Aviation Radioman, PBY VP, USS Ballard, Pearl Harbor, USN
My brother Ray Merrill, USN naval air radioman, was born on May 28, 1915 in Los Angeles, California. He enlisted in the US Navy about 1939. I think he wanted to avoid the draft and Army so he joined the Navy.
Boot Camp was at the San Diego Naval Air Station (North Island rings a bell?). His first real assignment was at Kaneohe NAS, sometime in '39 or '40 as a naval air radioman. I was 12 at the time - he must not have known until the last minute about shipping out as he unexpectedly came home late one night to say goodbye. They told me I refused to wake up even though they kept telling me I wouldn't see him for a long time and that it was a last chance to say 'goodbye.' They said I responded "ok, ok, goodbye, goodbye." I don't remember any of it and felt bad for a long time as he was a great brother and my hero. But he understood I was a little squirt and had caught me when I was zoned and past my bed time.
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor also attacked Kaneohe Naval Air Station on the other side of the island. Ray told me (his younger brother) that he'd just come off duty and was just starting to read the Sunday comics in the head when the attack started. Another sailor also in there squeezed through a window and made a run for it. Ray said he tried hard as he could but simply was too big a guy (over 6 feet and 200+ pounds) to get through that window. Seeing the other fellow killed making a run for it in the open by a strafing Jap plane, he realized he was pretty damn lucky he was so big. Also later, after he got out of the head, during the bombing he'd ducked behind some kind of woodpile. Another sailor also there lifted up to get a better view and caught a bullet in the head doing so. I remember him saying things were pretty confused and they had some trouble getting ammunition.
When the attack came we knew he was there but of course there was no way of knowing his fate. Only military and government communications were allowed at first. We heard notices would first go to next of kin for those killed, and figured maybe "no news, was good news." About a week or so after Dec. 7, a telegram man came to our house. Mom saw him first through our front glass door. She let out a scream and I came running to find her slumped against the wall mumbling "oh no, dear God, no" and the telegram man on the porch (who could see her) excitedly was yelling "it's good news, lady, it's good news!" But she was in shock and it took quite awhile for it to sink in. The telegram (still have it) simply said "OK LETTER FOLLOWS" and his name - (bet lines at the telegraph stations in Hawaii were super long.)
He seldom talked about that day or any other of his other war experiences - just now and then he'd open up for a little bit. He served as a naval air radioman on PBYs and various ships throughout the Pacific until the war's end. Don't know details on his various duty stations - from the fuzzy recesses I remember him ssaying he liked the smaller ships, destroyers, etc. where you could get know the everyone. Big ships were like big cities - too impersonal.
Told me when flying patrol on a PBY they had little or no armament. When I asked what would they do if they ran into a Jap plane. He said on occasion they'd did - always an enemy patrol plane and also with little or no armament. Said they usually both did a U turn and headed back to base. I thought that was strange at the time - but now don't.
Ray won the Purple Heart while flying in a PBY over enemy territory. A shell came through the floor between his feet to graze his head leaving a small scar on his forehead. I didn't know that before recently, he never mentioned it to me.
He served on the USS Ballard (some kind of tender), destroyers - remember him telling a story about the Captain taking the ship within range of Jap shore batteries once so he could say he'd been shot at and win a battle flag; he said the ship providing some kind of support and that it was stupid to risk the crew and ship in such a way - all for a little glory. He was at Espritos Santos, Kwajalien and New Hebridies among other places throughout the Pacific. Only saw him twice during the war; once he went AWOL (SPs came to the house and forcibly brought him back; he was very mad said he been at sea for 2 or 3 years and then a ship he was on put in for repairs close to home. He said the crew had nothing to do except stand by the railing and stare at the dock or water - so he left. Later, he got a 30 day leave - other than that, he spent his time in the Pacific. He was on Wake and Guam for a bit after or near the end of the war - told stories about the Goony birds - apparently very awkward when trying to land. A company rep on one of those two Islands offered him a job with Pam Am as a radio operator but he decided against it. Preferred driving a truck when he left the service at war's end - think he was sorry for that decision in his later years.
He was big, good natured guy (most of the time - when he wasn't it was a damn good time to leave). He'd been a golf caddie, body guard, sparring partner for some 1937 era heavyweight contender (don't remember the name), dock worker and truck driver. He was the only person I ever talked to that poo poohed the notion that jobs were hard to get in the Depression - said he never ever had a problem - it was a snap. I think he never had a problem as he was a big, very good looking guy, with a friendly personality. People liked him. Ray died in 1983 in Los Angeles where he had lived all of his life.
----- Don Merrill
Ray Merrill, Photo
Back To Justin Oral History, Navy Biographies
Please Share your Stories! E-mail the Curator to share or discuss or with any questions!