Chester Mersman (far right) with some of his mechanic buddies at Honington on a very cold day during World War II.

A Dedication to Country and Community

January 2021

On the third Monday in January, the US celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day—a day to remember the activist and civil rights icon for whom the day is named, and a day to celebrate all acts of service.

At the American Air Museum in Britain, our mission—to share the story of those who took to the skies to defend liberty—is also full of tales about volunteers, pilots, mechanics, medics, and everyday people who dedicated themselves to the service of their country and their fellow man.

Chester Mersman with his wife, Jean

World War II veteran Chester Mersman was one of our brightest examples. From 2009, Mersman volunteered at the American Air Museum talking to guests about his own experience in World War II, telling stories of his service. In addition to donating his time, Mersman gifted artifacts from his days in the Air Force and a warm handshake to many whom he encountered.

Mersman was born in the US in the state of Iowa. He joined the US Army Air Forces in 1942 after working for years as a sheet metal mechanic at Consolidated Aircraft.

After arriving in the UK in 1944, he worked on a range of aircraft from B-24 Liberators to C-47 Skytrain’s, B-17 Flying Fortresses, and more. He was part of the ground crew that made sure planes were prepped, maintained, repaired, and ready to fly. Although he never saw combat himself, Mersman’s devotion to the care and preparation of his aircrafts undoubtedly helped save lives. Mersman said, “I didn’t get shot at, and didn’t shoot at anyone during the whole war…for which I am still grateful.”

In 1945 Mersman volunteered to extend his tour of duty by 3 months, so he could marry Jean—the British young woman who stole his heart during an on-base dance. After the two wed they moved to the US in 1946, but regularly moved back and forth between the US and the UK visiting Jean’s family until after Mersman’s retirement in 1973 when they settled in the UK.

After spotting an ad in his local newspaper, Mersman resolved to give his time to a community cause volunteering as a walk leader for an outfit that encouraged people to get outdoors and get active.  He volunteered there for over 15 years, and in 2014, at age 96, he told the local press he had no intentions of stopping!

Chester Mersman volunteering at the AAM in 2014

His work at the museum began in 2009. He joined the volunteer team at IWM Duxford, where he spent his time in the museum talking to visitors about his experiences in the war. Serving as Duxford’s oldest volunteer, he was awarded a trophy for his hard work and excellent service in 2015. He said, “I go during the summer months. I enjoy that a lot. I often get a warm welcome and a handshake.”

He remained a friend of the museum until his death at age 101 in January 2020. His legacy is one of service and kindness which we could all use a bit more of. Objects from Chester’s service during the war and his tenure as a dedicated museum volunteer are on display in the museum.

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