Kenneth “Rock” Merritt, who jumped into Normandy in the early hours of June 6, 1944, was part of the largest airborne assault in history during Operation Market Garden and fought during the bitter Battle of the Bulge. As a member of the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Merritt was “personally awarded the Silver Star by General Matthew Ridgway for knocking out a Nazi machine gun nest during Operation Overlord,” according to the Army.
Now, the XVIII Airborne Corps is calling on veterans and members of the public to “rally around Rock” as he is currently in “rough shape,” according to the Airborne’s Facebook page.
While not at liberty to disclose the 97-year-old’s illness, the Facebook post did confirm that it was not COVID-19 related.
First reported by Military.com, the XVIII Airborne Corps is asking any and all to send a letter to the veteran. “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.”
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the veteran’s original intent was to enlist in the Marine Corps, as he was drawn to Corps’ uniforms. However, while waiting in a Marine recruiting office, a poster of an Army paratrooper caught his eye.
“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 served with distinction until war’s end, when he was one of the lucky soldiers to have enough points to come home.
Earning the nickname “Hard Rock” for his gritty attitude, the beloved paratrooper served for over 35 years, fighting in Korea, Vietnam, and Panama before his retirement in 1977.
“Command Sergeant Major Merritt is an exceptional example of the Greatest Generation and is still serving our Army today,” said Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Steve England in 2018. “Rock is a role model and mentor to the officers, noncommissioned officers and young paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps and, of course, his beloved 508th.”
If you wish to rally around Rock, send your letters or get-well cards to:
XVIII Airborne Corps PAO
2175 Reilly Road, Stop A
Fort Bragg, N.C. 28310