Meeting Merton Warner is like getting a fresh breath of air. At age 94, Mert (as he is called by most) is the one person that can put joy in life even if having a bad day. What is remarkable, is Mert had seen combat during WW2, and was subject to some horrific experiences.
Mert’s father, Charlie, signed up to enter the Wisconsin National Guard, at age 24. In 1916 the Third Division was called to service for the Mexican Border Crisis which lasted into 1917. Along with other divisions throughout the US, the sole purpose was to capture Poncho Villa. Just as the division was de-mobilized, Charlie’s unit was re-activated to create the 32nd Division or known as the “Red Arrow” and was sent to France in 1918 to serve in WW1. He saw battle fronts in France until the war ended, which he then became part of the Army of Occupation until the end of war in May 1919.
With this background, Merton and his twin brother Berton were born to Charlie and Gertrude Warner. Merton spent the first 10 years in Clear Lake on the family farm before moving to Barnes 1934. The move was due to his father’s ill health attributed to having been gassed during the First World War.
Mert was a sophomore in high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He remembers his Dad told he and his brother, “You are no different than other boys. You should go and serve your country.” You see Merton had a deferment because he was still in high school. Nevertheless, he and his brother enlisted. Mert’s service was as a medic. In his book, “My Nickel’s Journey”, he describes in detail the many experiences of treating the wounded and dying soldiers. He was part of the detail that found the death camps and the buildings filled with dead bodies from German military death camps killing the Jews.
Mert recounts that as part of the Geneva Convention, medics were to treat the most seriously injured first whether American or German. He says, “I remember one instance where two soldiers arrived, one German and the other American. They had shot each other. The German was seriously injured, and I had to treat him first. In times like this, American soldiers were not happy the enemy received care before them.”
He also describes the surprise when a German walked into the first aid tent and surrendered to me. Quite frankly, he thought he was going to be shot. Instead the German’s hands were up, Mert took the patch from jacket and turned him over as a prisoner of war. Medics were not allowed to be armed. Later another medic had been killed in another unit, and for the next 24 hours the order came down that no prisoners would be taken.
He describes his experiences as “leapfrogging” from location to location in the war theater. The war ended on May 8,1945. After serving in several other locations in hospitals, he was discharged on his mother’s birthday April 18th 1946. While on leave, in Switzerland he managed to purchase a music box for his mother.
Upon leaving the military, Mert received medal and commendations including the Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, (European-African-Middle Easter Campaign Medal (2 Bronze stars.), WW2 Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Combat Medical Badge, and the The Honorable Service Medal.
Coming home, like many WW2 veterans, the men began to regain their lives. Mert married the love of his life June. A teacher, musician and becoming a mother, the team of Mert and June lived a life of family, love, music, and adventures for 57 years.
At 94, Mert’s outlook on life is one of giving back. He plays piano, having learned to do so by ear. What a treat to watch him go to his piano and belt out some great tunes. He also has a hobby of making wooden toy trucks. His assembly line is now in the kitchen. He smiles as he says, “June would never permit this when she was here.” His son has now taken over the duties of sawing the materials to assure he has enough to work with. What does he do with all those wood truck with working wheels? They are gifted to many including for children’s causes and any new friend he meets.
He published his book in October 2016. An accomplishment he feels that tells his story. Reading it, becomes a testament to a life well lived with all the optimism and joy despite some of his experiences of war. In 2013, Merton says he was blessed to part of the WW2 Honor Flight to Washington DC. His son Chuck accompanied him on this flight. He toured the many memorials to past wars, visited Arlington Cemetery, and visited the various memorials to past presidents.
When asked how he has remained so full of optimism despite depression period of our history, war experience, and being slowed down with aging. He responds, he is happy to have good family and friends. He loves meeting new people and sharing his gifts of music, storytelling, and creative projects. He said, “I enjoy every day and I try to make it a happy day, EVERY day. I thank the Lord for giving me a wonderful life.”
And that he does, you can’t leave his presence with a lighter heart, and wanting to take that joy of everyday home with you.