Tiffany's Troops

A salute to Merrill Morang

By Tiffany Strong | Dec 05, 2009
Photo by: Tiffany Strong Merrill Morang, 91, was a rifleman with his squad and received a medal for his marksmanship. "I must have been some good at it," he said.

Rockland — Merrill Morang, 91, of Rockland was with the 82nd Army Airborne, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II.

He still wears his Airborne sweatshirt proudly and displays an Airborne bumper sticker on his car.

Morang has Parkinson's disease and has trouble communicating. He can only see out of one eye. His memories have faded.

What he does remember though, he remembers clearly, as tears well up in his eyes at the thoughts. And he remembers how cold the winter of 1944-1945 was in Europe.

His wife, Barbara, who takes care of him at home, said he never wanted to be cold again. Nor would he ever go camping.

Merrill was born in Lubec on Sept. 14, 1918. He attended school in Eastport. When his mother died in 1932 of tuberculosis, his father packed up the four children and moved to Rockland so that the father's sister, Charlotte Carter, could help with the children.

A year later in 1933 Merrill's father had a stroke and died, leaving the children with Carter, who graciously took them in.

In 1938 Merrill joined the National Guard in Thomaston because the money was good. Merrill, who does not have many pictures of his time in the service, does still have his "Service Record Book."

In the book it is written that Merrill joined the service on Sept. 16, 1940. A week later on Sept. 23 he left Rockland by train bound for Fort McKinley in Portland Harbor. The fort was used for coastal defense until the end of World War II.

Merrill served in the 240th Coast Artillery, Battery F of the Maine National Guard, until 1944 when he was sent to England as a replacement.

In England he went to jump school where he learned to parachute out of airplanes. After seven jumps he earned his wings.

During training in France, Merrill was injured. He and 13 other men were jumping out of a C-47 plane.The men were trained to jump when a light panel came on.

Two doors were open for the 14 men to jump out of. Suddenly the sun shone through one of the doors. "The pilot thought it was the light panel and told us to jump," said Merrill. So they did. "It would be just like jumping over Rankin Block," said Merrill.

All the men landed on houses. Merrill hit a house and was dragged by his parachute toward a highway. "I crumpled my back a little bit," he said.

He spent two weeks in an evacuation hospital in France, then was transferred to a hospital in Belgium. His back has bothered him ever since, and he has had several surgeries, said Barbara.

In September 1944 the 82nd Airborne conducted its fourth combat jump of World War II into Holland to seize and hold key bridges and roads deep behind German lines.

Winter began to set in and Merrill remembers the snow and the cold. "We lived outdoors, waded through the snow, and ate K-rations," he said.

He was so cold that he cut holes in his sleeping bag and wore it as an overcoat.

The snow was so deep that his unit's two horses didn't have the energy to wade through the snow and do the jobs the men were depending on them for. So the men had to break a path in the snow for the horses.

Merrill said he threw away the legs to his Browning automatic rifle. "Those were 16 pounds that weren't worth carrying," he said.

Suddenly on Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans launched a surprise attack on Allied troops in the Ardennes Mountains region of Belgium that later became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

For American forces the Battle of the Bulge was the biggest battle of World War II. Between Dec. 16, 1944, and Jan. 25, 1945, more than 19,000 Americans were killed, 47,500 were wounded, and 23,000 were captured or missing.

Merrill was later awarded the Bronze Star, the fourth highest combat award, for his acts of bravery during the battle.

"I saved the lives of 12 men one night," said Merrill. He said their unit got ambushed and all of their officers were killed.

"I was the only one who had any navigation training," Merrill said. "I navigated by the stars and got them back to their company. Then we carried the dead and wounded back to our lines."

When the war officially ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, Merrill was assigned to guard duty. He said many Germans were trying to desert their army after the war because they didn't want to end up in prison camp.

Merrill said the Germans would break into people's houses, put on regular clothes and try to pass themselves off as civilians.

Merrill's job was to count all the people in the houses. "We'd go bright and early in the morning and rouse everyone and search the house," he said. "There might be 12 people."

"The next morning there might be 15 people; they'd gained three people," he said. "So we'd take the three German soldiers as prisoners."

"I'm glad I did my part," said Merrill. "But I wouldn't want to have to do it again."

When Merrill returned home from the war he worked at the cement plant and then at Van Baalen's in Rockland for more than 26 years as an order picker. He eventually had to retire because his back injury suffered in the war was bothering him.

He has two children, William and Susan, who live nearby.

In the mid-1980s Merrill met his present wife, Barbara, at a card party in Rockland at Barbara's mother's house. Both were widowed. They married on May 1, 1987.

The couple traveled for 17 or 18 years, Barbara said, before it became too difficult for Merrill to do so. They went to England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. They went to the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, traveling to France, Holland, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium.

"We've had a good life," Barbara said. "Merrill's been good to me. Now this virus has zapped his body, but we manage."

Barbara gets Merrill dressed and reads to him.

"On a good day, we play Rummy," said Barbara.

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Thank you, Merrill, for enduring the cold, harsh conditions of an unbearable winter, for risking your life to save others and for your navigation skills.

 

 

 

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