Merlin C. Smith was born in December 1925 in Baker, Louisiana. He had had two brothers and one sister. The family lived on a farm in the country. During the Depression, the family grew its own food and so they did all right. After the war started, his father worked on the construction of a local airport that would be used to train fighter pilots. Smith remembers rationing being in effect during the war. He found out the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor when he went to school the following Monday [Annotator's Note: the attack occurred on Sunday, 7 December 1941]. Living on the farm, the family had no outside communications except for mail. Smith graduated from high school in May 1944 and was drafted into the Navy the following month. He was given his physical examinations and inducted in New Orleans. Prior to that induction, Smith had received a draft notice but gotten a deferment to complete his high school education. He originally had been selected for the Army because the Navy openings were full. After graduation, he returned for his induction but that time Navy openings were available. He selected that branch for his service on the second time.
Merlin Smith chose to join the Navy because he wanted to avoid the difficult life of an infantryman. He also liked the three meals a day and a bed to sleep in each night that the Navy afforded. Smith went to boot camp at the Naval Training Station in San Diego for 12 weeks. He learned to follow orders even though some days were tough. He practiced at the rifle range once a week. He used the Springfield 1903 rifle. It was a heavy weapon with a rough recoil for someone like Smith who did not carry a lot of weight. He went on to train for some weeks on the Higgins landing barges [Annotator's Note: Andrew Jackson Higgins built LCVPs, Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel, in New Orleans, Louisiana]. The practice runs in the boats could be dangerous based on the size of waves and the position of the landing craft related to them. After a month of training with the landing craft, Smith was transferred to Oakland where he was assigned to the USS Goshen (APA-108). He spent the next two years on the ship. It made two round trips across the Pacific Ocean. The ship carried 1,500 troops and fed them three times a day. That kept the crew busy. When the ship rolled in the waves, it would sometimes flip some soldiers with their chow. Smith had opportunities to talk with the soldiers on the voyages. Smith was assigned to the second section of the ship and had to help maintain that part of the vessel. Sunday was usually a day of rest.
Merlin Smith left Oakland on a shakedown cruise on his new ship [Annotator's Note: USS Goshen (APA-108)]. Afterward, the ship and crew voyaged to Pearl Harbor where Smith saw some of the devastation that resulted from the Japanese attack. It was not a pleasant sight. Troops were boarded on the Goshen in Hawaii and the ship sailed for the Marianas. That was aimed toward the strategy of placing constant pressure on the Japanese closer and closer to their home. It was part of the island-hopping campaign of 1945 that led to the Battle of Okinawa. Time passed on the ship because the crew stayed busy. Training films help consume some of the time. Smith managed to visit some of the islands where the ship anchored. The coral reefs were beautiful, and the water was very clear. A coin dropped to the bottom was chased instantly by the natives. Although the sailors were only allowed two cans of beer on the island, some of the men drank native brewed alcohol concoctions. The brew was extremely strong and heavily intoxicated those that consumed too much. Smith was not one of those victims. Prior to going to Okinawa, the Goshen participated in realistic landing practice in Hawaii.
Merlin Smith made his way to Okinawa for the real McCoy [Annotator's Note: he was aboard the assault transport ship USS Goshen (APA-108)]. Smith hit the beach with his landing craft on 2 April [Annotator's Note: 2 April 1945], the second day of the assault. Gunfire was noticeable. The ships offshore were constantly bombarding the enemy positions on the island. Smith did not personally engage in combat or observe kamikaze aircraft, only their aftereffects. Smith's role on the Higgins boat [Annotator's Note: Landing Craft Vehivle, Personnel, or LCVP] was to control the ramp and make sure the equipment on the boat was in good condition and properly stowed. Without the atomic bombs, the invasion of Japan would have been the next assault. Smith was near Saipan when the bombs were dropped thus ending the war. Smith was thrilled. He was ready to go home. He was still performing the duties on the ship that involved returning troops to the United States. It seemed that Washington delayed his discharge longer than necessary. He sailed from the West Coast through the Panama Canal to the East Coast. It was only then that he was discharged. He took a bus near Washington, D.C destined for his home. His arrival surprised his family.
Merlin Smith had a brother in the Navy during the war. He did not see any action off the coast of Australia. Smith used the G.I. Bill to further his education after his discharge. He ended up working in a laboratory and remained there for 37 years. He had fun bar hopping while on liberty during his service in the Navy. Smith feels The National WWII Museum is an excellent facility. He has a brick there and donates. He has made several trips there. Historians and veterans need to keep exposing young people to the facts of World War 2.
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