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Frank Merritt

Sport: Football

Born: July 20, 1920

Died; March 21, 1995

Town: Englewood

Francis E. Merritt was born July 20, 1920 in New York City and grew up in Bergen County. Tall and quick, he excelled in youth football and made the varsity at St. Cecilia’s in Englewood as a freshman running back and moved to tackle as a sophomore. St. Cecilia’s was an integrated school with several African-American players on the team. Frank captained St. Cecilia’s to a state title in 1939. The team's assistant coach was Vince Lombardi. During World War II, Lombardi let St. Cecilia’s to a 12–0 record as the Saints' head coach. His quarterback was Joe Paterno.

After graduation, Frank played a year of freshman football at Fordham and Frank attended Bullis Prep—then a feeder school to the US military and naval academies. In 1941, he was accepted to West Point and played on Army’s “plebe” team. He moved up to the varsity in 1942 and 1943, earning All-America honors both seasons. He was now 6’3 and 215 pounds and extremely agile. He specialized in opening big holes in the line and was a fierce tackler. During the 1943 Army–Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium, the Irish double-teamed Frank all day. Herman Hickman, a former All-American working as an assistant to Red Blaik at Army, said Frank was the best tackle he had ever seen.

MerrittAirForceFrank graduated in 1944 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force and went to flight school. Just over a year later, the war ended while he was still based in California. He stayed on to play service football for the 3rd Air Force Gremilns, who boasted two other All-Americans— Bob Kennedy and Cass Myslinski—as well as Charlie Trippi and Darrell Royal.

Frank saw plenty of action during the Korean War, flying 130 missions and attaining the rank of major. He also wserved as an aide to Earle E. Partridge, a four-star general. Among the honors Frank won during the conflict were the Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Unit Citation, and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.

From 1955 to 1959, Frank served as Assistant Athletic Director at the US Air Force Academy. In the early 1960s he assisted UN operations in the Congo and was also involved in the Berlin Airlift. In 1967, Frank (now a colonel) succeeded Col. Ed Rafalko as AD at Air Force, serving with great success until 1974, when he colcluded his 32 years of military service and retired. He passed away in Florida in 1995 and was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.


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