I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Retired Command Sergeant Major Kenneth “Rock Merritt” at the 2016 Friends and Family of the 508th PIR reunion. It was the thrill of a lifetime to meet and talk with “Mr. 508th” as he is affectionately known. I look forward to seeing Rock again at this year’s reunion in October at Fayetteville, N.C. Rock had this to say about our beloved Uncle Matty:
“I was in the same company as Private Martin Teahan when we both jumped into Normandy on June 6, 1944. He ran around with one of the commo [communication] platoon Sergeants, O.B. Hill, and sang a lot of country songs. Being from Oklahoma, I was always there listening. If I could say one word to Teahan, it would be this: “The bond that existed when you left the 508th PIR still exists today, some 73 years later, due to your friend Sergeant O.B. Hill and the officers and members of the Friends and Family of the 508th PIR Association.”
-Retired Command Sergeant Major Kenneth J. “Rock” Merritt, HQ Co., 1st BN 508TH PIR (1942-1946)
The Family and Friends of the 508th PIR Association’s mission is to honor, preserve, and communicate the history of the famed 508th Paratroopers. To honor and keep my Uncle’s memory alive Monica and I joined the Association. We were very excited to attend their annual reunion in Charleston South Carolina on November 2, 2016. I had met Ellen Peters, the treasurer on our trip to Normandy in June of this year.
She is lovely and so helpful to Monica and me. I could quickly see why the 508th is one of the most successful veteran organizations upon meeting its board of directors. Donna Palmer is the president, Troy Palmer the secretary, Chris Harris the vice president, and Ellen Peters the treasurer. Dick O’Donnell is the Chairman of the Board and does an amazing job maintaining a website rich in information, pictures, and stories. The honor and respect of veterans both active and retired was “off the charts” and so deserving. I was so pleased to witness this firsthand. I highly recommend visiting the website www.508thpir.org – On the site, you will see actual stories of D-day and other battles, written by the veterans themselves, including the Bios of many of these WWII heroes.
The “Rock,” pardon the pun of the organization is Rock Merritt. Rock is a highly decorated retired Command Sergeant Major of the 82nd Airborne Division, a WWII legend, and the focal point of the 508th Association. When Rock speaks, people listen.
He has command of the room. When you see him in uniform, you are awestruck; he has been awarded so many medals, decorations, and combat stripes. Rock served in combat in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Rock was awarded a silver star in WWII for destroying a German machine gun position. Rock has met almost every US President, is asked to attend countless events, but his true love is his 508th PIR and the 82nd Airborne Division. He will talk openly about his combat experience and is always looking to mentor young soldiers. Rock knew my Uncle Matty and was fascinated by the finding and return of his rifle. It gave me great pleasure to hear him say my uncle was the type of soldier, which you were sure would complete any task, when he was on guard duty, you had confidence he would be at his post, focused on the mission at hand. For me, it was truly an honor and a pleasure to talk with him, watch him preside over the ceremonies, and to have him sign Uncle Matty’s photo album. It was special to see CSM Rock Merritt in charge over the presenting of the colors. The young soldiers presenting the colors were led by Sergeant Major Noonan and did an outstanding job. They received the battalion coin for their efforts. For many of them it would be their first coin, but I am sure it will not be their last.
Monica and I are now regulars the the 508th PIR reunions, I hope to meet some of my readers at the reunions, trust me, you will have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.