1st Sgt. Harold “Bud” Merrill thought he was going to have a quiet Christmas Eve with his wife, Dorothy, and his sister visiting from Visalia.
Little did he know that about 40 people would show up to celebrate his accomplishments during World War II.
It seems that his three Purple Hearts and three Bronze Stars were lost somewhere in the files in Washington, D.C. After some searching by his son, Jack Merrill, the U.S. Department of the Army found his medals, 50 years after they were to be issued.
Relatives and friends showed up in droves to his west Lodi home on Christmas Eve, when three Lodi American Legion officers presented him with his Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts.
Everyone knew Merrill was going to receive his medals that day — except for Merrill himself. It was a complete surprise.
Merrill, 93, was drafted into the Army shortly after graduating from Lodi High School. He served in France and Germany in the Army’s 83rd Infantry Division.
Merrill was wounded in France on Aug. 14, 1944, when he forced back German defenders in the Battle of St. Malo. He said the American troops were running out of ammunition, and it was up to him to get the ammunition to his comrades.
“I had to crawl to the back of a fence,” Merrill recalls. “My shins were all bloody. There were German troops across the bridge.”
Lodi American Legion Post Cmdr. Bob Gross, 2nd Vice Cmdr. Glenn Biddy and Adjutant Martin Jones came to deliver the medals in a picture frame created by Legion member Dan Straight.
“It was wonderful. It was a very heart-warming experience,” Gross said. “That’s why we’re here — we’re veterans helping veterans.”
By executive order, President John F. Kennedy authorized the Bronze Stars for Merrill on Aug. 24, 1962.
In addition for being awarded for his heroism in France, Merrill received a Bronze Star for participating in active combat in Operation Grenade in the advance to the Rhine River. He served in Company K, 3rd Battalion in the 331st Infantry Regiment’s 83rd Infantry Division.
Merrill grew up on his father’s 80-acre dairy along Lower Sacramento Road, south of Armstrong Road. He could have taken over the dairy, but he chose to work at a nursery owned by John Mainland at Turner and Lower Sacramento roads.
“I didn’t want anything to do with milking cows,” Merrill said.
He ended up marrying the nursery owner’s daughter, the late Isabella Merrill, and took over the Mainland business.
Merrill remarried Dorothy Merrill about 10 years ago. They met playing whist. He played a lot of golf at Woodbridge Golf & Country Club until he suffered a stroke about a decade ago.
Merrill has two daughters, Susan and Joann, both of Lodi, and a son, Jack Merrill of Woodfords in Alpine County. The Merrills have approximately nine grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. Dorothy Merrill has four children or her own.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.