Merritt, a corporal with the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, on D-Day jumped along with more than 30 other paratroopers from a C-47 into the French countryside.
Kenneth "Rock" Merritt landed alone in a briar patch.
It was dark - Merritt said his regiment jumped about 2:30 a.m. - and the young soldier was alone in the middle of a historic invasion.
Just a short time earlier, from his position in the plane, Merritt had watched the sea below him.
"Flying over, you could see all the ships on the English Channel," Merritt, 91, said from his Fayetteville home. "It looked like you could walk across without getting your feet wet."
The jump itself was cold and windy, Merritt said. He was weighed down by about 100 pounds of equipment before landing in the middle of a field surrounded on all sides by massive hedgerows.
"I look up and I see a C-47 on fire coming right at me," Merritt recalled. "It came as close as 50 feet overhead."
Alone, the paratrooper gathered ammunition for his machine gun and set out into France, hesitantly testing each hedgerow for German fighters while also contending with the occasional snap of a bullet intended for him.
Each hedgerow was 5 to 6 feet high, Merritt said, and sat on a 3-foot mound of dirt - the perfect hiding place to ambush disoriented paratroopers trying to regroup.
"I prayed to God to live to daylight," said Merritt, nearly 70 years after the first of two combat jumps he made during World War II. "I wanted to see the (expletive) who wanted to kill me."
Eventually, Merritt found a chaplain, then slowly the group grew until there were nearly 40 American soldiers, all with the 82nd Airborne Division.
When daylight came a short time later, the Americans found they had stumbled upon a German battalion.
"All of a sudden, all hell broke loose," Merritt said.
For three days and nights, the men stood their ground.
Read the rest of it: D-Day by Parachute: A Soldier Alone In the Middle of the Invasion.
In the Fort Bragg area you meet dozens of these men who served as paratroopers during World War II and made the backbone of the 82d Airborne Division in the subsequent decades. I've always been humbled in their presence . . .