Tales of a Cold War Serviceman

The write stuff: Maurice ‘Frank’ Mer­cure with his wife, Peggy, at his book sign­ing at Wes­ley En­hanced Liv­ing-Pennypack on Feb. 6. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

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 twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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