Levoie M. Branam
U. S. Army
Desert Storm
Heavy Equipment Maintenance Supervisor, 527 Engineering BN, Army National Guard
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Merel was born in Negreet, Louisiana, a community near Toledo Bend, about 16 miles south of Many, to Levoie Branam and Hazel Miller Branam. He was one of six children. His parents, both contractors, built homes together. He grew up in a house without telephones or air conditioning, and his mother cooked on a wood stove. Merel spent his boyhood fishing for bream and catfish in a creek behind his house that is now part of Toledo Bend impoundment. The family had a garden. In the fall, he and other family members helped his paternal grandfather kill hogs to put up in the smokehouse. The family also raised five acres of cotton with mules and plows, and worked and picked the crop by hand. Merel plowed behind a mule. He also worked at a filling station after the family moved to Many. He continued going to school in Negreet, where he played basketball, and graduated from high school in 1962. Merel moved to Shreveport where, on April 5, 1963, he married Jonnie Heard. (They would have two children). He was working for Associated Building Supply when, in August of 1965 he joined the Louisiana National Guard, 4th Battalion, 156th Infantry. He took basic training and Advanced Individual Training in jeep maintenance at Fort Polk. In 1977 Merel entered the guard full time as a technician, or jeep mechanic, with the 527th Engineering Battalion in Bossier City. During his guard career he worked in 14 countries in various engineering projects. On December 6, 1990, he was helping prepare an early Christmas dinner when the call came that his unit was being activated. "I sort of saw it coming," remarks Merel, who, by then, had risen in the ranks to warrant officer. Within two weeks all the equipment was painted a sand color and sent to Houston for shipment overseas. The battalion flew (in February, 1991, he believes) on a chartered plane from England Air Force Base in Alexandria. Two days later his son, Wayne, also serving in the same battalion, left, too. Merel was in Headquarters Company while Wayne served in B Company. Father and son (one of about 10 father-son duos in the battalion) arrived at King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia. They were driven to their base camp in school buses in a 600-mile trip. To get parts for engineering equipment he had to make the same trek back, driving a truck with no air conditioning. It was "at least a three-day trip, sometimes four by the time you got your parts," he recalls. He had some hot meals while in-country, but mostly subsisted on MREs. He was able to call his wife about every two weeks through phone stations that AT&T had set up. "We could find out more about what was going on over there by calling home," he recalls. No infantry units guarded his base, so the engineers armed themselves with 50-caliber machine guns, grenade launchers, and M-16s. Only two women served in his battalion. "The one in maintenance stayed with the maintenance section. They fixed private quarters for her," he said. Temperatures soared to 120 during the day. Merel was activated from December 6 1990 to June 10, 1991. He arrived home in Bangor, Maine, where townspeople "met us there and were shaking hands and hugging our necks and giving us Cokes," he recalls. Merel remained with the 527th until 1993, then switched to the 225th Engineering Group until he retired in 2003. Now Merel works with Youth Challenge Group at Camp Minden.