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'44 Ag Gets Senior Boots

Stephanie Cannon '06 September 10, 2013 10:09 AM

By Roberto Molar Candanosa ’13

When you talk to Norris H. Miertschin ’44, you may notice a serene and joyful voice as he reminisces about Texas A&M, the Corps of Cadets, Aggie good bull, and his service in World War II. Another thing you may also notice is that he hardly ever speaks in singular pronouns. “We did that,” “This happened to us,” “We didn’t know that.” This Ol’ Army Aggie veteran rarely refers to himself alone in the vivid stories he tells—stories that lack just one thing: his senior boots, which he and other cadets sacrificed as part of a campus-wide effort to contribute raw materials to U.S. manufacturing during WWII. 

It was the sense of communion with the people surrounding him that got Miertschin a most breathtaking surprise on Sunday, Sept. 1, when his friends gathered after church service to present him his senior boots. The gift presentation was instigated by Kyle Hanson ’14, a good friend who was moved when he learned Miertschin had never been able to get his boots. He raised the money through donations from Miertschin's Aggie friends and fellow members of Memorial Lutheran Church in Katy.

“I was just dumbfounded, just speechless,” Miertschin said. “That a young man like that took it under his own self to try to do something for me out of respect and after 70 years come up and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Miertschin, here, I have you some boots,’ it was just outstanding, tears just came to my eyes,” he said. 
Hanson, a senior business management major and executive officer of Company E-1, sees in Miertschin a unique friend from whom to learn stories of Old Army that Norris brings to life through his powerful narrative. 

Miertschin also sees in Hanson a good friend with whom he relives his days at A&M. He remembers with laughter his first day as a fish, when he arrived at campus from Port Arthur, not knowing exactly what he was getting into.  His father dropped him off in the dorm, suitcases in both hands, saying, “O.K., son, it’s all yours.” As soon as he met the upperclassmen, they told him and the rest of the fish “how the cow was going to eat the cabbage.” 

“We soon found out that we were going to be friends, but it wouldn’t quite be like a friendship,” Miertschin said with a laugh. Fish had to learn the names of all upperclassmen, and even the upperclassmen’s friends. If they saw an upperclassman with a new friend, the fish had to go immediately and introduce themselves and learn all about the new people on campus. Later, upperclassmen quizzed the fish to see if they remembered people’s names and hometowns. Laughing, Miertschin said he could not even describe the things upperclassmen made him and other fish do when they failed the quizzes. But it was all fun, he explained, with the purpose of teaching  them how to be friendly and how to meet new people.  

Miertschin also remembers how fast he could travel on a thumb when he was a student. “We hitchhiked; it was amazing really how fast we could travel with a thumb,” he said. “All you had to do was go to the highway with your TAMC handbag and people automatically stopped to pick you up and get you as far as they were going.” 

He particularly remembers a trip he made to Austin to see the Aggies play against the University of Texas. After hitchhiking his way to Austin, Miertschin realized he had forgotten his ticket to get into the game. “Fifty or 60 of us had done the same thing, so we just crashed the game,” he said. “We just mobbed the gate and pushed the attendant aside and as we came up to the bleachers the students dropped their receipts so we could get some seats,” Miertschin said, laughing again.

Miertschin’s repertoire is full of such stories. Stories of how big hotels treated Aggies with great pride, letting them stay free during Corps trips. Stories of part-time jobs as an intramural referee. Stories of Corps dances, where Sbisa Dining Hall turned into a big dance hall that hosted such big band leaders as Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. They even had busloads of girls coming from what is now Texas Woman’s University.

“We would just have the whole weekend for nothing but party time, and the whole school would go to the dance—it was all good, clean fun,” Miertschin said. “We would all come in and start hooking up with them and start dancing—it was like five or six buses with nothing but girls; we always looked forward to that.” 

There is another day Miertschin remembers vividly. On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Miertschin was in the theater passing the time.  Suddenly, the movie was interrupted by a radio transmission saying the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, had been bombed. 

“The campus was going wild, everybody was just hollering and ranting and raging,” Miertschin said. “The band came around and started playing the Aggie War Hymn and we marched all over campus. It sounded like a celebration, but we knew that our futures were being pretty well carved out and that it would be only a matter of time before we would be going into a situation that was pretty bad.”

Miertschin remembers how the whole United States had to turn itself into war mode, and people sacrificed nearly everything for the war: automobiles, food stamps, gasoline, etc. The Class of ’44 decided they had to sacrifice something, too. As they became seniors, they decided they would sacrifice the leather of their boots.

But Miertschin’s greater sacrifice began when he was called into chemical warfare service in Maryland, at the rank of second lieutenant. He later went to Europe, where he served in the chemical heavy mortar battalion as part of Special Forces units of the U.S. Army. There, Miertschin served on the frontlines for 315 consecutive days in campaigns including Normandy, only a few days after D-Day; the Battle of Hürtgen Forest; the Battle of the Bulge; and the battle for the bridge at Remagen across the Rhine River. He was present for Elbe Day, on April 25, 1945, when Soviet and American troops met at the River Elbe in Germany. 

After the liberation of Czechoslovakia in May 1945, Miertschin’s was able to return to the United States. Once back home, his wife, Diane—whom he had married before going to the war and who would turn out to be a die-hard Aggie—encouraged him to go back and finish his degree. 

By 1946, Miertschin and some 600 other Aggie WWII veterans had returned to Texas A&M. “They knew we had shortcomings in both education and livings and that some of us were married, but they were right there and helped us right through it all,” Miertschin said. After graduating in 1947 with a degree in chemical engineering, Miertschin landed a job as a researcher with Texaco. 

Though it is now difficult for him to participate in some Aggie activities, he still likes to attend Class Reunions and Musters, watch Aggie football and share good bull with other Aggie he meets. “It’s amazing how you can sit down and start talking and kind of just stick up your thumb and people know exactly what you are doing,” he said. 

He now lives in Katy, where he represents Texas A&M’s long-known values and traditions through educational initiatives with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Veterans Memorial Museum. For Kyle Hanson, the Class of ’14 cadet who was inspired to help Miertschin get his senior boots, he is a particularly inspiring figure, too. “Honor, integrity, selfless service and discipline, those things still reflect in him,” Hanson said. 

The Rev. John Davis, Jr. ’85, senior pastor at Memorial Lutheran Church, considers Miertschin a mentor and a friend. As a former member of the Corps of Cadets and a U.S. Navy officer, Davis admires Miertschin’s extraordinary ability to talk about the war and Texas A&M. He also admires the love that Miertschin has gained from the people in Katy, which was evident when he got a standing ovation from the people at church after getting his boots. “Even non-Aggies from Texas Tech had wet eyes for Norris,” Davis said. “We saw how much it meant to him and how even school rivalries took a backseat on Sunday.”

Related: Watch a video of the boot presentation, shared by the Rev. John Davis, Jr. ’85:

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