Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet 'Rock' Merritt dead at 97 - We Are The Mighty
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Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97

The shoulder sleeve insignia of the 82nd Airborne Division is two As for their nickname All-American. Command Sgt. Major Kenneth ‘Rock’ Merritt was that and more. He served in the Army for 35 years and saw heavy combat during WWII and the Vietnam War.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Merritt as a Corporal during WWII (U.S. Army)

Merritt was born in Oklahoma in 1923. At the age of 17, he began his service in the Civilian Conservation Corps to help support his family. However, he was discharged following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He supported the war effort helping to construct Camp Gruber in Oklahoma and Camp Hale in Colorado, and worked at a naval shipyard in California.

Looking to get on the frontlines, Merritt went to enlist in the Marine Corps. However, while he was waiting to speak with a Marine recruiter, an Army poster caught his attention. It depicted a soldier descending under a parachute and holding a machine gun. The poster’s caption asked, “Are you man enough to fill these boots?” That was all the motivation Merritt needed to become a paratrooper.

Merritt enlisted in the Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on October 15, 1942 at the age of 19. Five days later, he was sent to Camp Blanding, Florida to join the newly formed 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. He attended paratrooper school at Fort Benning, Georgia in February 1943. After earning his silver wings, Merritt and the rest of the 508th shipped out to the war in Europe.

Merritt jumped into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He earned a Silver Star for disabling a German machine gun nest at Hill 131 near La Cuiroterie on July 3, 1944. The medal was presented to him by General Matthew Ridgway. Merritt went on to fight during Operation Market Garden and the Battle of Bulge, after which he went home on leave. He returned to Europe just a few days before the German surrender.

kenneth rock merritt
Merritt as Command Sergeant Major of the XVIII Airborne Corps (U.S. Army)

Merritt continued to serve in the Army and rose to the rank of Sergeant Major and was nominated for Command Sgt. Major positions in 1963, 1970, and 1973. Army regulations normally force soldiers to retire after 30 years of service. However, Merritt was one of five Command Sergeants Major allowed to serve an additional five years beyond this mandate. He is also the only soldier to serve two tours as the Command Sergeant Major of the XVIII Airborne Corps.

By the time he retired in 1977, Merritt had built an impressive career. In addition to his Command Sergeant Major positions and Silver Star, he earned a Legion of Merit and three Bronze Stars. He also earned a Master Parachutist with two combat stars. Merritt completed 200 parachute jumps and was awarded a Gold Century Parachute Badge by the Original Airborne Association.

Following his retirement, Merritt remained tied to the Army community. He stayed in Fayetteville, North Carolina and was active with veterans associations like the 508th PIR Association of which he served five terms as President. In 2016, he served as the Grand Marshall for the Fayetteville Veterans Day Parade.

Merritt passed away on March 10, 2021 in his home with his daughter by his side. “We certainly know Rock did his duty here on Earth, not only in WWII and Vietnam, but also in his service to our Soldiers on Fort Bragg,” Fort Bragg and XVIII Airborne Corps said. “For many, his investment in our Soldiers will serve as his legacy. Every change-of-command, every All American Week, every big event, Rock was there. He met every Paratrooper, he shook every Soldier’s hand. He will be deeply missed.”

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
(Fort Bragg and XVIII Airborne Corps)
popular

This forgotten soldier survived 4 months in Dunkirk by himself

In 1940, the evacuation of allied forces from the beaches of Dunkirk commenced as approximately 338,000 troops were loaded into small boats over the course the rescue.


Also known as “Operation Dynamo,” German forces conducted hellish air raids killing the numerous troops that attempted to flee the area.

In the mix of all that chaos was 20-year-old Bill Lacey, a rifleman in the 2nd Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. Reportedly, Bill had already boarded a relief boat but decided to give up his seat to make room for a wounded man and leaped off the vessel.

Back on land, Bill turned around to see that the boat he had exited from was now well underway — without him.

 

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
The British Army evacuation underway in Dunkirk (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

He quickly located a raft and thought he could use it to rejoin the boat that was sailing off in the distance. As he took hold of it, he realized the raft was useless as it had two bullet holes poked through it.

As gunfire erupted in all directions, Bill witnessed German troops rounding up British stragglers taking them prisoner. Unsure of what the future held, he decided to make a run for it and take his chances surviving on his own.

Headed in the opposite direction as the armed Germans, he maneuvered south, hoping to run into other British troops.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
British troops awaiting evacuation on the beach, where Lacey didn’t make it in time (Imperial War Museum)

Bill made his way into the woods and traveled deep into the hostile countryside not knowing how he was ever going to make it home.

His mission was to stay out of sight, as German patrols were consistently roaming the area.

He got rid of his issued uniform, hid his weapon, and donned clothes he had stolen from nearby washing lines to help blend into the local population. Bill was forced to drink from streams and eat handfuls of straw dipped in margarine.

“I had to learn to stay alive in the same way a wild animal would,” Bill states in an interview. “My only thought was to survive from one day to the next.”

Since he didn’t speak French, he nodded to locals if they attempted to interact with him. Then, one day after four long months of surviving on scraps, Bill finally saw an opportunity to make it home.

Bill spotted a fishing boat that was tied down to a small pier and began to format a plan in his head. After the sun went down that evening, he carefully made his way to the small vessel, slipped off the moorings, quieting boarded, and steered off toward the English coast.

The forgotten soldier arrived at the shoreline near Dover, England, weak with hunger and clad in ratty clothes. Soon after, he was arrested and transported to an Army base where intelligence officers interrogated him — they didn’t believe his traumatic story.

Luckily, they checked many French newspapers and found articles about a British soldier reportedly on the run who stole food from farmhouses. There was also a report about a fishing boat from the pier that went missing.

After proving himself, Bill was recruited into the British special operation division and completed several more years of service — finally retiring in his early fifties.

Sadly, the hero and survival expert passed away at the age of 91, but his Dunkirk legacy will live on forever.

Intel

Army vet uses Tumblr to show civilians the realities of war

After touring Iraq, Army vet Casey Tylek created a Tumblr blog that helps veterans during the transition to civilian life.


Tylek told Buzzfeed he was inspired to begin the page, called justWarthings, after feeling disconnected from his peers at University of Masssachusettes, Amherst because of his military experience.

justWarthings is modeled after the viral internet page justgirlythings, another Tumblr blog that uses stock photos and overlay text to communicate themes that are supposedly universal to teenage girls.

Tylek juxtaposes these images with photos of servicemen and women serving overseas, and the results are sometimes hilarious, but more often sobering.

Here are some images from justWarthings that were featured in a YouTube video from servicegirl94:

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: YouTube

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: YouTube

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: YouTube

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: YouTube

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: YouTube

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: YouTube

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: YouTube

For more of Tylek’s work, check out justWarthings

For the YouTube video, check out Soldier’s Tribute

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Intel

Watch this 89-year-old WWII veteran score a touchdown at Kansas University

Bryan Sperry left college football at Kansas State to serve in World War II. At 19, he was an infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, Sperry returned to the game. He played football in England for a short period before making it back to the states and playing for Kansas University. He and the KU team went on to play in the 1948 Orange Bowl and only lost one game, the Orange Bowl, that whole season.


On April 25, KU held an alumni scrimmage with players from the 1948 team and Sperry, 70 years after his last KU appearance, scored an over 30-yard touchdown. The video of the touchdown is below. For the full story, check out the article in the Kansas City Star.

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Articles

Aaron Rodgers surprises four kids whose dads died while serving in the military

Four kids got an awesome surprise from NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers they’ll never forget.


The Packers all-star teamed up with Camp Hometown Heroes for a day on a boat with kids whose dads died while serving in the military.

Also Read: Here’s How A Combat Wounded Veteran Got His Dream Shot At College Football

“My dad’s name is Chad J. Simon, he was a staff sergeant, and I can’t say I can remember anything about him, I just wonder if he was the one who taught me how to tie my shoes,” said Dylan, who lost his father when he was too young to remember. Also on the boat were three sisters, Alexis, Starr and Kylee, who lost their dad, Spc. Grant Dampier.

Camp Hometown Heroes is a non-profit organization dedicated to counseling kids ages 7 through 17 who’ve lost loved ones while serving in the military. According to Dylan, the week-long camp is raising money to spread the organization to other locations where it can continue to serve kids for free.

itsaaroncom, YouTube

Articles

Army Captain saves 3 lives while wearing ‘Captain America’ t-shirt

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: ABC News/screenshot


A real-life Captain America saved the day after a car crash in North Carolina on Tuesday.

Capt. Steve Voglezon was driving down the road when he noticed a car on fire, so he did like any soldier/superhero would do: He sprang into action, grabbed a fire extinguisher, and helped rescue three people from the wreck.

KPLC-TV has more:

The catastrophic scene unfolded on a rural road. Heavy smoke and flames filled the air when three people were trapped inside two vehicles. John Spurrell lives nearby, and helped rescue one driver before shooting video on his smartphone.

“That’s the Army guy, Steve. He’s quite a hero,” Spurrell said as he points at his phone.

Quite fittingly, Voglezon can be seen in the video wearing a Captain America t-shirt. Because, of course he would.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97

“I grabbed one of the fire extinguishers and we smashed out on the back window and the driver’s side window. …. there wasn’t a real plan, I just had tunnel vision,” Voglezon told ABC News. “If I had not been a soldier, I would not have known what to do. The Army has helped a lot. I was just at the right place at the right time. People do this every day at the fire department. I wasn’t alone out there, there were at least 10 of us in the community working together.”

The three people who escaped the accident suffered only minor injuries.

Now watch the video:

Lists

The US military took these incredible photos in just one week-long period

The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:


AIR FORCE

An F-16 Fighting Falcon, from the 354th Fighter Wing, sits on the flightline on March 25, 2015, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The 354th FW mission is “To prepare aviation forces for combat, deploy Airmen in support of global operations and enable the staging of forces.”

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel/US Air Force

Twelve Air Force KC-135 Stratotankers, from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron, taxi onto the runway during Exercise Forceful Tiger on Kadena Air Base, Japan, April 1, 2015. During the aerial exercise, the Stratotankers delivered 800,000 pounds of fuel to approximately 50 aircraft.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: Staff Sgt. Marcus Morris/US Air Force

NAVY

PACIFIC OCEAN (March 30, 2015) An EA-18G Growler from the Wizards of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 133 launches from aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during carrier qualifications. The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group is undergoing a tailored ship’s training availability and final evolution problem, assessing their ability to conduct combat missions, support functions and survive complex casualty control situations.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ignacio D. Perez/US Navy

WATERS EAST OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA (April 1, 2015) Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 1631, assigned to Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7, lowers its ramp inside the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20). Sailors and Marines from the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) are participating in the Korean Marine Exchange Program with the Republic of Korea marine corps and navy.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Barnes/US Navy

ARMY

A Soldier assigned to 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, re-arms an OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter during aerial gunnery at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Training Area, March 21, 2015.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: US Army

Paratroopers assigned to the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, practice a forced-entry parachute assault on Malemute drop zone at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, March 18, 2015, as part of a larger tactical field exercise. The Soldiers are part of the Army’s only Pacific airborne brigade with the ability to rapidly deploy worldwide, and are trained to conduct military operations in austere conditions.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: Alejandro Pena/US Army

MARINE CORPS

SIERRA DEL RATIN, Spain – U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Charles Detz III, a machine-gunner with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, fires a tracer round from an M240B during a live-fire training exercise in Sierra Del Retin, Spain, March 24, 2015. Marines stationed at Moron Air Base utilized the Spanish training facility to conduct a variety of training missions to maintain their infantryman skills.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: Lance Cpl. Christopher Mendoza/US Marine Corps

POHANG, South Korea – Republic of Korea and U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles use smoke screens during a beach raid during a combined amphibious landing at Pohang, South Korea, March 30, 2015. The Korean Marine Exchange Program demonstrates the unique ability of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit to arrive in theater via amphibious shipping, along with ROK Regimental Landing Team to form an amphibious Combined Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: Staff Sgt. Joseph Digirolamo/US Marine Corps

COAST GUARD

POHANG, South Korea – Republic of Korea and U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles use smoke screens during a beach raid during a combined amphibious landing at Pohang, South Korea, March 30, 2015. The Korean Marine Exchange Program demonstrates the unique ability of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit to arrive in theater via amphibious shipping, along with ROK Regimental Landing Team to form an amphibious Combined Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photos: Petty Officer 1st Class Phillip Null/US Coast Guard

POHANG, South Korea – Republic of Korea and U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles use smoke screens during a beach raid during a combined amphibious landing at Pohang, South Korea, March 30, 2015. The Korean Marine Exchange Program demonstrates the unique ability of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit to arrive in theater via amphibious shipping, along with ROK Regimental Landing Team to form an amphibious Combined Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: Petty Officer 3rd Class Logan Kellogg/US Coast Guard

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Video: JR Martinez and Noah Galloway talk ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
(Photo: ABC)


Former “Dancing with the Stars” winner JR Martinez sits down with fellow wounded warrior and current season contestant Noah Galloway for an in-depth conversation about military service, the nature of war, and dealing with a life-changing injury. This WATM exclusive — a must-watch for DWTS fans — brings out a side of Galloway that only a fellow vet like Martinez can.

Watch it below:

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Articles

Louie Zamperini: The Man Who Was Unbroken

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97


Seven years ago, Louie Zamperini had just concluded a presentation on a cruise ship when a man in his 60s raised his hand and said, “Mr. Zamperini, I was in your camp in 1957. And several years later, I remember what you had taught me and told me. I came to my own decision to come to the Lord, and my life has been turned around.”

Zamperini’s son, Luke, pauses as he shares the cruise-ship anecdote about Victory Boys Camp, which his late father established for troubled inner-city youths in 1952. “Then another man gets up and says, ‘Mr. Zamperini, I was in your camp in 1961.’ … We saw my father’s redemption and resilience all the time.”

For 60 years, the elder Zamperini shared his inspiring story with church groups, community organizations, and those he would meet and befriend instantly. There was even a Sunday school comic book about him: “The True Story of Capt. Louis Zamperini,” adapted from the 1956 book “Devil at my Heels,” co-authored by Zamperini and Helen Itris.

“Back in the 1950s, we couldn’t go anywhere without him being approached by somebody who knew his story and wanted to talk to him,” Luke remembers. “He was very popular back then. It got a little resurgence when CBS Sports featured him in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. That kind of re-established interest in him. And, of course, when Laura Hillenbrand discovered his story, that brought us to the state we’re in today.”

On Christmas Day, the story of Zamperini’s life – troubled youth, high school track star, Olympic runner, prisoner of war – debuts in movie theaters across the United States. Directed by Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie, the film is based on Hillenbrand’s best-selling book “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.”

For years, Zamperini fought to come to grips with his World War II experience. Surviving the crash of his bomber, the Green Hornet. Floating through shark-infested waters for 47 days. Nearly three years of torture at a Japanese prison camp.

With the end of the war and his release came a euphoria, followed by anger, depression, nightmares and alcoholism. For Zamperini, time did not not heal his wounds.

“He was still deeply troubled,” says his daughter, Cynthia Garris. “They didn’t know what (post-traumatic stress disorder) was; there wasn’t a clinical name for it back then.”

“I had a bit of a rough beginning,” she continues. “While I was still an infant, he went through his conversion under Billy Graham. And I can attest to the fact that he didn’t drink or have these nightmares as far back as I can remember.”

Sparked by his initial meeting with Graham, Zamperini’s transformation continued when he returned to Japan in the early ’50s to speak to 850 prisoners held for war crimes. He forgave and hugged his captors, including those who had tortured him. Though Zamperini wanted to meet and forgive Mutsuhiro Watanabe – “The Bird” – in person, the notoriously abusive POW camp officer declined.

Seemingly overnight, Zamperini emerged from his darkness to shine a light wherever he went. Once he forgave his captors, he said, he never again had a nightmare.

A NEW OUTLOOK

Reinvigorated and full of love, Zamperini turned his attention to raising his kids, teaching them life lessons and playing practical jokes. He was the parent who soothed the sore throats, mended the broken toys and tended to the pets – even rats.

“To me, the rats were wonderful,” Luke says, laughing. “To him, they were disgusting. I mistakenly left their cage outside one night, and in the morning, they appeared to be dead. I was heartbroken. He nursed them back to health, staying up all night and feeding them honey and sugar water. The next morning, here was this exhausted father with these rats seemingly returned from the dead. No one asked him to do that. He just knew it would make me happy.”

Zamperini would unleash his sense of humor anytime, anywhere. “One time, Mom, Luke and I were watching TV in the evening,” Cynthia recalls. “Often Dad would go downstairs to his workshop, so we didn’t think it was unusual. All of a sudden he came streaking through the TV room, and he was dressed like a sumo wrestler, with a Japanese cloth around his loins, running through the room, just to make us laugh. He had a wonderful sense of humor.”

Zamperini would engage anyone; he was always happy to hear someone’s story and, of course, to share his own.

“He would be out watering his plants in the front yard, and some jogger would be jogging by,” Luke says. “He would turn around and say, ‘Hey, I’ll race you to that mailbox up there.’ Of course, he was pretty slow in his later years. So when the other person would reach the mailbox first, he would say, ‘Well, now you can say that you beat an Olympian.’ That would usually make them stop, turn around and come back to talk. It’s just the way he would make friends.”

Zamperini stayed active, though he had to give up jogging at 87 and skiing at 91 when he cracked his clavicle.

“I’d look up and he’d be gone,” Cynthia says of their skiing trips, one of which was a perfect example of Zamperini’s outgoing nature. “Some pretty girl had fallen on the other side of the slope, and he had made a beeline over there to give her lessons on how to ski. And this is when he was in his late 80s or 90s. He just made friends wherever he went.”

“ALWAYS LAUGHING”

While researching for her 2001 book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” Hillenbrand learned of Zamperini’s high school athletic exploits – how he’d set a world interscholastic record by running a 4:21 mile. Once she learned about his war experience, she says she “knew this was my next book.”

She began meeting with him. “He was always laughing, always happy, always upbeat,” says Hillenbrand, who spoke with Zamperini almost daily during the seven-year process of researching and writing “Unbroken.”

“He loved being alive. He told these stories of the most harrowing experiences and did so in an almost singsong voice because he had let it all go … the pain of it was gone for him. That was inspiring. I had never met anyone who had suffered as Louie had who could maintain an outlook … that everything is a gift. He was a wonderfully happy man.”

His sense of humor surfaced when Hillenbrand least expected it. “I called him one day and told him how far deep his plane was in the ocean,” she says. “And he responded very quickly, ‘Well, I should go down and get it.’ I just loved that. We’re talking about a plane crash that put him in these dire circumstances for years. But he could joke about it.”

Zamperini’s story is full of tragic moments, such as his captivity on the island of Kwajalein, where he contracted dengue fever and was the subject of medical experiments. “His voice became solemn when he spoke about that,” Hillenbrand says. “He would make little noises one makes when there is something hard to say. He was struggling to push through it.”

While Zamperini was able to talk about the abuses he suffered, one episode proved especially challenging to recount. “The thing he said was the most painful memory of all the war was the killing of Gaga the Duck,” Hillenbrand says. “It was sort of a pet of the prisoners of war. He said it was the worst thing – the innocence of that animal and what was done to him.”

“FULL OF LOVE”

Jack O’Connell, who plays Zamperini in the movie, met him several times before and after filming. O’Connell was most impressed with Zamperini’s decision to forgive those who had done him great harm. “The solace you gain from forgiveness eventually helps take you to a better place,” he says.

That’s what enabled Zamperini to emerge from the darkness of his postwar years and embrace life. “You would never know the torment he went through,” Cynthia says. “Many men have gone through wars like that. They are bitter and not very talkative. They can be angry. He was such a happy-go-lucky man. Just full of love, full of life.”

When making public appearances or going out to eat, Zamperini always wore his “uniform” – beige pants with the belt he wore all the way through the war, blue Olympic windbreaker and University of Southern California cap. He had a half-dozen USC caps and was rarely photographed in his last years without one. “I have one sitting on an easy chair where he liked to sit,” his daughter says. “It looks like Dad’s here.”

Zamperini died July 2 at 97.

Initially, Luke was disappointed that his father didn’t live long enough to see the completed film of “Unbroken.” But Jolie told him, “Oh, yes he did. I took my laptop to the hospital, sat on his bed with him, and we watched it.”

Thanks to the “Unbroken” book and film, Zamperini’s legacy will endure, educating millions more on his story of courage, redemption, struggle, forgiveness and faith.

The Victory Boys Club lives on, too. The family had planned to disband the camp since it’s not at a set location anymore. But earlier this year, Zamperini reached out and shared his story one last time to a troubled 20-year-old man addicted to heroin.

“We took him to see Louie, and Louie was able to finance this guy getting to a mission group in Australia that would accept him in his state and try to help him,” Luke says. “It turned this guy around. He spoke at both the private and public memorials we had for my dad. We realized we were able to help this one guy with Victory Boys Camp, so we wanted to keep this charity going to benefit the lives of young people.”

The author of this story, Henry Howard, is deputy director of magazine operations for The American Legion.

Articles

8 new projects that will revolutionize military medicine

Compared to previous American conflicts U.S. military medicine drastically reduced the number deaths due to injury during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that success doesn’t mean the profession is done innovating. Here are eight ways military medicine is trying to improve the ability to save lives:


1. Wound-stabilizing foam that reduces bleeding

Bleeding out is still the number one killer on the battlefield, according to the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research. So, DARPA has worked multiple programs to treat this major killer in combat.

One program success is ClotFoam. The foam works by seeking out damaged tissue, especially cut tissue fibers, and binding to it. It forms a scaffold that the body’s natural clotting agents can then latch to as they would with a cotton bandage. Different formulations of ClotFoam have been tested with the best reducing blood loss in mice by 66 percent when compared to a control group. DARPA is now looking to test delivery mechanisms for ClotFoam.

Another DARPA project was originally aimed at studying and accelerating the clotting process, but a project participant created foam that could treat abdominal injuries on its own. Now, DARPA is seeking help testing the Wound Stasis System device and foam in FDA trials so it can be sent to combat medics as well as civilian EMTs. As seen in the video above, the foam fills the abdominal cavity, stops the internal bleeding, and can be quickly removed by surgeons when the patient arrives at the hospital.

2. Remote trauma care

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: US Army

Telemedicine is not a new concept. The civilian medical sector has been working on remote patient care since the late ’70s, and many patients can now see their doctor via the internet when they can’t come into the office. The Army is looking expand its remote medicine options, most notably in the area of medical evacuation.

The Army wants systems that can be mounted inside vehicles and hooked up to existing radios, allowing patient information to go directly to the doctor who will receive them at the hospital. The doctor will also be able to call to the medic, advising on treatment while the patient is evacuated off the battlefield. This could allow for better care for patients en route to the hospital as well as a smoother handoff between the medic and the doctor. Prototypes have already been tested.

3. A chair that monitors vitals

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: US Army Kaye Richey

Of course, beaming the information from patients to doctors with telemedicine is great, but currently it would require a medic to speak or type the information into a computer. The Army is looking to take that task off medics’ hands by adapting the LifeBed into a chair for military air and ground ambulances. The chair would track patients’ respiratory and heart rates and alert a medic if they showed signs of trouble. The medic would be able to spend less time checking on already stable soldiers and more time treating new patients as they evacuate casualties.

4. Active bandages that reduce scaring and improve recovery

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: US Navy MC1 Matthew Leistikow

Navy researchers are looking at bandages that would actively assist in the recovery process. The bandages would contain antibiotics, growth factors, and other agents to reduce scar tissue formation, recovery time, and the chance of infection.

5. Reducing pressure ulcers

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: US Army Spc. Wayne Becton

Pressure ulcers, more often known as bed sores, develop when skin is under pressure or rubbed for an extended period of time. Patients immobilized for transport will likely develop pressure ulcers if restrained against a hard surface like a backboard. The Army is beginning a study to see how to mitigate the infliction.

Service members evacuated from combat are commonly at risk for spinal damage, and so are often immobilized for transport. Understanding pressure ulcer formation will allow the military to reduce the number of ulcers that form and cut down on the resulting infections and discomfort.

6. Better treatments following shock from blood loss

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: US Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

The exact problem valproic acid therapy treats is kind of complicated, so bear with this very dumbed down explanation. There is a stage of treatment following major blood loss where the return of normal blood pressure leads to major medical complications. Tissue that has been starved of blood and oxygen can quickly inflame and release toxins when blood flow is restored. Currently, this is mitigated by the timing of how blood and other fluids are returned to the body.

Valprioc acid has been shown to reduce the complications as blood flow returns, and the Army wants more clinical trials of VPA treatments sooner rather than later. In a study where rats were drained of half their blood, rats treated without VPA survived only 14 percent of the time while rats treated with VPA survived 87.5 percent of the time.

7. New vaccines

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Photo: US Army Carol E. Davis

The significance of new vaccines is obvious. New vaccines allow humans to be made resistant to more potential killers. The Army currently has three new vaccines in its sights, one each for malaria, norovirus, and dengue.

A proposed malaria vaccine would have cut down on the 198 million cases and 500,000 deaths in 2013. Average people will get norovirus five times in their life without a vaccine, causing diarrhea and vomiting. Dengue is mosquito-borne and starts off as a mild fever but can become severe, sometimes leading to death.

8. Better skull implants

Following brain trauma or damage to the skull, some patients have to have a portion of skull removed and later replaced by an implant made of titanium or polymers. Currently, these implants are prone to infection.

The Navy is looking to reduce the number of infections after implantation by developing new surface materials that have different textures and nano particle coatings that release chemicals to prevent infection. This would reduce the number of follow-up surgeries a patient would need and lower recovery time.

NOW: Here’s what an Army medic does in the critical minutes after a soldier is wounded

OR: This device makes Navy SEALs swim like actual seals

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This colonel-turned-mercenary has been battling terrorism for decades

When most people retire from the military, they look forward to spending more time with family, relaxing, and maybe pursuing their hobbies.


Neall Ellis isn’t most people.

After a successful career in both the Rhodesian and South African militaries, Ellis became bored with civilian life. Rather than sit back and relax, he decided to pursue the only hobby he knew — kicking ass.

With plenty of strife and a need for fighters throughout the African continent, Ellis decided to become a mercenary. He wasn’t going to be just any mercenary though. Ellis recruited a team and procured an Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship.

 

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Russian Mi-24 Hind.

 

Ellis’ mercenary work eventually brought him to Sierra Leone, which was in the midst of a civil war in the late 1990s. The government of Sierra Leone, backed by the British, was attempting to quell a rebellion by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

Working for the Sierra Leone government, Ellis and his crew were seen as the most effective force against the rebels, even though they were a single gunship. As Ellis put it, “the gunship strikes the fear of God into the rebels. They run into the bush as soon as they see it.”

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
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As the rebels advanced on the capital, Freetown, the British forces remaining in Sierra Leone evacuated. Freetown looked as if it would fall to the rebels.

Also read: 5 of the most badass snipers of all time

Ellis saw things differently. Though the rebels were attacking at night, and he had no night vision devices, he proposed that he and his crew fly out to meet them and try to drive them off. To his crew, this sounded foolish and none would agree to fly the mission. Unperturbed, Ellis, piloting his helicopter alone, flew against the rebel onslaught.

 

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
The city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, was a front for brutal fighting during the Sierra Leone Civil War in the 90s. (Photo via Flickr user David Hond. CC BY 2.0)

In the dead of night, with no crew and no night vision, Ellis fought off the rebel advance. When the rebels came again, Ellis once again flew alone and turned them back from Freetown. Only when his helicopter broke down and he was unable to fly did the rebels finally take the city.

But Ellis wasn’t done fighting. Even though the government of Sierra Leone had lost the capital and could no longer pay him or his crew, they kept flying.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Ellis told them, “I have not been paid for 20 months. I do it because I don’t know what else to do. I enjoy the excitement. It’s an adrenaline rush.”

His staunch defense of Freetown had also drawn the ire of the RUF. His actions had so angered the RUF that they sent him a message: “If we ever catch you, we will cut out your heart and eat it.”

Ellis’ response was epic.

Ellis loaded up his bird and flew out to deliver a message of his own.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Coalition forces release informational leaflets out of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter over villages in the Logar province, Afghanistan, July 18, 2014. The leaflets are used to pass along information to the local populous regarding on going operations in the area. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock)

Arriving over the rebel camp they proceeded to drop thousands of leaflets, with a picture of their helicopter and the words “RUF: this time we’ve dropped leaflets. Next time it will be a half-inch Gatling machine gun, or 57mm rockets, or 23mm guns, or 30mm grenades, or ALL OF THEM!”

And he meant it. Although heavily outnumbered, Ellis kept fighting the rebels.

Eventually, his efforts drew the attention of the British, who decided not only to return to Sierra Leone, but also to provide support to Ellis and work in conjunction with him.

His vast knowledge of the country made him a valuable asset to the British and he actively participated in operations.

Need more inspiration? 4 Vietnam War heroes you’ve never heard of

In September 2000, Ellis flew his helicopter in support of Operation Barras, a rescue mission of several soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment who had been captured. He would also flew missions with the British SAS.

Ellis and his crew would stay in Sierra Leone until the defeat of the RUF in 2002.

Ellis’ reputation earned him a trip to Iraq working with the British during the invasion in 2003.

Later, he would also fly in Afghanistan “where, he reckons, he has had more close shaves than in his entire previous four-decades put together.”

At the age of 67, he is currently rumored to be flying against the Islamic State.

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High school teacher made honorary Army recruiter

Kings Mountain High School teacher Hailey Spearman was made an honorary recruiter for the Shelby Army Recruiting Center at a ceremony on Fort Jackson, S.C. on April 22.


Spearman attended a Future Soldier event with her local Shelby recruiter, Staff Sgt. Casey Raza, and some of her students who have joined the U.S. Army this school year. They received first-hand experience of what Army basic training entails.

Spearman teaches English Language Arts and coaches the women’s track and field team at KMHS.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Back row left to right: Army Future Soldier Malachi Wingate, Shelby Army Recruiter Staff Sgt. Casey Raza, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas McEwen and Asheville Company. Commander Capt. William Rivers. Front row left to right: Shelby Army Recruiting Center Leader Sgt. First Class David Lee, Army Future Soldier Tatiana Phillips, Ja’Myiah Pressley, who is interested in joining the Army, Army Future Soldier Alleya Roberts, Kings Mountain teacher Hailey Spearman and U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Lt. Col. Robert Garbarino. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Westfall)

Lt. Col. Robert Garbarino, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Columbia Commander, said both teacher and recruiter work together to help students find their options for life after high school.

“Ms. Spearman is a model for what a community advocate does for our recruiting efforts,” Garbarino said.

He deputized her by giving her his Army Recruiting Badge in front of over 250 Future Soldiers and their guests. He also presented her with a plaque to thank her for her efforts to promote awareness on Army opportunities. Garbarino said he was pleased to recognize Spearman after hearing how she goes the extra mile for her students.

Raza said that Spearman has been instrumental to the process.

“I wanted to reach as many students as possible to show them all of their options,” Raza said. “She allowed me to give presentations during her English classes and to students who are on her track team.”

Spearman said Raza puts the needs of each student first.

“She has a way of building positive relationships with students and therefore, our students look up to her and respect her opinions concerning the Army,” Spearman said.

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This American submarine damaged two Japanese cruisers without firing a shot

American submarines have some impressive tales of taking down enemy ships – from the big one that didn’t get away to a classic revenge tale. But one of the most interesting tales involves perhaps the most decisive battle of the Pacific Theater, two Japanese cruisers, and an American submarine that damaged them both without firing a shot.


As the Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu was in her final throes in the early morning June 5, 1942, a force of Japanese cruisers — the Kumano, Suzuya, Mikuma, and Mogami — were headed towards Midway with two destroyers. These were powerful ships, nowhere near compliant with the London Naval Treaty that had been in force when they were designed and built.

CombinedFleet.com reports that they each carried ten 8-inch guns, and had 12 24-inch torpedo tubes carrying the Type 93 “Long Lance,” probably the best surface-launched torpedo in the war. The ships also carried reloads for the torpedo tubes.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
Cruiser Mogami, A503 FM30-50 booklet for identification of ships, published by the Division of Naval Intelligence. (US Navy graphic)

As the ships were retreating from Midway, the submarine USS Tambor (SS 198) came across them. At 4:12 AM, the Japanese sighted Tambor, and the commander of the force, Takeo Kurita, ordered a turn. The Kumano and Suzuya made the turn correctly, but a mixup in signals caused a collision involving the Mikuma and Mogami.

Mogami’s bow was damaged, while the Mikuma began to trail oil.

The Tambor shadowed the damaged ships briefly before losing track, but not before a contact report was sent. Kurita left the destroyers with the damaged cruisers, but within four hours of the collision, dive bombers from Midway arrived. None of the planes scored anything more than a near-miss, but when the SB2U Vindicator flown by Marine Capt. Richard Fleming was hit, Japanese witnesses report that Fleming crashed his plane into Mikuma. Fleming became the only Medal of Honor recipient for the Battle of Midway.

Legendary paratrooper, WWII and Vietnam vet ‘Rock’ Merritt dead at 97
The cruiser Mikuma, prior to her sinking. (US Navy photo)

On June 6, 1942, Task Force 16 launched three waves of dive-bombers. The Mikuma took five hits, while Mogami took six. Both cruisers were set ablaze. The Mikuma’s torpedo reloads exploded, causing her to sink. Mogami’s crew was able to get their reloads off the ship before that happened – and the cruiser ended up spending a lot of time being rebuilt.

The Tambor saw 12 war patrols during World War II, sinking 11 Japanese vessels. She was decommissioned in December, 1945, and sold for scrap 14 years later.

Her wartime heroics are many, but she may best be known for the shots she didn’t fire.

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