Merritt, 96, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was also featured in the documentary, however, he was unable to attend the showing at LR due to health concerns. He was awarded the Silver Star after disabling a German machine gun nest single-handedly. He made his first combat jump into Normandy with the initial invasion and made four other combat jumps as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. Merritt spent 35 years in the military retiring as a Command Sergeant Major.
“I was anxious to see what the reaction would be like during our visit (to Europe),” Hager said. “Men, women and children kept walking up to us just to shake their hands. There were American flags, French flags and British flags everywhere we went.”
Fort Bragg is opening a Normandy exhibit May 16. Hager, Frank, Deal and Merritt are planning on attending. There will be a private showing of the documentary for veterans followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony and opening of the exhibit for the public.
They are also tentatively planning on attending a similar event at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans the beginning of June.
Hager took extensive video footage during the trip, which he is donating to the National World War II Museum. He said the youngest veteran at the June celebration last summer was 94 years old, meaning it was possibly the last large gathering of veterans in Normandy.
About Lenoir-Rhyne University: Founded in 1891, Lenoir-Rhyne University is a co-educational, private liberal arts institution with more than 50 undergraduate degree programs and over 30 graduate degree programs. LR enrolls more than 2,750 undergraduate and graduate students and has had 11 consecutive years of enrollment growth. LR’s main campus is in Hickory, North Carolina, where both undergraduate and graduate degrees are offered. The University also offers graduate degree programs on its campuses in Asheville, North Carolina, and Columbia, South Carolina. The Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary is also in Columbia. LR is affiliated with the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and welcomes students from all religious backgrounds. The website is www.lr.edu.
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