At 94, retired Command Sergeant Major Kenneth “Rock” Merritt is something of a living legend in the Fort Bragg community.
During World War II, Merritt was a young paratrooper with the 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was one of thousands of soldiers who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“The war into Normandy, I guess simply put, it was hell. That’s really what it was,” Merritt said.
Merritt landed in a briar patch surrounded by nearly impenetrable hedgerows. Loaded up with 100 pounds of ammunition and equipment, he began to search for his fellow paratroopers.
For weeks, American soldiers fought to advance their position into France. On July 3, Merritt’s battalion was ordered to hold the base of Hill 131.
“Halfway up this hill, they had this German machine gun. He’d sweep the front of ours, where we were, every ten minutes.”
In between bursts of gunfire, a loudspeaker blared propaganda meant to convince the troops to surrender. By two in the morning, Merritt had had enough. He decided he was going to take out the machine gun nest.
“Don’t let your people get trigger happy,” Merritt told his platoon leader. “I’m going to crawl on my belly up there, but if I’m effective, I’ll walk back, because I’m going to kill him!”
“He did, and I did,” Merritt recalled with satisfaction. “We got him.”
Merritt was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day. He went on to jump in Operation Market Garden and fight in the Battle of the Bulge. This year, he was inducted into the 82nd Airborne Division’s All American Hall of Fame.
Ft. Bragg Stories is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.