Gino Joseph Merli was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania on May 23, 1924. He left high school after three years, and was drafted into the United States Army for World War II service shortly after his 19th birthday on July 8, 1943.
After initial training, Merli joined the 1st Infantry Division in England as the division was both recovering from their combat duties in Sicily and preparing for their assault on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
He was a machine gun crewmember in Company H, 2nd Battalion 18th Infantry Regiment and landed at Omaha Beach in the follow-on waves after the initial assault. He fought across France with the “Big Red One” and by early September, the division was beginning the liberation of Belgium.
During the night of September 4-5, 1944 near Sars la Bruyere, Belgium, Merli’s company was beaten back by a Nazi counterattack. He refused to abandon his position and kept up withering machine gun fire on the enemy that covered the withdrawal of his comrades. He fought alone all night, and when his position was overrun, he pretended to be dead to prevent his being killed or captured. Some of the enemy even checked to see if he was dead…and he suffered multiple bayonet wounds without making a noise.
Gino Merli’s Medal of Honor was practically a foregone conclusion.
MERLI, GINO J.
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Sars la Bruyere, Belgium, 45 September 1944. Entered service at: Peckville, Pa. G.O. No.: 64, 4 August 1945
Citation: He was serving as a machine gunner in the vicinity of Sars la Bruyere, Belgium, on the night of 4-5 September 1944, when his company was attacked by a superior German force Its position was overrun and he was surrounded when our troops were driven back by overwhelming numbers and firepower. Disregarding the fury of the enemy fire concentrated on him he maintained his position, covering the withdrawal of our riflemen and breaking the force of the enemy pressure. His assistant machine gunner was killed and the position captured; the other 8 members of the section were forced to surrender. Pfc. Merli slumped down beside the dead assistant gunner and feigned death. No sooner had the enemy group withdrawn then he was up and firing in all directions. Once more his position was taken and the captors found 2 apparently lifeless bodies. Throughout the night Pfc. Merli stayed at his weapon. By daybreak the enemy had suffered heavy losses, and as our troops launched an assault, asked for a truce. Our negotiating party, who accepted the German surrender, found Pfc. Merli still at his gun. 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.
A postscript to that night: after his relief and return to his unit, Merli asked permission from his Sergeant to go to a nearby church and pray for the dead, both those of his own unit and that of the enemy. He received it.
Merli attained the rank of Sergeant before leaving the Army after the War. He spent over thirty years working as an administrator in a Veterans Administration medical center near his Pennsylvania home. Merli passed away on June 11, 2002 and was laid to rest in the Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Cemetery of Carbondale, Pennsylvania.