Vernon Mersch was a senior in high school when he enlisted in the Navy in Fargo. That was Feb. 17, 1945, and World War II was going on.
Now, 65 years later, Mersch was among 95 World War II veterans from central and western North Dakota who were thanked for their service with a free trip to Washington, D.C.
With the Roughrider Honor Flight, they visited the World War II memorial and other memorials in the nation's capital and Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. The honor flight, originating in Bismarck, was April 16-17.
Eloise Ogden/MDN --
Vernon Mersch, left, Minot, talks about his World War II experiences at the American Legion Club in Minot April 21, while his wife, Verene, listens.
Mersch and his wife, Verene, who have lived in Minot since 1954, visited with The Minot Daily News shortly after his trip to Washington.
Vernon Mersch, who was born at Hardwick, Minn., started high school in 1941 in Mantador, a community near Hankinson in southeast North Dakota the same year the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Mersch's uncle, who was in the war, wrote to Mersch's dad, saying he better put his son in the Navy because it would be better for him than in the Army. In the Navy, he said Vernon would get three meals a day and have a bed.
About a month after enlisting in the Navy, Mersch was on his way by train to Fort Snelling, Minn., for a physical examination, then sent home and told to wait until he was called.
Eventually, Mersch was called into the Navy for his basic training. "I had to quit high school I was called in early May," he said. His high school graduation wasn't until the end of the month.
"I got home the Fourth of July the war was still on. Most of the time we went to shows and dances, and we didn't have to pay anything. The same when I took the train home, the women were serving meals in the depot and it was all free to us guys in uniform," he recalled.
Mersch was home for a week, returned to Great Lakes, Ill., then sent to Norman, Okla., to Naval Air Training Technical Center.
"I was supposed to go to mechanics school but mechanics school was full. In order for me to wait for mechanics school, they sent me to work in the mess hall," he said. He said the base had three mess halls but on Sundays only one was open. "If you worked over one weekend, it was over a thousand people you'd serve for meals," he said. He was there until early November 1945.
"Harry Truman dropped the bomb in August. What they told us was we were getting ready for an invasion. When Harry Truman dropped the bomb, that stopped the invasion of Japan. If we had invaded Japan, I wouldn't be here. We wouldn't have lived through it," Mersch said.
He said no one told the troops that the bomb was going to be dropped. "No, but we wouldn't have lived through it because the Japanese were really dug in over there," he said.
"The bomb was dropped and we got delayed a little bit," Mersch said. Mersch was put on a ship in San Francisco on the Saturday before Thanksgiving 1945. He said everyone got seasick and he didn't eat for three days. But on Thanksgiving Day he was able to have Thanksgiving dinner. "I had a great big turkey leg. It was the first piece of turkey I ever had in my life. We never had turkey at home," he said.
Mersch ended up being on four different ships. When a ship got orders to return to the U.S., he was assigned to another one because he had just come from the U.S.
"The war really ended in August when Harry Truman dropped the bomb. I think I was in Guam in March and in Manila after that," Mersch said. "All this while I didn't get mail from home because I had too many ships the mail never caught up to me," he said.
On each ship he had a different job, he said. He was a seaman who used a machine to scrape the rust that was encrusted on the ship because of the saltwater. "It takes a long time to go from one end of the ship to the other, and by the time you get all the rust broke off, the ship painted, you could go back and start over," he said.
He also worked in the secondary engine room and in the office.
On the fourth ship, which took him back to the states, he was a cook. "There was 40 guys on the ship and I had to fry eggs for them in the morning," Mersch recalled. "These guys would line up for breakfast and I'd start frying them eggs. You'd soon learn you could take an egg in each hand, crack them together and dump them on the range. Some would say, 'I want mine like this, I want mine like that.' I'd say, 'No way, you get them as you get them."
"My rate was not a cook, my rate was seaman first class but they didn't have a cook so I was doing the cooking."
All the ships were landing crafts. "You could open them up and drive trucks and everything on board," he said.
Mersch's ship left the Philippines, returned to the U.S., and he was discharged in August 1946. He went home on the train to Minneapolis and then to Hankinson.
"When we were in the service the only clothes we had were our uniforms. We could not wear civilian clothes. When I got home I was in my Navy uniform," he said.
Because Mersch had missed his high school graduation when he went into the Navy, his high school superintendent said anyone who was in the second semester of their senior year when they went into the service would automatically get their diploma. "So I got a high school graduation diploma but I wasn't there," Mersch said. His mother and sister attended the ceremony and said the chairs of those who were in the military were draped with flags.
After the military, Mersch went to mechanics school in Fargo under the GI bill. He worked in Valley City, Jamestown, Wimbledon and then came to Minot in August 1954. He was at Fisher Motors for 12 years and then with Westlie Motor Co. for 25 years. He retired when he was 65. He and Verene, originally from Valley City, were married shortly after he came to Minot.
Their only son, Mike, was in the Air Force for 9 1/2 years, Verene said.
Vernon and Verene have worked for M&S Concessions in Minot for a time. "We still do," Verene said.
Vernon Mersch is a 51-year member of the Minot American Legion William G. Carroll Post and a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Mantador.
Mersch said when he heard about the honor flight, he decided to apply for it. He said he read about it in The Minot Daily News. "It sounded interesting," he said. Then this past winter he got a letter from the Honor Flight people saying he was signed up for the trip in April.
"It was an interesting trip, it was quite something," Mersch said.
Mersch said he has no regrets for going into the military. He said he's glad he served this country.
For more information about Roughrider Honor Flights, visit (www.rrhonorflight.com).