As part of the City of Scranton's 150th Anniversary Celebration, Penn State Worthington Scranton is hosting a one-man play, The Last Thoughts of Gino Merli, about one of our area's most decorated and recognized World War II veterans, PFC Gino J. Merli.
Dr. Phil Mosley, Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Penn State Worthington Scranton, is directing the performance, with local actor Bob Schlesinger and playwright Tom Flannery, of Archbald, who wrote the play, which will take place on Thursday, April 14 at 7 p.m. in the campus' Gallagher Conference Center (GCC). The play is free and open to the public.
PFC Merli was a native of Peckville and the son of a local coal miner. He entered the U.S. Army and served with the 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division and was on Omaha Beach on D-Day, 1944. He also participated in the Battle of the Bulge that same year. When his company was attacked near Sars La Bruyere, Belgium on Sept. 4, 1944, Merli feigned dead when his company was overwhelmed by the Germans and then returned to his machine gun as the Germans began to retreat. He fooled them twice into believing he was no longer a threat, only to attack them again. The next morning, a counter attack forced the Germans to request a truce. The negotiating party found Merli still at his gun.
For his heroism that night, Merli received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman on June 15, 1945. In addition, he received two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Battle of the Bulge Medal and the Humanitarian Award of the Chapel of Four Chaplains for his action during WWII,
As a civilian, he served fellow veterans as an adjudication officer for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Plains Twp., and traveled to Normandy with newsman Tom Brokaw and was a source of inspiration for Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation. The Veterans' Center in Scranton, was named for Merli in 2002, as is Gino Merli Drive in his hometown of Peckville. Merli-Sarnoski Park in Fell Twp. is co-named for him and Joseph Sarnoski, another WWII Medal of Honor recipient.
Tom Flannery, the playwright of The Last Thought's of Gino Merli, is a singer-songwriter and playwright. He has released six full-length CDs and has had more than a dozen of his stage plays produced. Most recently his play, God Bless Roy Campanella, was mounted in Palm Beach Florida, in October of last year, while in November his play Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues, was staged in Washington DC. He was born and raised in Dunmore and currently resides in Archbald with his wife and 2 daughters. His website is www.TomFlannery.com
Bob Shlesinger, who will be playing the role of Gino Merli in the April 14 performance, has been the Executive Director of the Scranton Public Theatre since its inception in 1978. During that time he has produced over 150 productions that have played all over Northeastern Pennsylvania, as well as Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Washington, D.C.
He is honored to succeed professional actor Michael Fallon in the role of Gino Merli who played the role for over 70 performances. Schlesinger also co-authored the play The Fire Down Below with Jack McDonough, which celebrated the 100th Anniversary in 2002 of the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 and was published in Dr.Phil Mosley's excellent anthology Anthracite, which focused on plays written about the Anthracite region. He has a number of films to his credit and is also the Executive Director of the Scranton Jazz Festival, which launches its twelfth season this summer on August 5, 6, and 7 at the Radisson Hotel and other venues in downtown Scranton. He is the proud father of two grown children: his son, Matthew, and daughter Jamie, who recently made him a grandfather.
The Last Thoughts of Gino Merli premiered in the spring of 2007. The play has toured at every high school in Lackawanna, Susquehanna, Wyoming and Wayne counties as well as some schools in Luzerne and Monroe counties. Over 36,000 people have seen the play.
The community is invited to attend this free performance on Thursday, April 14 @ 7 p.m. No reservations are needed. Light refreshments will be served.