Mertz is a reputable family name in the vicinity of Goodrich, and for good reason: Nine men — brothers — from a family of 13 wore their names on their tags as they headed off to war.
Before donning military uniforms and collecting memories of basic training, deployments and war, the Mertz brothers had a childhood to see through.
“The older kids took care of the younger kids,” said Curtis Mertz, the eighth son of Melita and William Mertz.
“Mom had to bake bread every day,” said Ronald Mertz, one of the oldest. He chuckled before adding, “And I had to walk three-and-a-half miles to school…one way.”
The Mertz family farmed near Denhoff: The children — nine boys and four girls — all pitched in and helped with chores, lessening their parents’ workload.
In 1952, during the Korean War, first-born Allen Mertz enlisted in the U.S. Navy. During his four-year military career, he learned to drive truck and operate construction equipment, including an electric bridge crane. He was honorably discharged on June 12, 1956, and died April 20, 1996.
Whelan Mertz was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1956. He received numerous awards during his military career, including the Sharpshooter Marksmanship Badge, the M-1 Rifle Qualification Bar and the Good Conduct Medal. He was discharged in December 1958 at the rank of Private First Class E-3.
Whelan Mertz died Dec. 31, 1958, shortly after returning home.
Ronald Mertz was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1961 and completed his basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
“We had to crawl through mud and under barbed wire,” he said of the training. “Sometimes it’d be raining when you went through the chow line to get your food. You’d end up with more rain than food, so you didn’t eat.”
Ronald Mertz was one of the first 1,000 troops to be deployed to Vietnam, Thailand and Laos at the start of the Vietnam War in 1962. He received special training in jungle and guerrilla warfare during this time.
“I have to tell you the story of how I earned a three-day pass,” said Ronald Mertz. “I was on guard duty one night, walking around the warehouse in pitch-black. If approached, we were trained to call out, ‘Halt, who goes there?’"
Each day, a new secret code was given out. If the approaching individual didn't know the code, the guard was supposed to shoot.
That night, an alleged intruder came within 50 feet of Ronald Mertz.
“Halt, who goes there?” he called out.
“The person didn’t answer and kept coming towards me," Ronald Mertz said. "So I hit him hard with my gun. Turns out it was the general. He demanded I be in his office first thing in the morning.”
A nervous Ronald Mertz reported to the general's office the very next day.
“Mertz, relax, you did your job last night," said the general. "And, because of that, you earned yourself a three-day pass."
Ronald Mertz was recognized as "Soldier of the Month" 10 times and received numerous awards during his two-year military career: Infantry Badge and Infantry Braid Medals, Sharpshooter Marksmanship Badge in Bayonet, Machine Gun and Rocket Launcher, Marksman Badge in .45-Caliber Pistol, M-1 Rifle and Automatic Rifle, Oak Leaf Cluster Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Overseas Campaign Medal and 50th Anniversary Vietnam War Pin.
He was discharged on Aug. 10, 1963.
Fourth-born son Gary Mertz was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1963. He received special training in auto repair and truck mechanics in Fort Hood, Texas.
In January 1965, he was promoted to SP4 and received the Expert Rifle Marksmanship Badge. Later that year, he was honorably discharged and returned to Bismarck, where he served as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve for four years.
Arlin "Sam" Mertz, fifth son, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1964.
Beginning in January 1965, he was headquartered in New Mexico at the White Sands Missile Range, where he served as an intelligence office clerk. Nine months later, he was transferred to headquarters in France, where he served until his honorable discharge in September 1966.
During his military career, Sam Mertz received his GED and worked as a school bus and heavy vehicle driver, as well as a post commander chauffeur. He received the Good Conduct Medal.
Sam Mertz died March 23, 2006.
Sixth-born son William "Bill" Mertz Jr. was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 and completed his basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
“During training, if your company didn’t pass inspection, you had to take care of the mascot, the billy goat," Bill Mertz said. "That meant you were in trouble.”
He was a 73C20 disbursing specialist and completed courses in CBR, military justice, code of conduct, ATP21-114, finance procedures and disbursing specials.
"For good luck, we just kept counting down the days," Bill Mertz said. "One day less till you get out.”
Bill Mertz received the National Defense Service Medal, Marksman Badge and Good Conduct Medal before being honorably discharged on July 12, 1967.
David Mertz, seventh son, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968. He was a specially trained 62E20 construction maintenance operator. He served as a combat engineer in Vietnam before being stationed in Georgia with the 818th Engineer Battalion Combat.
David Mertz was honorably discharged May 15, 1970, as a Specialist 4.
Curtis Mertz, the fourth brother to serve in the Vietnam War, was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps in 1969. He completed basic training in San Diego, where he was a member of the Honor Platoon.
“I turned 21 in boot camp, so what do you think I did?” said Curtis Mertz, smiling.
He received special training in 0311 infantry rifleman, HQ, BIT BN, 2DLTR, embarkation and amphibious operations and worked as a 0311 infantry rifleman, S-4 logistics and embarkation technician and chief administrative clerk/traffic safety officer.
Curtis Mertz received the Sharpshooter and M-16 Rifle Marksmanship Badges, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Medal and Vietnam Service Medal with One Star. He was promoted to Corporal E-4 meritoriously.
Curtis Mertz was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps on Nov. 12, 1971, then transferred to the Reserve for four years.
Ninth-born son Clarence Mertz was drafted into the U.S. Army on Aug. 12, 1970. After completing his training, he was sent to Vietnam, where he served with the 23rd Infantry Division.
“Funny thing was, they said there could never be two from the same family serving in Vietnam at the same time," Clarence Mertz said. "Curtis and I were; we were 50 miles apart. I left here on Christmas Day. When I got off the plane in Vietnam, I thought I was in hell ... it was so hot."
He said prayer helped him navigate the difficult times.
After 11 months in Vietnam, Clarence Mertz was sent to Fort Hood, Texas, where he completed his tour. He was discharged in February 1972.
“The service taught me what life is really about," Clarence Mertz said.
The brothers each went on to pursue careers in the construction industry and lived in the Bismarck-Mandan area.
“You don’t get paid enough for what you go through,” said Ronald Mertz. “I made more money in the three months after I got home than I did my entire time in the service. They should pay more for what some have to go through.”
Nine brothers, 28 combined years of military service.
"I think that's pretty neat," said their sister, Lois Mertz.