Kerry Merritt was wounded.

 

On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1944, his platoon was ordered to move 300 yards forward up a hill and dig in there.  However, they moved 800 yards forward instead and that placed them in a highly vulnerable exposed position.  Later, Kerry described what happened, “The Germans were shooting at us with machine guns and rifles and they would occasionally send another shell in, but as it got later in the day they had evidently called some heavier stuff in and that’s when we got it….. There were forty-eight of us that went up on that hill, only twelve of us came off and every one of us were injured; the rest of the bodies were still laying up there. The shell that got me also hit one of my closest friends from San Antonio….I was hospitalized for about eight or nine days and they dug a bunch of shrapnel out of my leg, but some of it is still in there.”

 

Only a few weeks later, Kerry was hospitalized again.  The Battle of the Bulge began on December 16, 1944 and the 80th Infantry Division was committed to action several days later.  The 319th Infantry Regiment was moved on trucks; they drove all night long, passing through Luxembourg City, and on across Luxembourg toward the southeastern part of the bulge.  They were dismounted about 5 p.m. the next day and took up the march on foot, heading toward a highway the Germans had used going into Bastogne. It had started to snow as they road-marched about 22 miles, reaching Heidersheid, Luxembourg and securing that little town by December 22nd.  Kerry’s unit took over a large two-story house and found the lower floor occupied by milk cows.  They had not been tended for about a day and a half and their udders were extended and near breaking.  Ex-dairyman Merritt relieved the cows, milking it all out onto the dirt floor.  He then went back about eight hours later and the milk was perfect.  From then on they all had plenty of milk to drink.

 

The Germans had pulled out of the town, but a number of them remained in contact only a short distance away.  Kerry’s unit prepared foxhole positions outside the house for security and the men stood watch on 4-hour shifts.  Not much happened for the next several days, but then things became progressively worse; the weather turned colder, the snow came on, and the Germans were shooting at everything.  On Christmas Eve night Kerry’s feet had become swollen and two of the men carried him the short distance to the Aid Station located in a small church not far from the house.

 

Medics had to cut away the boots from his feet.  The examining medical officer ordered his evacuation to a hospital.  Kerry then had a long and stressful ambulance ride to a hospital in downtown Paris.  After three nights in the Paris hospital, Kerry was among a group of patients who were taken to the railroad station where he spent another night or two awaiting transportation. Finally put aboard a hospital train bound for Cherbourg on the Normandy coast, the train moved very slowly; and when about half-way to Cherbourg the locomotive’s boiler exploded.  The train-load of wounded were stuck for another day or two before reaching the port.  By coincidence, the Saturnia, the same ship that had taken him from New York to Southampton, had been converted from troop ship to hospital ship, painted all-white and complete with a large Red Cross, and it carried him to Southampton again.  Kerry’s group of patients were loaded into cars and driven from Southampton to a hospital near Oxford.

 

The hospital was fourteen miles from Oxford, housed entirely in Quonset huts.  There were 52 patients in Kerry’s Quonset, and all of them also had Trench Foot.  Kerry said, None of us could walk.  My feet didn’t touch the floor for two months.”  He remained in treatment there for four months and then was granted a 7-day furlough in Glasgow, Scotland, before reporting in to a Replacement Depot. The war in Europe had ended by this time.

 

After several weeks in the Replacement Depot in England, he was shipped back across the Channel to France and sent to a Replacement Depot just south of Paris.  The war with Japan was still not over and the replacements were told they would be sent to a port on the Mediterranean and shipped to the Pacific. But, while waiting for that to happen, the G-1, Personnel Office in Paris needed a trained replacement and a screening of records showed Kerry’s pre-war experience in personnel at the Houston Shipyard, so he was offered the job and eagerly accepted it.

 

Kerry held in high regard the Colonel in charge of the office in Paris, but he enjoyed knowing and learned tremendously more from one of the NCO’s.  Sergeant Bascomb had graduated from Penn State University with a degree in history, then earned a master’s degree and finally got his Ph.D. in the history of Paris, France.  The office worked Monday through Friday, so on weekends Sgt. Bascomb would take PFC Merritt and one other enlisted man along with him and narrate as their personal tour guide all over Paris and out in the country to Versailles. Kerry was having the time of his life, but then came a telegram with bad news and his Army career quickly ended.

 

Kerry’s father was in St. David’s hospital in Austin.  He had stomach cancer and only a short time left to live.  Working for the Personnel Officer in Paris had its advantages. His Colonel got Kerry on a plane flying back to the United States the next morning.  He was the only enlisted man on a planeload of officers, and he would be forever grateful.  He said, “I got back in time to see him before he died, and there was no other way I’d have been able to do it.”  He had arrived back in the U.S. on August 31st and on September 30, 1945, PFC Kerry G. Merritt was granted a dependency discharge at the Separation Center at Fort Sam Houston.

 

Having spent several weeks in Austin before his father’s passing, and determining that the University of Texas was a better match than A&M for his continued education, Kerry enrolled at UT.  He never pledged a fraternity but he did become politically active on campus, signing up in the Ex-Serviceman’s Association.  A year later he was elected President of the 1,400 members of that organization on the campus and he was one of five G.I. Bill students, nationwide, sent to Washington, D.C. to testify before the US Senate representing the student veteran’s needs.  They were successful in getting the rates raised $25 for the married and $10 for the single G.I. Bill recipients. Kerry was also a member of the spirit organization, Silver Spurs, and was named a Goodfellow.

 

He graduated from the University in 1948 with a BBA, and then was employed by Stripling-Blake Lumber Company, Inc.  Time passed, Austin was growing and building, and Stripling-Blake supplied those that did the construction.  Kerry did his company’s business with the owners of some of the leading builders, and business success followed from those personal relationships. He rose to become President and Chairman of the Board of the company.  Meanwhile, Kerry would occasionally play golf with Mr. Stripling at Austin Country Club after closings on Saturday, and sometimes on weekends went fishing or partying at Stripling’s and Blake’s lake house at Lake Travis.  He also attended the Methodist Church in Tarrytown where Strip’s (Mr. Stripling’s) daughter, Nancy, was the organist.  Kerry Merritt and Nancy Stripling married in 1954.

 

Also active in community leadership, Kerry has served as President of West Austin Rotary, Chairman of the Austin Better Business Bureau and of the Austin Homebuilders Association, Vice President of Austin Chamber of Commerce and was recognized as a Life Director of the Seton Fund, and was Fleet Admiral of the Admirals Club.  He served on the boards of Laguna Gloria Art Museum, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, Kanaly Trust Company Of Houston, First City National Bank of Austin, and the National Lumberman’s Association. As an avid golfer, Kerry was a long time member of Austin Country Club and a student of the legendary University of Texas golf coach, Harvey Penick.  A member of the Golf Digest rating board, he was also proud to have been a founding member of Austin Golf Club.

 

He was a member of the Masonic Lodge and of Scottish Rite.  He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign War and of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.  He returned to Europe a half-dozen times with Nancy and several times also with close friend Frank Denius (also Chapter 1919 Patriot) and his wife Charmaine, re-visiting the Normandy beaches, Denius’ 30th Infantry Division battlefields in France and Germany, and re-tracing Kerry’s time in Paris after V-E Day.

 

Kerry Merritt had been married to Nancy Stripling for 56 years at the time of his death.  Their son-in-law, Alec Beck, had died in a tragic helicopter accident in 2006, but their daughter Amanda Merritt Beck and granddaughters Alexandra and Merritt Beck continued to be a source of great joy for the remainder of his lifetime.  Patriot, Kerry G. Merritt, passed away on April 23, 2011, and this month Chapter 1919 renders reverent salute in his memory.

 


PFC Kerry Merritt

In France
1945

PFC Kerry Merritt

In France
1945

Kerry Merritt

1950

Kerry and Nancy Merritt

 Wedding Photo
1954


TOP PHOTO

 

PFC Kerry Merritt

1945


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