Navy veteran Merle recounts his poignant life journey from the tragic hardships of his youth in Birkenfeld and his harrowing experiences at Pearl Harbor to finding solace and support in his later years through the caring services of Meals on Wheels People.
Merle sits comfortably in his living room chair as he and his daughter Lisa chat about the upcoming celebrations. December has always been a special month for the family, but this year, it promises to be the grandest of all. Merle is turning 100, and relatives from all corners — Texas, New York, Canada — are coming to celebrate.
Early Struggles and Sacrifices
Life has not always been kind to Merle, who grew up in Birkenfeld, Oregon. The early loss of his father and the responsibility of being one of 10 siblings thrust upon him burdens that no teenager should bear. School became a luxury, and he found himself dropping out at 16, trying to help provide for the family.
Enlisting in the Navy was his way of getting an education. The young boy — only 17 at the time — soon found himself in San Diego for bootcamp and later metalsmith school. But it was Pearl Harbor where life took a sharp turn. He’d arrived there not long before the infamous bombing and had been there when the catastrophe unfolded. “I was in bed when I heard and felt multiple explosions,” he recalls. “So I went on the roof and looked down and saw all the carnage.” The memories, although jaded by time, are crystal in their intensity: the explosions, the chaos, and the terrifying sight of an enemy soldier with a machine gun. An image of Merle running from the destruction was captured forever in a photograph now sold as memorabilia.
Over the years, he’d seldom spoken of the war’s horrors — not even the grim reality of the mess hall being turned into a makeshift morgue. But time healed, and Merle chose to focus on the brighter aspects. Like the day he met Wanda at a dance in Portland, Oregon. Six months later, they were married. His life after six years in the Navy led him to the post office, where he devoted 31 years.
Independence in Age
But as the golden years approached, the echoes of time began to show. Wanda passed, and Merle suffered a heart attack. Being alone, meals became an issue. “I didn’t want to put too big of a load on my daughters,” Merle says. “They have too much to do. I wanted to take the heat off of them.”
Enter Meals on Wheels People. Volunteers not only bring him wholesome food but also warmth and companionship. He fondly remembers the driver who’d spend extra time with him, bringing along his little dog. The service became more than just meals. With the help of a grant from the Home Depot Foundation, Meals on Wheels People sent someone to install grab bars in the shower as well by the back stairs leading into the house. “I didn’t realize how much I needed them until they got in there,” Merle says. “It keeps me independent.”
Now, at the precipice of a century, Merle looks back with gratitude. Yes, age has taken much of his sight and hearing, but it hasn’t taken his spirit. He revels in the visits from his grandkids, some who have achieved great academic heights and others who are just beginning their journey.
His legacy? Resilience. The young boy who faced adversities head-on; the veteran who witnessed history; the loving father, grandfather, and great-grandfather who still laughs easily and cherishes every moment. And as December approaches, Merle doesn’t need gifts or grand gestures. He has his family and independence, and that is enough.
Help Older Adults Thrive at Home
Empower older adults like Merle to stay independent and in the comfort of their own homes. Your contribution to Meals on Wheels People ensures they have the support, nourishment, and companionship they need to thrive where they most want to be. Donate today and make a difference in helping older adults in our community live with dignity and autonomy.