Legionnaire of Month
Every individual’s life experiences are different and every person’s military experience is unique. Merle Lamps is no exception. He was born Jan 6, 1924 and spent his early years growing up on a farm near Elkton SD. As the oldest son in a family of 9, he helped out on the farm. When his father stepped on a rusty nail and developed blood poisoning Merle dropped out of high school to help out until his dad recovered. As Merle came acloser to the draft age he had the idea that by voluntarily enlisting in the service his next three younger brothers might be spared the draft. So after his 18th birthday in 1942 he attempted to enlist in the Air Force. However, because of his limited 8th grade education he was not accepted so instead, he joined the Army.
Merle was sent to Basic Training at Ft. Snelling in Minneapolis and then to Camp White in Medford OR. This was a new camp and part of his Infantry training included helping build the camp. After AIT he was sent to San Diego for additional Amphibious Training. The timing in the war was such that Merle would see many new parts of the world he had never imagined. He was first sent to Hawaii where he received Jungle Training before going to Saipan. Merle spent time at a number of small islands in the Philippines where they took 3 beaches. Their outfit was also responsible for taking two beaches in Okinawa. Merle also went through some tough battles in Iwo Jima. On one scouting mission Merle came under fire but his dive for cover was too late. He was shot in the knee and after 30 days recovery was back in action. Later in Okinawa, he was shot a 2nd time—this time in the back. He was awarded two Purple Hearts along with other Bronze Stars and service combat badges. Merle said “battles were tough; you had to carry everything on your back and had to live in trenches”. Their next assignment was to take Japan where they were sure to encounter the most difficult battles yet. Merle recalls being on board this ship and seeing all his fellow infantrymen giving their buddies personal information and telling each other, if I don’t come back alive, will you tell my-------. So when they learned that the Americans had dropped the A Bomb and their ship turned back to the Philippine Islands, everyone breathed a BIG sigh of relief.
Merle was pleased to finish his military duties away from combat in the motor pool. It took 17 days to travel back to San Pedro, CA and was much easier duty then what he had been used to. The ship also brought back many German POW’s. Merle said, “they were good cooks, so we ate very well”. Merle left on a steam freight train to Ft. Leavenworth KS where he was officially discharged in April 1946. He took a freight train to Sioux Falls and a bus to Flandreau. After getting home he sat around and said “I just thought about the last last four years and even if we were just kids, it took a toll”. So I had to get on with life and took a job as a truck driver just to be busy until harvest time. In Oct. of 1946 he married a neighbor girl, Agnes Brake and they raised 2 children (Mike and Linda).
During his 4 year tour of duty, Merle only returned home for 11 days after basic training. They seldom received mail and when it did come it might be 6 months of backlogged mail at a time. When ask what the hardest emotional part was, Merle said “none of it was easy. But losing a cousin, the same age, was really difficult. We enlisted together and separated right after that and never saw each other again”. Merle did not learn that his cousin was killed till a year after his death. After my visit with Merle I thought of a MASH episode where Hawkeye says, “war is war and hell is hell and of the two, war is much worse”—I have the feeling Merle would probably agree. Merle ended our interview by saying life goes on and you must go on too. He has been very active in the VFW, DAV and American Legion holding most offices. He has the unique distinction of serving for over 20 years as the Commander of the Color Guard in Post 23’s history. Merle said “I’m ready to retire and turn that over to someone else. Thanks Merle, for your dedicated service and personal sacrifices for our nation and service to our Post and community. .