WWII veteran shares stories, life lessons with West Point cadets

In the skies over France as part of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth “Rock” Merritt’s plane got lost.

Merritt was a corporal in 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment at the time. Between midnight and 3 a.m., more than 800 planes carried in excess of 2,000 British and American Soldiers over Normandy to launch the assault on the German Army.

The planes were divided into battalions of 40 with radar in only the lead plane. As Merritt’s plane approached Normandy’s beaches, the lead plane banked to avoid enemy fire losing the 39 planes following it.

“My jumpmaster went up to see the pilot, and the pilot said ‘I’m lost. I can’t find your drop zone,'” Merritt said. “(My jumpmaster) said, ‘Are you over France? … I’m going back to the door. When I get back, give me the green light and we’re going to jump.’ Well, we did jump.”

Merritt’s jump into Normandy was one of the many stories he told to U.S. Military Academy cadets during a lecture Feb. 11. In World War II, Merritt, who retired from the Army in 1975, fought on D-Day, in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. He also fought in Korea and Vietnam during his Army career.


Author: Dian Welle