Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Segment 4

Segment 5

Segment 6

Segment 7

Segment 8

Segment 9

Segment 10

Faulty arming switches

Close call with a Zero!

You're on your own.

Pearl Harbor


Merrill was returning from a search mission just as the Doolittle Raiders were taking off from the Hornet [Annotator's Note: USS Hornet, CV-8]. The pilots from the Enterprise [Annotator's Note: USS Enterprise, CV-6] were told that as soon as the last B-25 [Annotator's Note: B-25 Mitchell medium bomber aircraft] took off they were to begin landing on the Hornet so the carrier could act as duty carrier every other day.Many of the pilots aboard the Hornet had never flown the SBD [Annotator's Note: SBD Dauntless, naval dive bombers]. Down in the hanger deck were many new SBDs.On the return trip to Pearl Harbor, the Hornet could assume the air patrols every other day so the whole burden wasn't held by the Enterprise.Merrill had gone out on the Enterprise and returned on the Hornet.If an attack occured the SBDs could fly with the torpedo planes from the Hornet.When Merrill looked down he saw the first B-25 to take off from the Hornet. Merrill watched as the B-25s took off and got into formation. As the last B-25 left the Hornet, the SBDs were already lining up upwind so they could land.


Merrill was aboard the Saratoga [Annotator's Note: USS Saratoga, CV-3] both times she was torpedoed.When they left Pearl Harbor enroute to Japan, they did not know what the mission was. They were told that they would rendezvous with the aircraft carrier Hornet [Annotator's Note: USS Hornet, CV-8] and they assumed that they would go aboard the her.Nothing was told to the men about the mission until they were past flying distance from any land.When the Enterprise approached the Hornet Merrill and his friends could see something strange on the Hornet's flight deck. Once the carriers were together Merrill's group was told about the mission. Merrill's group was to fly search missions prior to the launch of the B-25 bombers.Merrills group flew out ahead of the carriers to make sure that the area was clear for the B-25 bombers.Merrill recalls seeing Japanese picket boats prior to the launch. Additional planes were launched to verify the picket boat's identity then they were attacked.After returning from to Pearl Harbor, Bombing 3 [Annotator's Note: Bombing Squadron 3] took off from Hornet and landed at Kaneohe. From Kaneohe they flew anti submarine missions.Bombing 3 then went aboard the Yorktown [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown, CV-5] for the Midway raid. The groups were given 24 hours or more notice before boarding the Yorktown.Merrill first saw the Hornet when they made the rendezvous.


When Merrill went aboard the Yorktown [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown, CV-5] she was damaged but had been patched up. She was scarred but could still carry out her mission.Some of the crews had made some of the early hit and run attacks on the Japanese and some had been through being torpedoed by Japanese submarines. Many were ready for what was coming at Midway [Annotator's Note: June 1942].The groups had an idea that the Japanese would attack Midway. When they had attacked Pearl Harbor they hadn't accomplished their mission which was to sink the US carriers. None of the US carriers were there.At Midway, the Japanese were spotted first and ended up losing all 4 of their carriers.Some of Merrills group were out flying search missions when the Japanese were first sighted. Merrill's planes were rearmed and refueled. They were armed with 15000 field piercing bombs [Annotator's Note: Merrill means 1500 pound bombs].The first ship hit was the Mogami [Annotator's Note: the Mogami was a Japanese heavy cruiser attacked on 6 June 1942, the third day of the battle]. The Mikuma and Mogami were out there together. During the first attack on the outer screen the Mogami was damaged.They hit the Soryu and hit the Mogami the next day.


There was a problem with some of the arming switches in the Bombing 3 [Annotator's Note: Bombing Squadron 3] bombers. In the SBD [Annotator's Note: SBD Dauntless, naval dive bombers] there was a panel for the arming switches. When a bomb was placed on the bomb rack and attached to the dropping mechanism there were pins connected which armed the bombs when they were released.The master switch could also be programmed to arm a bank of bombs.The group had always dropped manually on the hit and run raids they had been on. Most of their targets had been against Japanese ground forces. This battle was the first time that they were attacking Japanese naval forces.Right after take off the arming switches could be armed so that it wouldn't be forgotten in the heat of battle. Just prior to the battle the wire to the master arming switch was wired to all of the bombs so that the pilots wouldn't have to arm each bomb. With them armed all the pilots had to do was hit a switch and everything would go. This battle was the first time any of the ground crew had wired the switches as well. Unfortunately, some of the wires got crossed. When the pilots got the signal to arm their bombs, their bombs dropped.When Merrill armed his bombs he felt his plane jump but didn't realize what had happened. When he got over the target he didn't have any bombs.Merrill's gunner was signalled by code that some planes didn't have bombs. Merrill didn't realize that he was one of them until he made his bomb run on the Soryu. After his dive he looked back to see how he did and saw that the bomb pattern didn't look right. When he got back to his carrier one of his friends asked him if he knew that he didn't have any bombs.When all of Merrill's bombs were released he though it was turbulence. When he landed Merrill learned that some of the planes didn't have bombs and his was one of them.


From 20000 feet the Japanese carriers could be seen maneuvering below. The carriers could be identified by their size and position in the formation.When the SBD [Annotator's Note: SBD Dauntless, naval dive bombers] was in its dive it was moving at about 300 miles per hour.When Merrill made his dive, he was "tail end Charlie."By the time Merrill got to the target he knew he didn't have any bombs. Since he had no bombs he strafed on the way down and when he pulled out his rear seat gunner strafed on the way out.Whenever Merrill dove on a target he strafed on the way down. After he made his dive he could see bombs exploding and ships burning. There were some Japanese fighters in the area.During the afternoon attack, Merrill's rear seat gunner, Dallas Bergeron was wounded in the foot when they were attacked by enemy fighters. The attack knocked out the rear guns on his plane. His plane was shot up as well.There was one fighter that got alongside Merrill's shot up SBD. The Japanese pilot looked over Merrill's plane and could see that his situation was hopeless. The Japanese pilot began backing up and Merrill knew that he was getting into position to fire all of his guns into his plane. Right about that time, he noticed a cloud bank and dove for it. The move caught the Japanese pilot by surprise. The enemy pilot kept after him and chased him into the clouds and Merrill saw the enemy plane fly past him. After coming out of the clouds, he could see the Japanese fighter below still looking for him.Merrill headed back to the carrier alone. When he got there his gunner was taken to sickbay. Bergeron's brother saw him being carried off and went to Merrill to talk to him about it. That was the end of the fight for Bergeron for the day. He did continue to fly with Merrill through later battles.


Merrill's roommate was Olie Hansen.After a raid the Enterprise [Annotator's Note: aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, CV-6] was short on pilots. Merrill was selected to go aboard. At one time he flew with Dusty Kleiss. During one mission he had Donald Hoff as a rear seat gunner.During the afternoon attack at Midway a Japanese Zero shot up his plane and almost shot him down.Merrill's rear seat gunner at Midway was wounded during the afternoon attack. The gunner's brother was also a radioman/gunner and was aboard the Enterprise when Merrill arrived. He was relieved when he saw that his brother wasn't badly wounded.After the morning attack, the Yorktown [Annotator's Note: aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown, CV-5] called out for pilots to stand clear because an attack was imminent. Merrill circled around the Yorktown then had to land on the Enterprise and ended up joining Air Group 6.After the after noon attack Merrill's plane was damaged beyond repair so he flew an Enterprise plane. Merrill's shot up plane was cannibalized for parts. The last time he saw his plane it was in Hawaii. The plane was awaiting transport to a scrap yard in the US.


By the time the second strike was launched, the first attack on Hiryu [Annotator's Note: Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu], the air group had taken some losses. Some of the planes had run out of fuel. Max Leslie and his wingman Holmberg had to ditch after they ran out of fuel. Holmberg was picked up by the cruiser Astoria [Annotator's Note: USS Astoria, CA-34].For the strike on Hiryu, Merrill was flying an Enterprise [Annotator's Note: USS Enterprise, CV-6] dive bomber. They were told when they took off that there were no fighters available for fighter escort for this strike. The fighters had to be held back to protect the ships. The air group was on it's own.When Merrill's group dove on the Hiryu, there was a lot of enemy fighter opposition. He attacked the ship with about 6 other planes.The Soryu [Annotator's Note: Merrill means the Hiryu] was burning when Merrill dropped his bomb. He believes that his bomb was the fourth or fifth one out of about 6 to hit her. After pulling out of his dive Merrill had to find his way home. It was after this attack that Bergeron was hit by a Japanese fighter. When he looked back at the Hiryu he could see her burning.Merrill tried to link up with other aircraft heading for home but he wasn't successful. When he finally came across another friendly plane it was heading for the Hornet [Annotator's Note: USS Hornet, CV-8]. The 2 planes flew together until splitting up to go to their respective carriers.


All four Japanese carriers were sunk during the Battle of Midway. The Japanese plan had been to draw the American carriers out to destroy them since they had missed them at Pearl Harbor.Both the Mogami and Mikuma looked alike. They were difficult to differentiate.When the cruisers were attacked, the pilots made their dives, dropped their bombs, left the cruiser in a sinking condition, returned to their carrier, had a cup of coffee and went to bed.Midway had been an ongoing and running fight that lasted 3 days. After the battle, the Japanese knew that there would be resistance to their consolidating their conquests.The Japanese had intended to change the face of China and the South Pacific. They had been on a roll.When Merrill returned to Pearl Harbor there was great jubilance among the army units at Hickam Field. They were celebrating the army's victory at Midway. They didn't realize that the navy played the biggest role in the battle.The army did have some B-17 bombers at Midway. They also flew some search missions before the battle to ensure air supremacy but the battle was a navy show.


The Saratoga [Annotator's Note: aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, CV-3] was getting ready to leave San Diego for Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on 7 December 1941.The Japanese had been stirring things up for a while.Merrill reported in to his air group in the fall of 1940. At the time the Saratoga had left for a short run to Pearl Harbor. Merrill joined up with a group of carrier pilots to train in order to carrier qualify.When the Saratoga returned Merrill went aboard. When he heard that he would be going to Pearl Harbor for a tour he was excited. The air group commander decided that Saturday and Sunday would be training days.On Sunday morning, Merrill went into the ready room in the squadron hangar to get the morning report. It was about 7:50am Pearl Harbor time and about 10:50am San Diego time. Suddenly someone burst into the room yelling that Pearl Harbor was being bombed.Word went out immediately that this was the real thing and that they were at war. Fearing that Japanese submarines may be lurking off of the coast, the planes of Merrill's group were placed aboard the Saratoga in port by a crane. It was the first time the group had ever flown out to the carrier. When the Saratoga arrived at Pearl Harbor the air group flew out to Ford Island. There whole area was a mess. Everything was bombed and shot up. The ship was in port just long enough to refuel and then put to sea again in search of any lingering Japanese ships. It would be a few weeks until Merrill was able to see the Royal Hawaiian.Everything in Pearl Harbor was a mess. Ewa Field was a mess, Hickam Field was a mess, there were damaged planes everywhere. There were sunken ships in the harbor. The area was crowded. Fortunately, Merrill had a cot on a porch to sleep on that overlooked a sunken cruiser.


When the war started everyone started working with what they had. Merrill's group patrolled up and down the Hawaiian island chain. when they returned to Pearl Harbor they grouped up off shore and flew in on a certain heading one at a time.When fire was being returned on the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack, U.S. antiaircraft shells were coming down and hitting Waikiki Beach.The navy had taken over the Royal Hawaiian hotel for sailors to stay in when at Pearl Harbor. The Royal Hawaiian was everything Merrill thought it would be except that there was barbed wire on the beach.When he was in Hawaii his group usually stayed in Kaneohe.Merrill went back aboard the Saratoga [Annotator's Note: USS Saratoga, CV-3] after the Battle of Midway and stayed with her through the Gaudalcanal campaign. He also flew from Guadalcanal.Merrill had been on a strike against Japanese shipping and had to land on the field on Guadalcanal to refuel. The planes were refueled from 5 gallon cans. While the planes were being refueled the pilots were told by the Marines that the Japanese were just outside of the perimeter. The Marines expected a Japanese attack that night. When they slept, the planes were parked in such a way that the rear seat gunner could sleep in the plane at his guns and the pilot could sleep under the plane.During the night a Japanese soldier would yell at the men on the airstrip, "today's the day yankees, today's the day yankees" and would start laughing. When that enemy soldier stopped yelling at the Americans, another would start.Merrill's carrier would launch strikes against the Japanese and the planes would sometimes have to land on Guadalcanal.He thinks the Marines on Guadalcanal did a good job. There were natives, copra plantation owners, and English pioneers on the island.

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You may receive the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only the specific clips that you requested. Please contact the Museum at if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to four weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address.