When Maurice “Frank” Mercure sat down to write his memoirs, recalling stories from more than two decades of U.S. military service, he decided to largely steer away from gunfights and bombings.
“Everyone knows what war’s like. I wanted to do something different,” he said.
In November, Trafford Publishing printed his 600-page book, The Life and Times of a Cold War Serviceman. On Feb. 6, Mercure held a book signing and question-and-answer session at his residence, the Wesley Enhanced Living-Pennypack retirement community, at 8401 Roosevelt Blvd.
Some veterans from Wesley Enhanced Living’s Burholme community attended the luncheon.
Mercure spent 20 years in the Air Force and three in the Army, retiring, as the book cover reveals, on 30 November 1969. He said he expects current and former service men and women to understand the book, and he hopes it’s a learning experience for civilians.
“They can see how a serviceman lives when he is shipped overseas,” he said.
Mercure, 84, a native of Massachusetts, dedicated the book to all the Cold War servicemen who lost their lives, and to their wives, children and parents. The author also dedicated the book to his late father-in-law, Frederick Banks, a Royal Air Force veteran who told him years ago he should write about his experiences.
The book, though, is primarily dedicated to his wife, Peggy.
Back in the early 1950s, Mercure was stationed in England. One night in May 1952, he and a buddy, Jack Gilley, were headed to a night on the town when they passed by a photographer’s shop with an image in the window of a woman wearing a Royal Air Force uniform.
“Now there is a young woman I wouldn’t mind going out with,” Mercure told his pal.
Gilley knew the woman — Peggy Banks, his girlfriend’s friend — and put them together.
“The week after I met her, I proposed to her,” Mercure said.
Mercure, who won a bunch of ribbons and medals in the service, said his wife made him the best he could be and has put up with him through 60 years of marriage.
“She’s the one who should have a medal,” he said.
Mercure served in England, Turkey, Spain, Germany, Taiwan and Vietnam. He spent most of his service as a cryptographer, and it fell upon him to decipher all incoming messages addressed to “For Eyes Only of the Commander.”
Somebody in last week’s crowd asked him if he was ever in danger.
“You can bet your boots,” he said.
Mercure’s awards include a Bronze Star Medal for when his air base was attacked while serving in Vietnam.
Somebody else asked him what he did to earn the medal.
“I ran like hell,” he joked.
Although the publishing company asked him to write a second book, about post-military life, Mercure said he declined. “I don’t think I have it in me,” he said, noting that it took him a decade to complete this volume.
He said he used a typewriter to write the first three-quarters of the book before it broke down, then wrote the rest in long hand.
“It brought back an awful lot of good memories for us,” he said.
His wife was absent from the luncheon and book talk.
“She’s a typical Englishman. Reserved. She doesn’t like crowds,” her husband said.
Peggy did pay a visit toward the end of the session and agreed with her husband that the book recalled happy times.
“Some of them were laughable, the things we did,” she said.
The lunch crowd chowing down on chicken nuggets, wings and stromboli was especially interested when Mercure mentioned that he ate snake while in the service.
“You learn to eat anything,” he said.
After leaving the service, Mercure and his wife settled in Portland, Maine. They moved to Philadelphia in 1980 when he took a job with Aetna’s Center City office. They lived on Blue Grass Road before moving six years ago to Wesley Enhanced Living-Pennypack.
A woman asked Mercure if he’d enlist in the armed forces today if he were a younger man.
“Yes, ma’am, I would do it all over again,” he said.
To order the paperback book ($28.60) or an e-book ($3.99), visit www.trafford.com ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org