Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado
Veterans Center Renamed
in Honor of Gino Merli
On Sept. 4, 1944, a young soldier from Peckville did what few others could have done. More than 58 years later, Pennsylvania officials have made sure no one will forget.
By Jonathan Foerster
As an infantry soldier, Gino Merli single-handedly fought off a wave of German soldiers in Belgium to help secure the Allied Forces position. His heroics earned him the highest honor, the Medal of Honor, as well as two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star and the Battle of the Bulge Medal.
On Thursday, hundreds of friends, family members and veterans gathered to rededicate the Northeastern Veterans Center in honor of Mr. Merli, who died June 11 at age 78. The hour-long ceremony featured state Sen. Robert Mellow, state Rep. Edward Staback, a video speech from Tom Brokaw, officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Military Affairs and former soldier turned TV news anchor Keith Martin.
Perhaps the most moving moment of the ceremony came when a video of the late Mr. Merli led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. The video came from the original dedication of the building in 1993.
Mr. Brokaw's taped remarks followed. He called Mr. Merli the inspiration for "The Greatest Generation," his book on Americans of the World War II era.
"Gino was emblematic of the Greatest Generation," Mr. Brokaw said. "Gino Merli will always be my hero in life and also in death."
Other speakers expressed similar sentiments. During his keynote address, retired Brig. Gen. Keith Martin, now a news anchor for WBRE-TV/28, recalled his first encounter with Mr. Merli 50 years ago.
Mr. Martin's mother dressed him in his Sunday best and took him to stand in line to see a man. He had no idea who he was waiting to see because he was only 6 years old. But once he got closer, he realized the man was someone important.
"My mom, as moms tend to do, slicked my hair back, straightened my little tie and said, 'Stand up straight and behave when you shake Mr. Merli's hand,'" he said.
Mr. Merli's son, Dr. Gino Merli Jr., said his father was too humble to have ever allowed a building to be dedicated in his name while he was still alive. Mr. Merli Jr. said his father was more concerned with what was inside the building than whose name was on the outside.
He said that as a younger man, he asked his father why he was so dedicated to the Veterans Administration.
"He said, 'Son, when I was on the field of battle and saw all the suffering of veterans, I just thought when I got home I would spend my life serving them,'" Mr. Merli Jr. said.
And now the building that does serve them bears his name.
© 2002, by Scranton Times Tribune
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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