It was a rare case in which the army found the perfect job based
on Frank’s peacetime experiences. He had left school when he was 13
to help support the family, and had driven trucks since he was 16,
working for his brother.
Merkley was drafted in November 1942, and was shipped to Persia in
early 1943. Once there, he drove his truck along a tenuous road deep
into modern-day Iran, the first leg of a long trip toward the Soviet
frontier. (America, the Arsenal of Democracy, sent more than four
million tons of supplies to Russia through Persia during the war.)
Then in January 1945, Frank’s unit, the 3949th Quartermaster Truck
Company, was transferred to the China-Burma-India theater of
operations. His job? To drive over the infamous “hump” in the
mountains of Burma to deliver supplies to China.
During his first trip on the treacherous Ledo Road, Frank’s truck
got a flat tire. Because of that, he left the assembly area several
hours after the rest of his convoy. “I don’t know how I’m here
today, except the Lord saved me—twice in one day,” Merkley said 71
“I was going along through that one road, that mountain there, and I
come over way at the top and come around a big curve … All of a
sudden the truck stopped. … The Lord stopped it. Believe me or not,
the Lord stopped that truck.” A Chinese guard, whose job was to
alert trucks of the impending danger, then came racing out to the
road to guide Merkley around a bridge that was rotting away.
Had Frank not stopped, the truck would have plunged into a deep
ravine, taking him along with it.
Merkley was still on the road late that night trying to catch up
with his convoy. Because of the fear of snipers, he was forbidden to
use his headlights, and when it started to rain, the night turned
“I couldn’t see a thing out the windshield, not one thing,” he said.
“Couldn’t even see the dash. … I had my foot out on the front wheel
fender, and I was trying to keep that front wheel along the edge of
[to top of second column]
On his left, the mountain shot up toward the sky. On his right was a sheer
cliff. It was certain death to any driver who missed a curve on a dirt road that
was barely wide enough to accommodate the big American trucks.
Recalling that night during his oral history interview, Frank continued his
story, his voice filled with emotion. “All of a sudden a big bolt of lightning
come … and it lit that road up just like day. And it put daggers in – zing,
zing, zing, zing, zing, zing – like that all the way up to a big sharp curve.”
Guided by that brief glimpse of the danger ahead, Frank pushed forward into the
dark. “And I hit that curve right on the nose,” he said.
Frank has no doubt that God had intervened to save his life that night. “I can’t
hardly believe myself the way He lit that road up for me so I could see. … He
lit that road up just like it was day time out there – just bright lightning.”
As far as Frank is concerned, God wasn’t quite done with him yet. On the first
leg of his journey back to the states, a flight from China to Calcutta, he
survived a plane crash. He then boarded a Liberty ship, which sailed into a
three-day typhoon in the South China Sea.
Needless to say, he was happy to get back to America. Once home in Princeton, he
soon got back to work, eventually starting a pest control business and finally
retiring at 90 after a lifetime of work.
Mark DePue is the Director of Oral
History at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. You
can listen to stories like Merkley’s in the “Veterans Remember”
section of the program’s website,