TUNKAHNNOCK — In honor of all military veterans, the Wyoming County Cultural Center will present the play “The Last Thoughts of Gino Merli” by Tom Flannery at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8 at the Dietrich Theater
Sponsored by a friend of the Dietrich, the performance is free. Tickets may be reserved by calling 570-996-1500 and will be available at the door while they last.
In the one-man show, enacted in schools for over 36,000 students over the years, Bob Shlesinger, of Scranton Public Theatre, will play the role of Merli in his later years.
Merli (1924-2002) was an American soldier and recipient of the Medal of Honor during World War II. Born in Scranton, he was the son of a coal miner who entered service in the United States Army from Peckville and served with the 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. As part of this division, he went ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944 and participated in the Battle of the Bulge in December of the same year.
It was on the evening of Sept. 4, 1944, near Sars la Bruyere, Belgium that the company was attacked by a superior German force. Their position was overwhelmed, but PFC Merli stayed with his machine gun, covering their retreat. When his position was overrun, he feigned death. Twice, he fooled German soldiers into believing he was no longer a threat, only to attack them again when they left him for dead.
For his heroism on that night, PFC Merli received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman on June 15, 1945. In addition, he received two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Battle of the Bulge Medal and the Humanitarian Award of the Chapel of Four Chaplains.
In civilian life, Merli served fellow veterans. He was an adjudication officer for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Plains Township. He traveled to the Normandy Beaches in 1984 in the company of Tom Brokaw and was a source of inspiration for Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation.”
The Veterans Center in Scranton is co-named for Merli and Joseph Sarnoski, another honored World War II veteran. Gino Merli Drive, one of the main roads in Peckville, is also named for him.