KOKOMO, Ind. — There wasn’t a big parade. No fire trucks, waving flags or speeches given.
When Frank Merrill returned home from his service in the U.S. Army after the Korean War, he simply went home to his parents in Clinton County. The next day, he went out to look for a job and went on a blind date his brother had set up for him.
More than 50 years later, the Kokomo resident finally got the welcome home he deserved during the Indy Honor Flight at the end of last month.
Merrill knew his draft number was coming up in December of 1952, so he went ahead and enlisted in November.
“They told me I’d probably be home for Christmas, but that didn’t really work out,” he laughed.
Merrill went to Fort Custer in Augusta, Michigan, for 30 days before taking a troop train down to Fort Bliss, Texas. It took them five days to get to the Lone Star state, and when they arrived in their winter uniforms, it was 80 degrees.
“We had to keep those uniforms on until we could get back to camp to change, and that was not a short wait,” Merrill said.
At Fort Bliss, Merrill completed his 16 weeks of basic training, consisting of eight weeks of infantry training and eight weeks of artillery training. He then went to mechanic school to learn about the four anti-aircraft guns he worked with. As an artillery mechanic, Merrill’s job was to train foreign officers and give demonstrations on how to use the weapons.
Before he was discharged from the Korean Battery Company 90 AAA Gun Battalion on Nov. 3, 1954, Merrill reached the rank of sergeant.
Now 85, Merrill had heard of the honor flight before, but never knew how he could participate. One of his four daughters, Karen, brought him an application a few months ago.
He was accepted into the program, and on Oct. 21, he joined 89 other Hoosier veterans on the 25th Indy Honor Flight.
The night before the flight left, Merrill and his son Scott attended a “getting-acquainted” dinner, where Merrill just happened to meet another veteran who also served as an artillery mechanic in Fort Bliss.
“He was in at almost the same time I was but we never met before,” Merrill said.
He went on to meet four other artillery mechanics while he was in Washington D.C., visiting all of the monuments from the Korean War Veterans Memorial to the Vietnam Veterans Wall.
Merrill was in for a big surprise during their first stop at the National World War II Memorial.
“Somebody came up and tapped me on my shoulder — it happened to be my daughter Sharon,” Merrill said. “I was shocked she was there with her husband! Nobody ever told me they were supposed to be there. I couldn’t hardly talk for two or three minutes.”
When they were walking through the Korean War Memorial, Merrill was in for another surprise.
Two young girls from South Korea approached them and asked to take a picture with Merrill.
“I just thought it was an honor that they would come up and ask me, a Korean War veteran, for a picture,” he said.
Another touching moment happened during “Mail Call,” a time where each veteran on the flight was presented with dozens of letters from all walks of life, thanking them for their service.
“It gets to me when a 5-year-old boy drew a picture and said ‘thank you for your service’ — that brings a tear to your eye to think that somebody at that age is thinking that well about what we did,” Merrill said, gesturing to his bulging sack of envelopes.
Throughout the day, Merrill was constantly amazed by all of the people who made the day special for the veterans. From pulling out his chairs, carrying his plates, escorting him to memorials, shaking his hand or giving him a hug — the support was overwhelming.
“You don’t realize how warm you feel while all of this is going on,” Merrill said. “All of these people who donate their time and effort to make you feel special.”
When he arrived back, 18 members of Merrill’s family were there to welcome him home at Plainfield High School, wearing matching shirts with his military photo and the words “thank you.”
“My grandson said ‘Grandpa, I’ve never seen you this happy in my life,'” Merrill said, smiling.
His wife, Barbara — the same girl he met on that blind date all those years ago — held up a sign that read “My sweetheart for 62 years.”
The father-son duo is now encouraging other veterans to sign up for an Honor Flight.
“You get a ton of pride because you know what they’ve done for their country and you know what they’ve provided to the whole world,” Scott said. “To me, where I got sad, was just thinking that a lot of these folks never got a welcome home celebration and have never gotten a thank you. To me, it was well-deserved and I was glad to be a part of it.”
Source: Kokomo Tribune, http://bit.ly/2zg2Udl
Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the Kokomo Tribune.