A fascinating man lives in Redmond, WA- and I had the pleasure of meeting him last week. His name is Merle Fister, and he is a 3 time war veteran, having served in WWII, the cold war, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Pentagon.
Mr. Fister, or Merle, as he would like me to call him, came from humble beginnings. He was born in 1921 to a farming family in Nebraska. As a child growing up on the farm he was surrounded by 160 acres; which included horses, cows, chickens and pigs. However, when the dust bowl hit- his family was forced to move west, landing them in CA. There, his father worked for GE and Merle started a lawn care business.
After finishing high school, Merle got a job working for Northup Aircraft building airplanes- which turned out to be a stepping stone for a career in the military. He enlisted as Army Air Corp and was assigned to Atlantic City as a permanent party guard. He spent his nights on the boardwalk, carrying a WWI rifle with a bayonet looking for German spies.
A few months later, he applied for Ariel Gunnery School- but ended up in pilot training instead. Once he learned to fly- he discovered a passion for it and loved flying acrobatics in his tiny single engine open cockpit plane. In Salt Lake he learned to fly the B 24 and also met his crew of 10 men. They were sent to Italy to fight in WWII. Their mission was bombing bridges. His regiment, the 454th Bomb Group, was part of the famous bombing of the Polesti Oil fields. This was a very dangerous mission- and his plane barely made it out in one piece. They were hit by enemy fire and lost multiple engines, having to do an emergency landing with little fuel, no brakes and only one working engine. Miraculously, no one was hurt! His group went on to fly over 50 more missions in three months.
His career went on from there- he went to radar school, then on to Germany to run radar for the military, including during the infamous Berlin Air Lift. He became an Engineering Officer, an instructor in air science and tactics for ROTC cadets, and also became Commandant of Cadets. He then went to advanced radar communications training in Mississippi and then became a Captain in the Korean War working as an advisor for electronics command. He traveled all over the world serving as Electronics Commander and was responsible for controlling the B52’s that were in flight daily to protect the US.
From there he went on the Turkey to be the Long Haul Communications Director- collecting information on Russians. Then he went to Tinker Air Force base in Oklahoma City and provided communications for central air command- controlling all air traffic for military flights in central US. He also went to school and finished is bachelor’s degree. During this time, Vietnam broke out- and Merle was sent to Hawaii to work with the Navy to stop the spread of communism.
The Pentagon was next on his career path- where he worked with high level planning and programming communications for troops around the world. We worked on the Worldwide Command and Communications System providing a secure voice of teletype in Vietnam. Finally, after a long and distinguished military career, he retired in 1970 as a full Colonel from the Pentagon.
Rather than simply rest and enjoy retirement, he then went on to get his Master’s degree in Public Administration and started a completely new career as a business man- owning a tax and accounting firm and then eventually owning beauty shops, rental properties and dry cleaners. He had a successful career as a businessman and helped develop a major housing community in Tempe, AZ that had over 1500 homes. He served as the Director of the Homeowner’s Association for two years.
Merle is a man who is extremely intelligent, extremely humble and clearly a very hard worker. Even in his retirement- he stays active and involved in his community of Fairwinds– a senior community in Redmond, WA. Here he runs the Men’s Breakfast Club, Chairs the Garden Club, Serves on the World Affairs Club, created the People Helping People Club and also started a Resident’s Association- of which he wrote the by-laws for.
Unofficially, he is called ‘the Mayor’ of his community- and it is evident why! He knows everyone, has a smile for everyone and works harder than any 94 year old I’ve ever seen! Merle is so well liked and welcoming- that he would make a perfect mayor! His mission in life is to serve; he is constantly looking for ways to make things better, get people involved and to give back to his community.
What’s fascinating to me about Mr. Fister is that he truly exemplifies what many refer to as the best generation. He is an excellent example of hard work, street smarts and perseverance. With only a high school education- he later went on to get several degrees- including his Master’s Degree and served our country in a long and distinguished military career- starting as a Private and ending his career as a Full Colonel in the Pentagon. It was such a joy to hear his life’s story.