Green Bay, Wis. (WFRV) – Joe Mertens is 97 years old, but he still recalls well serving his country in World War II.
“(I joined) because all of my friends did it,” he recalled.
For the Green Bay native, that was enough reason for him to join the U.S. Navy in 1943- In the thick of WWII.
“At the time when I was 17 years old, it didn’t really mean too much, other than the fact that all of my friends were doing it, so it must be pretty good. So, I did it,” Mertens said.
Headed overseas aboard a troop ship with 1,500 others, Mertens found himself in the middle of the Pacific theatre.
But he says that was just about his only time aboard a ship.
“That’s all you think about, what they say; ‘Join the Navy and see the world.’ All I’d seen so far was jungles,” said Mertens.
For 32 months and 15 days, Mertens spent time as a gunner’s mate between Gamadodo and Gili Gili Naval bases, seeing some of World War II’s greatest battles.
Because of that, eight decades later, Mertens was honered by Representative Mike Gallagher with four prestigious medals, including the Asiatic Pacific Combat Medal, and the WWII Victory Medal.
“For us to do this for Joe, is incredibly inspiring. The Greatest Generation gets that name for a reason., and to see his incredible family, his wife, his six kids, 28 grandkids, it’s just an incredible story of service and an incredible Northeast Wisconsin story,” said Rep. Gallagher.
And many of those friends and family members looked on in admiration at this U.S. Navy vet. Perhaps no one more than Mertens’ eldest son, Tom.
“It’s been an inspiration to all of us. Especially myself a veteran, my brother-in-law and Joe’s grandson. It really gave us a person in my father to look up to as we fulfilled our military service,” Mertens said.
For Mertens himself, his service and this recognition are something he’ll always remember.
“This is the greatest thing that could ever happen to anybody. Anybody, I don’t care who, what or where. This is something that you cannot just put aside. I’ll never forget it,” he said.
Mertens also received the Honorable Discharge button and the Honorable Service lapel pin, also known as the Ruptured Duck.