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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Respect Your Elders: George Merz

George Merz#RespectYourElders: George Merz, 94, is a World War Two veteran who fought at D-Day in Normandy, France and the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, Belgium.

Merz was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1925. He spent his first 19 years living in his hometown, before enlisting in the Army. Two days after his nineteenth birthday, he set off for Europe from a Boston harbor. After seven days at sea, Merz and a group of young men arrived in the British Isles in the early Spring of 1944.

After a few months of training, he joined the 818th Military Police Company and left England to invade the Normandy beaches, in what’s known as D-Day. Over 150,000 Allied soldiers landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of a German-occupied, heavily guarded coast. The invasion was a turning point in the war, but work still had to be done. So Merz crossed through Europe and arrived in Belgium.

Merz says his fondest memories of the war were of the time spent in Gouvy, Belgium. He worked as a guard of the divisional food ration depot, handled general police duties and helped as a traffic officer. Merz stayed with a local family, Joseph and Ida Lallemand and their daughter Gabriella, who welcomed him into their home.

“I remember eating wild boar from the neighboring Ardennes Mountains, expertly prepared by local chef, and drinking Belgian beer with Gabby’s friends and my fellow soldiers as we sang songs into the autumn night,” Merz said. “The best times were the accidental moments when they forgot we were strangers and we forgot we were, too.”

One night in the winter of 1944, Merz got orders to leave Gouvy and head to Bastone, Belgium. The Germans had begun their final offensive campaign on the Western Front in Belgium, The Ardennes, France and Luxembourg. This fierce attack is known as the Battle of the Bulge. Merz patrolled for enemy soldiers and directed Allied tanks when German forces entered the areas.

He later received a Bronze Star and a European campaign ribbon with five stars for his heroism during this fight.

After defeating the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, Merz and other soldiers liberated the Ohrdruf concentration camp. He continued crossing Germany until, finally, he got the news from the town of Zeulenroda, Germany, that the war had ended.

The Army discharged Merz in 1946, and he went on to spend 40 years in the aluminum industry before retiring.

Last December, Merz and other soldiers returned to Bastogne, Belgium for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. Thousands attended, including parades of veterans and active U.S. and Belgian military personnel, while fireworks lit up the sky. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presented Merz and other veterans with commemorative coins as a thank you for their service.

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