Jack Merrick passed away in 2018 after 97 long years. He served in World War II as an Army glider pilot and took part in D-Day.
In 1944, a 12-year-old French boy named Pierrot came across a helmet which would later be identified by the National World War II Glider Pilots Association as Merrick’s.
About two weeks ago, Merrick’s daughter, Gainesville resident Cindy Bryant, was scrolling on Facebook and was shocked to find out that Merrick’s helmet had been found.
“I was looking at my Facebook feed and I think it was on mine because I have a friend in England who is very interested in WWII history and he commented on it,” Merrick said. “It was filthy with cobwebs and it had his name below it. I read about it and I was completely shocked. I was in disbelief and speechless. I couldn’t read the article fast enough.”
Eventually, that helmet had been turned over to the virtual Operation Dragoon Museum.
Bryant was thankful for the information and immediately reached out the operator of the museum, Jean Mi Soldi.
“Pierrot gave it to Jean in early 1980s,” Bryant said. “He turned it over to the person that now has it, who has the virtual museum. I asked him how he came to have the helmet and he grew up with the boy who found it.”
Last year, Mi Soldi came into contact with the glider pilots association, which asked him to do some research on the helmet.
It was then Mi Soldi figured out who the helmet belonged to.
Upon reaching out to Mi Soldi, Bryant learned that her father picked the helmet up in Italy before the D-Day invasion.
Bryant said that Mi Soldi had a unique bond with American glider pilots.
“Jean was a part of the French resistance and his grandmother had been arrested by the Germans before eventually being released by American Forces,” Bryant said. “He’s always been very appreciative of American forces and that sparked his interest in acquiring the artifacts from WWII.”
Bryant said her father would talk about his time in the Army, but never about landing in the French vineyard where the helmet was found. Still, he was close with his D-Day compatriots.
“What stands out is just how lucky he was to survive it all and you can tell it was an important part of his life,” Bryant said. “He did meet every year with some of his glider pilot friends and he was the last one to pass away. It was the highlight of the year. He also attended a lot of glider pilot reunions and they were friends for life.”
Upon learning of the helmet, Bryant said she wished she knew more about its story.
“He never mentioned it,” Bryant said. “I don’t know exactly why he had it or why he got it. I wish I could ask him more questions. He talked quite a bit about his landings except for this one, and I’m not sure why. I think part of it was he was at D-Day and everyone tended to focus on D-Day because of that being such a large invasion.”
Bryant was supposed to travel to France in April, but the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to those plans. However, she now has plans to visit that helmet next year.
“I don’t want it back,” Bryant said. “It’s with who it needs to be. I do hope to go to France next year and Jean has agreed to show me where my father landed and show me the helmet. We were supposed to go to France and we had to cancel it, but that was a good thing because I didn’t know about the helmet. We’ll go next April and we’ll get to see everything. I do have a picture of the vineyard [he landed in] and it’s really pretty.”