Veteran's Day Special Feature
On the road to victory in World War II
By Mark DePue - Director of Oral History - Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

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[November 11, 2016]  Frank Merkley is a World War II veteran who never fired his weapon in anger, but his contributions to America’s war effort were every bit as important as those of soldiers in the thick of combat. Merkley, now 96 and living in Princeton, Ill., spent his war driving trucks.

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 years later.

“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 pitch black.

“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 that mountain.”

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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,

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