John Merlini

Couldn't fight this war alone


But for a friend, John Merlini wouldn't have made it to Normandy.

Practicing in the English Channel for the D-Day landing, he got bogged down in deep water by his heavy field pack and steel helmet. Waves started rolling in.

"My buddy and I were clinging to each other like two little monkeys on its mothers back. I swore I was gonna drown," said Merlini, of South Chicago Heights. "We weren't even in combat yet."

That buddy saved him, pulling him up into the shallows.

On his first day of combat at Normandy, right after the invasion, Merlini tried to take care of a wounded comrade from the 20th Infantry Division known as the "bloody bucket."

He immediately got bawled out by his commanding officer. A wounded guy was lying out in the open, moaning. Merlini ran to him.

The officer hollered from the woods: "Leave that guy alone there. Let the medic take care of him!"

"He was right," said Merlini, 89. "Once I get there I don't know what to do. I don't know how to take care of wounded guys. I ran back to my foxhole."

He got screamed at again during the Battle of the Bulge by a comrade who almost shot him, believing he was a German paratrooper.

They were in some woods the Germans suddenly lit up with flares.

"I was running, lost my helmet in there, got all tangled up in the weeds and the grass."

He popped into a foxhole already occupied by an American with his gun aimed.

"He cussed me out: 'You know how close I come to pulling the trigger on you?' He would have shot me. I survived that thing. So we went on and on and on."

Merlini survived one last close call in France, heading into a dugout.

"No sooner had I moved from that spot - it was seconds, not minutes, seconds - a tree burst, mortar fire killed one guy. The other kid, his body was tore up, they had to drag him down into the cellar. Everybody scattered."

Merlini survived. The other kid did not.

"He died while I was talking to him. He was 18 years old."

That was it for the bloody bucket. They were replaced on the line with fresh troops.