United States Army Medal of Honor recipient
Private Gino Merli was a member of the 1st Infantry Division, 18th Infantry during the D-Day Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for action in between those two battles near the Belgian town of Sars le Bruyere on the night of September 4-5, 1944.
Fourteen men from Pvt. Merli's company had established a roadblock on the route to Sars le Bruyere. Over 100 German troops attacked the roadblock, destroying one of the company's two machine gun nests. Pvt. Merli, only 20 years old, was the other machine gunner. He and his assistant gunner returned fire as his position was overrun, disrupting the enemy advance and protecting the retreat of his company's riflemen. His assistant machine gunner was killed and eight members of his unit were captured. Merli feigned death to avoid capture, only to continue firing on the enemy on their withdrawal.
Private Gino Merli single-handedly held the position overnight, firing about 2,000 rounds of ammunition. His machine gun nest was again captured by the Germans, but he hid under the body of his fallen assistant. The German patrol jabbed him in the buttocks with a bayonet four times, but Pvt. Merli did not cry out and again avoided capture.
Daybreak found the German unit with heavy casualties, many of them inflicted by Pvt. Merli. The German force surrendered when the Americans launched an assault. The negotiating parties found Merli still at his gun. The MOH citation describes the scene they found: On the battlefield lay 52 enemy dead, 19 of whom were directly in front of the gun. Pfc. Merli's gallantry and courage, and the losses and confusion that he caused the enemy, contributed materially to our victory.
During an interview with Tom Brokaw for The Greatest Generation, Merli said he could still "vividly remember now every move, every second from eight that evening to nine the next morning." He also said that after he was relieved from his position he "asked Sergeant Patinski if he wouldn't mind if I went and prayed for the dead — our dead and their dead. No matter how bitter you were against the enemy, you still had the heart to pray for him. Because he was in the same boat as you and I." President Truman presented the Medal of Honor to Pvt. Merli on June 15, 1945.
Mr. Merli left the service at the conclusion of the war, and worked for three decades at the Veterans Administration in Plains Township, PA. He visited Sars le Bruyere in 1994 and was honored with a marker from the town. He passed away on June 11, 2002 and is survived by his wife, three children, and six grandchildren.
Sources: N.Y. Times obituary available at http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/17/obituaries/17MERL.html , Medal of Honor citation.