GAITHERSBURG, Md. — This Memorial Day one Gaithersburg man will be celebrating another momentous occasion: his 100th birthday.
Mel Ketchel served in the Army during World War II. He says he was part of the Army Specialized Training Program and attended college when he was drafted as a line soldier.
Ketchel said he was later sent to Purdue University for about a year before he trained at Temple Army Air Field and eventually shipped out to Cherbourg, France.
Ketchel's family collected stories of his time on battlefields to put in a book. They shared the stories with WUSA9. In one chapter, Ketchel described being very cold in fox holes, with artillery firing all around.
"While I lay there cold and wet, I got really angry at a God that could allow this war to go on," he said. "The old saying that there are 'no atheists in fox holes,' was not true for me."
After receiving what was likely a concussion and some hearing loss, Ketchel was sent to a replacement depot. He said with the war dying down he was given a job helping to process service records for people heading to the front. Eventually, he was given a new job managing writers for the Army Times newspaper in Paris. He says that post, after the time he spent on the battlefields, was heaven.
"We lived in hotels, had no daily formations, with 9-5 jobs and lots of free time," Ketchel said. "I had a nice crowd of friends (mostly lovely girls) who wanted to learn English and I dated many of them."
After Ketchel was discharged from the Army, he returned to college and finished his degree. He later completed his Master's degree at the University of Cleveland before attending Harvard, where he received his doctorate and met his wife.
Ketchel was later hired by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He and his wife at the time, Liesia, had kids but later divorced. However, while working for NIH he made friends with a study nurse who suggested he call her friend, Georgene. He said he was smitten and described his second wife as a "beautiful, intelligent, well-read woman."
Decades later, Ketchel's family is coming together in honor of the veteran's 100th birthday in Gaithersburg. They plan to present him with the book of his life while celebrating the patriarch of their family.