September 04, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- Mathew Mersino does not walk with a cane.
However, if the day arrives when the 90-year-old World War II Army private may need the services of a cane, he'll be all set.
Last month, the honorary veteran organization 40 et 8 Voiture 1536 of Lapeer, along with the Michigan Wood Carvers Association, presented Mersino with a personalized cane featuring his photo, stripes, medals from where he served and decals representing POWs, MIAs and KIAs of his four years of service in WWII.
The 40 et 8 is from WWI, when tiny French railroad boxcars (voiture) were used as troop transports in moving "doughboys" to the "front," which carried signs showing the figure 40 over the figure 8, and referred to the cars' capacity of 40 men or 8 horses.
Younger brother Dennis Mersino, and Wayne Jacobs, a Vietnam veteran, spearheaded the efforts for Mathew's cane.
"I knew the woodworking club made canes and I thought it would nice my older brother had one," said Dennis. "I told him, 'You might not need it not now, but you sure can show it off—you've earned it."
The detailed cane reflects a significant time in American history.
Mersino a Detroit native and 1941 Oxford High School graduate, was trained at Fort Eustis, Va., Camp Pickett, Va., and Camp Davis, N.C. where he was trained on 90 mm anti-aircraft guns. In October 1943, he departed Fort Shanks, N.J. aboard the converted luxury liner-troopship Monarch of Bermuda for Liverpool, England, as part of the 405 AAA Artillery.
Mersino recalls the V-1 bombs near South Hampton as the Germans were pounding England over the English Channel with the "vengeance weapon," or "Vergeltungswaffe" as it came to be known. While in England he joined thousands of Allied forces when they crossed the English Channel during the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy, France.
"We went in on June 9, D-Day plus three," said Mersino. "We landed at Normandy and came in with artillery on our way to Sainte-Mère-église, France. On the way, there were remains of the German army, including cement pill boxes and guns left behind. One of the few advantages the Allied troops had when they landed was that the big German guns could not swing left or right enough to hit the troops. They actually shot over their heads. The beaches still had blood and remains scattered around—we did not stay there long and moved inland."
Mersino's gunnery group focused on the V-1 bombs destined for England as they flew over France.
"The Germans would send those over by just aiming them west at targets. We hit 260 V-1 bombs before they could do damage," said Mersino. "We were very good shots with our 90 mm guns—I don't think we ever missed. I had the task of identifying planes by silhouettes against the sky. There was always the risk of hitting our own planes as they flew over."
Mersino would be radioed the direction the V-1 was coming and coordinate the gunners when to fire.
The 405 AAA Artillery moved into Antwerp, Belgium and liberated the city.
"We took German prisoners all the time," he said. "I felt sorry for many of the Germans as we took them back to the American POW camps. They were forced into combat."
Mersino returned home to Oxford in November 1945, and married Faye Sutton on July 16, 1949 at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Lake Orion. The couple raised seven children and have 24 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
"I had no idea they were going to do this cane for me," said Mersino. "They did a real nice job with it—it's a nice memento."
A plaque accompanying the cane reads: "In recognition of your service to our country, the Michigan Wood Carvers Association is honored to present you with this cane. You can stand proud amongst all the other veterans who have answered their nation's call. When things tend to get a little wobbly, use this cane to lean on. This personalized cane includes a history of your service in WWII. Well done, soldier!"