Grand Blanc, MI — May 17, 2019
They call them “The Greatest Generation,” those who fought and won the Second World War. There could be no better descriptor, every man and woman who served is a hero. Those who supported the war effort from home deserve our thanks and appreciation as well.
The world had never faced such a crisis. Even WWI was a fairly localized conflict compared to the size and magnitude of Germany and Japan’s expansive aggression. It took a special kind of person to respond to the call to arms. It was a different time.
Meet Merton B. Farr
Merton B. Farr was one of those individuals “who more than self their country loved.” Mert was just 20 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He lived in Clio, Michigan one of six brothers and six sisters in the Farr family. When he announced to his mother he was going to join the Navy, she refused to grant her permission. The age of consent back then was 21. So, without her endorsement, Mert was not able to enlist.
The call came soon enough, all six Farr boys left home to serve their country. Five to the European theatre and one to the Pacific. Not all came home. Mert lost a brother in the Battle of the Bulge. After four years in Italy, France, and Germany he returned home to Michigan with many a story to tell. With him, Mert brought five Bronze Stars.
The Bronze Star
Authorized by Executive Order 9419, “Bronze Star Medal,” February 4, 1944, superseded by Executive Order 11046 (reference (sss)). b. Awarded to any person who, after December 6, 1941, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguishes himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight, under any of the following circumstances:
(1) While engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States. A-7
(2) While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.
(3) While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
c. When the Bronze Star is awarded for heroism, a bronze letter “V” (for valor) is worn on the suspension and service ribbon of that medal.
Merton Farr’s Service
After boot camp, Mert boarded a ship in Virginia and set sail for Italy. Traveling in a naval convoy of troop carriers, they had to negotiate the dangerous waters of the Strait of Gibraltar. German U-Boats attacked their ships sinking two of the vessels, Mert’s ship made it through.
Holding the rank of Sergeant, Mert landed in Italy and was issued a jeep with a 50 caliber machine gun mounted in the back. His job? To lead convoys of trucks bringing much-needed supplies to the soldiers at the front lines. The gun rattled so bad he ultimately had it removed, relying on his holstered service weapon and standard issue M1 rifle for protection.
Mert served in the Army Air Force, his supply convoys consisted of aviation fuel, ammunition, plane parts, and all the other items necessary to support a fighting force during wartime.
The jeep had a canvas top and was considered premium transportation. It factored into several of Mert’s stories that he still vividly recalls to this day.
The Captain’s Heater
Winters in Italy are generally cold, so is winter in Michigan. While the canvas cover on Mert’s jeep protected him somewhat from the elements, the vehicle had no heater. With tools from the motor pool, Mert cut a hole in the cowl just behind the exhaust manifold. The heat generated by the engine flowed freely into the passenger compartment of the jeep.
On an assignment to transport a Captain to a command post, the officer noticed the modification to the jeep. Mert almost lost his ride until volunteering to perform the same fix to the Captain’s vehicle.
Single aircraft flying reconnaissance missions to check on enemy movements were a common occurrence during World War Two. On a supply run with trucks following his lead, Mert noticed such a flight high on the horizon. Or so he thought. It did not take long, once Mert’s convoy was spotted, for the German fighter plane to drop down and take aim at the trucks for a strafing run.
With bullets flying past the cab of his jeep Mert got on the radio to his drivers telling them to pick up the pace. He had spotted a grove of trees ahead and led his convoy under the canopy of tree branches and leaves for protection. Mert’s men safe and their cargo secure, they waited until the fighter plane lost interest and went searching easier prey.
It was not unusual for the men to sleep under their trucks. Whether a shortage of beds in camp or for protection during heavy fighting Mert always carried a blanket for the minimum in comfort when the need arose.
Mert describes himself as an infrequent churchgoer, although he attended more frequently as a young man with his family. Still, Devine intervention was not something he expected during his time on the battlefield. At 98 years old Mert remembers the incident as if it were yesterday.
Driving at the front of eight trucks in a convoy on an overcast day, Mert recalls how the sky suddenly brightened. A break in the cloud cover allowed bright light to fill the roadway ahead. He was astonished to see the figure of a woman with a white robe and wings floating directly in front of his jeep. She was standing with her arm outstretched and hand posed indicating for Mert to stop. He did and the angel disappeared.
Faith in Leadership
Mert exited his jeep and with a startled look on his face started walking back to the trucks following. The drivers jumped out and asked what was wrong. Mert related what he saw, no one was able to collaborate his vision. Having trusted their Sergeant’s leadership on many a decision, his men were content to stay put.
It was decided to send an advance scout down the road to survey for potential danger. Returning with his observations the scout reported a bridge over a 100-foot deep drop off, not far ahead, had been bombed out. Everyone that day believed in angels.
Having to negotiate difficult terrain was just a part of the job for soldiers in a war zone. Weather often made the task much more difficult. Heading a convoy after heavy snow had fallen found Mert and his men traversing a roadway with moguls like a ski run. After arriving at the advance camp Mert complained to the soldier that greeted the supply trucks. “I thought this was supposed to be a paved road?” The reply, “It this, them bumps you’re driving over are dead cows.”
The Horrors of War
Mert, his men, and their trucks assisted in the invasion of Southern France. As the tide of the war began to change they advanced through the French countryside and into Germany. Through cities almost completely leveled by Allied bombs, only the occasional church or town landmark still standing.
As the Army advanced they encountered many German soldiers tired of war and readily surrendering. Mert was aghast to see young men 10-12 years of age wearing the uniform of the Reich and carrying rifles. The truck drivers often grabbed extra rations to hand out to hungry kids they came in contact with. Some resistance remained as snipers were often encountered in towns along the roads to Berlin.
Most horrific of the scenes they encountered were the three concentration camps they passed. Including the infamous Dachau. Mert described the gates being thrown open, but survivors unable to leave. Their bodies nothing more than skin and bones, too weak to travel. Corpses stacked up and the incredible stench that permeated the air. The evidence of evil incarnate.
It Was a Different Time
When asked about the sacrifice of serving, Mert responds, “It was just something we had to do. The World needed our help and we could not just stand by and let so many suffer at the hands of bad men. No politics, just allegiance to country and freedom.”
Mert returned home to Michigan and worked as a beer sales representative for Pabst Blue Ribbon. He built a loyal following of customer and earned a good living. Today Mert resides in a Senior Living Community by American House in Grand Blanc. He gets around well with the assistance of a walker and he loves to talk with visitors. Mert’s lovely daughter Annette joined us for our conversation and displayed the momentoes pictured along with photographs from her Dad’s time in Europe. Mert’s wife Beverly recently passed, but he continues on with that same indomitable spirit he and those of his generation possessed.
Many thanks to the kind folks at American House for their assistance in coordinating our visit with Mert Farr. A wall inside their Grand Blanc facility honorably holds a plaque for each of their residents who served our country.
About American House
Founded in 1979, American House Senior Living Communities’ goal is to provide high-quality housing for seniors at a price affordable for retirees and their families. Their dedication to excellence has endured for over 40 years and they have expanded to serve residents at a number of senior housing communities throughout Michigan, Florida, Illinois, Ohio and New Hampshire.
American House’s mission is to enrich the lives of those they serve, providing an environment that fosters meaningful relationships. Their vision is to be an innovative senior housing company that creates sustainable excellence and stakeholder value, with an unparalleled commitment to passionate care provided by compassionate people.
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