Keeping with its longstanding tradition of honoring American heroes as part of the world's most expansive Memorial Day Weekend celebration, Charlotte Motor Speedway will award retired CSM Kenneth "Rock" Merritt the coveted Stonewall Jackson Award during an unforgettable Coca-Cola 600 pre-race Salute to the Troops.
Given annually since 1992, the Stonewall Jackson Award recognizes recipients who have demonstrated, by example, the highest standards of patriotism through personal support of the military and/or by personal service to sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty.
An 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper from the "The Greatest Generation," Merritt participated in two combat parachute assaults, the first almost 75 years ago on D-Day in Normandy, France. He also holds the distinction of being the only man to have served two tours as CSM of the XVIII Airborne Corps and one of the very few soldiers selected to serve 35 years in the U.S. Army.
Merritt was born Aug. 10, 1923 in Warner, Oklahoma. At just 17 years old, he enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to help support his family. He was sworn into the U.S. Army on Oct. 15, 1942 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and volunteered for airborne training. Merritt was assigned to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (508th PIR) at Camp Blanding, Florida.
During his career, Merritt completed 200 parachute jumps, and in 1958 was awarded a "Gold" Century Parachute Badge by the Original Airborne Association. His numerous awards and decorations include a Silver Star Medal, Legion of Merit Medal, Bronze Star Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal with two clusters, Army Commendation Medal with three clusters, Combat Infantry Badge, Presidential Unit Citation, Masters Parachutists Badge with two combat jump stars, National Defense Medal, European Theater of Operations Medal with Invasion Arrowhead and four battle stars, European Victory Medal, and the Occupation Medal with Germany Bar, French Fourragere with Palm, Belgium Fourragere and an Orange Lanyard of the Royal Netherlands Army.
In August 1943, Merritt married Sally (Hatley) of Stillwell, Oklahoma and they raised three children.
Past recipients of the Stonewall Jackson Award include Gen. Gary Luck (USA), Congressman Bill Hefner (NC), Gen. James Livingston (USMC), Gen. Dwayne Dorming (USSOC), the 82nd Airborne Division, Gen. Lloyd Newton (USA), Gen. Peter Pace (USMC), Gen. Buck Herman (USA), Gen. Henry Shelton (USA), Gen. John Handy (USAF), Gen. William B. Tonguy (USSOC), Command Sgt. Major Michael W. Williams (USA), Brigadier Gen. Iwan B. Clontz (NCANG), Col. Walter Joseph Marm (USA), former American Legion Post Commander Dale Punch, Purple Heart Homes co-founder Dale Beatty, Lt. Col. Oliver North (USMC), Maj. Gen. Tom Sadler (USAF), Taya Kyle, USO of North Carolina President John Falkenbury, Fort Bragg Communications Chief Frank Hanan and last year's winner, U.S. Army veteran Richard Warren.
Fans can catch all the thrilling action of Spectrum Pole Night on Thursday, May 23, the Alsco 300 on Saturday, May 25, and the historic 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 26 by purchasing tickets online or calling 1-800-455-FANS (3267).