461st plaque

461st Bombardment Group (H)

Ralph L. Merrow, Sr.

Ralph Merrow was born at home on Jasper Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 19 May 1916.

His family consisted of his father, Leon Merrow, mother Beatrice Merrow and a sister, Gertrude E. Merrow. The family lived on Jasper Street for about 2 years at which time Ralph and his Father moved to Eatonville, Washington where they lived for about 2 years. Eatonville, 1.5 hours south of Seattle, is a small, friendly community that serves as the gateway to Mount Rainier National Park, 25 miles to the East. Ralph’s grandfather was an undertaker there. The family story about Ralph was that he would sing to his grandmother "When You're Smiling" and then she would give him a piece of cake or pie.

The family moved to Altadena, California in 1921 and lived there until mid 1924. They built a home at 2225 North Fairoaks Avenue. Ralph and his sister went to school there up to the start of the 3rd grade. The family then left California, drove for 3 weeks across the U.S. back to Philadelphia. During that trip back, the family camped out each night on cots in a tent staying at many parks, in particular the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

The family lived at 3508 Joyce Street in Philadelphia until both parents died. 

Ralph worked during Junior High and High School as a delivery boy for the newspaper and a part‑time package wrapper for Sears & Roebucks in Philadelphia. He was a stock clerk for Supplee Biddle Hardware Supply Company, Stroheim & Roman Company as an office clerk and finally started in working in textiles as a production lab man for Fred Whitaker Company in Philadelphia in 1935.

Ralph Merrow graduated from high school in January 1934 and attended the Philadelphia Textile School studying Dyeing and Chemistry. He received a Certificates of Proficiency.

Ralph married his wife, Bertha, in 1940.  They lived in Philadelphia until March 1941.

Ralph was drafted in March 1941 and sent to Fort Meade, Maryland for assignment. Prior to his drafting, he told his Draft Board that his wife, Bertha, was pregnant and would deliver the baby during in the first week of December 1941. They told him that he was using her pregnancy as an effort to avoid the draft. He said that was not the case and he was not deferred. He was assigned to the 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division for duty as a Private. He was chosen to be on the BAR Squad for further training. Finally, he was made Assistant Squad Leader.

Ralph’s wife, Bertha, was a registered nurse in Rhode Island and a member of the American Red Cross. She worked with officials to have Ralph was released from active duty on 31 August.

When war was declared on 8 December 1941 he was recalled but was given a 6 months deferment until July 1942 because his son, Ralph L. Merrow, Jr., was born on 15 December 1941.

Ralph reported for active duty in July 1942 and was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Ralph talked to the assignment officer who gave Ralph another week off.  On return Ralph was then assigned to an MP company at Olmsted Field, Middletown, Pennsylvania.  His pay was $21 per month which was not enough to support his wife and child.

While Ralph was training for his MP duty, he read that the Army Air Corps was looking for Aviation cadets.  The pay was $75 per month. He applied, passed all the tests and physicals. The doctor questioned him about his "damaged throat". He told the doctor that his company training officer had demonstrated the "choke hold" on Ralph causing the damage.  The Doctor went to the C.O. of the MP company and told them to stop demonstrating this hold immediately.

Ralph MerrowAfter passing all of the required tests, Ralph was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, for pre-flight testing where you were given a complete physical as well as mental tests. This testing was to learn how coordinated you were through certain tests while you sat in a temporary cockpit. You had to keep the needle and ball in position while the cockpit would turn and tilt in different directions. This is where you found out if you would be a pilot, navigator or bombardier.  Coordination was the main requirement to be a pilot - that is full coordination with your hands and feet all the time you were in a cockpit.

In December 1942, he was sent to Montgomery, Alabama for testing that you had to pass to get into pilot training.  He also received instruction in geography, weather analysis, engine problems, etc.  If you failed, you could opt for bombardier or navigator school. If you failed these, you were assigned as a gunner on a bomber crew.

Ralph was sent to Key Field at Clarksdale, Mississippi for his primary training in March 1943.  He trained in a PT‑17 Biplane completing some 60 hours and passing the primary test of being able to land the plane after only 6 hours of training.

Primary flight training - Key Field, Charksdale, Mississippi
    Instructor Marion Anderson - civilian pilot
    Aircraft PT-17 Pitcairn- single engine - 2 cockpits
    Dual time 28.09 hours
    Solo time 35.01 hours
    Total hours 63.10 hours
  Instruction covered flight take-offs, landings, stalls, emergency landings, aerobatics, etc.  Training time - March - April - 9 weeks.
       
Basic flight training - Newport Army Air Field, Newport, Arkansas
    Instructor Lt. Barclay Van Dyke, AAF pilot
    Aircraft BT-13 - single engine - 2 cockpits
    Dual time 41.5 hours - regular flight instruction
         Nights 2.6 hours
         Instruments 7.7 hours
    Solo time 42.7 hours
         Nights 1.2 hours
    Total hours 85.5 hours
    147 landings made
    Instrument Link time 10.2 hours
  Instruction covered take-offs and landings, short field ones, emergency landings, aerobatics, engine failures, formation flights.  There was 1 cross-country flight made.  Training time - May 3rd thru June 25th.
       
Advance twin engine training - George Field, Lawrenceville, Illinois
    Instructor Lt. Barr
    Aircraft AT-10 twin engine/twin seats for pilots
    Dual time 29.10 hours
    Solo time 43.40 hours
    Total hours 73.20 hours
    91 landings made
  Instruction covered all of the aspects for multi-engine plane problems, instrument landings, engine failures, formation flying with group formations, cross-country flights - day and night trials, etc.  Training time - July thru August

Total training hours - 240.55 hours

Ralph was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant on 21 August 1943 at George Field, Illinois with orders to report to the 451st Bomb Group in Boise, Idaho immediately.

Ralph was assigned as the Co‑Pilot for Crew #8, 724th Squadron, 451st Bomb Group. The other officers included Lt. Williams – Pilot; Lt. Herzog ‑ Navigator and Lt. Ordway ‑ Bombardier.  Eight enlisted men were also assigned to this crew for further training.

On 22 October Ralph was put in the hospital. On Monday, 27 October, the crew officers came to the hospital and said they needed Ralph for a formation flight. Ralph was unable to obtain a release. Lt. Williams then acquired another co­-pilot, Lt. Melvin Klein, to replace Ralph so they had a complete crew on board for formation flying. Crew #8 flew in a 4-plane formation in the #4 position. The plane in #3 position pulled out of the formation and Crew #8 pulled up into the #3 position. The original #3 plane pulled back into the formation and crashed into Crew #8.  Both planes exploded and all members of both crews - a total of 17 personnel - were killed except Lt. Klein. When they brought Lt. Klein into the hospital, he was still holding the rip cord in his right hand. Lt. Klein was the only survivor. When asked, he could not tell exactly why the crash oc­curred – the only plausible answer was the crews were not paying attention in the formation.

Ralph’s wife, Bertha, heard the news on the radio and called Ralph’s parents in Philadelphia.  Ralph’s Father found out that I wasn't on that flight and was still in the hospital.

Ralph was then transferred to the 461st Bomb Group in California reporting in on 10 November 1943.  He was assigned as co‑pilot on Crew #2 in the 764th Squadron. They trained at Hammer Field, Fresno, California. Ralph learned a lot about being a B‑24 co‑pilot from the pilot, Lt. Blanchard.

As the 461st Bomb Group was leaving the USA, they flew to San Francisco, Tucson, Arizona, Midland, Texas, Memphis, Tennessee, and finally West Palm Beach, Florida for final check ups. They left Florida 1 February for Trinidad, West Indies, Belem, Brazil and then Fortaleza, Brazil. From there they flew to Dakar, French West Africa, Marrakech, French North Africa and finally Oudna Field, Tunis, Tunisia for a period of reforming.

Crew #2 was selected to fly to Italy to check out an air base at Venosa, Italy. This base was a British airfield which was used for their twin-engine Wellington bomber. The field itself was in no condition for a group of B‑24s.

The 461st Bomb Group was finally sent to Torretta Field, about 8 miles south of Cerignola, Italy, where the air base was close to being finished with all of the necessary spots with metal screens where the aircraft were parked between missions. Each squadron had a specific area where their aircraft were parked. After a number of missions, the 484th Bomb Group was also assigned to the base. The 451st Bomb Group, the 461st Bomb Group and the 484th Bomb Group all belonged to the 49th Bomb Wing, Fifteenth Air Force and flew many missions together.

Capt. Witte, Squadron CO, selected Crew #2 to lead a flight to transfer ten aircraft to the 376th Bomb Group. Lt. Strumski and Lt. Merrow were present at the aircraft prior to takeoff and wished to go along, but were told to stay back since Capt. Witte needed the room to bring back the other aircraft crew members. As a result of bad weather, the aircraft crashed killing Lt. Blanchard, Lt. Maxfield, Sgt. Lamartina and Capt. Witte. Sgt McNaight was thrown out of the plane and was severely injured. He was sent back to the U.S. and became an instructor for radio operators. Crew #2 was reformed as follows:

NEW CREW #2

OLD CREW #2

Lt. Lynn Britton (pilot), crew transfer

Lt. Hal Blanchard (pilot)

Lt. R.L. Merrow (co‑pilot)

Lt. R.L. Merrow (co‑pilot)

Lt. A. Levine (navigator), Squadron transfer

Lt. Wm. Maxfield, (navigator)

Lt. D. Armante (bombardier), crew transfer

Lt. Joe Strumski (crew transfer)

Sgt. Fulcher, promotion within crew

Sgt. Lamartina (engineer)

Sgt. Franklin, promotion within crew

Sgt. Fulcher, promotion

Sgt. K. Kendle, no change

Sgt. K. Kendle, no change

Sgt. J. Hagan, radio operator, Squadron transfer

Sgt. A. McNaight (radio operator)

Sgt. Jankovsky, no change

Sgt. Jamkovsky, no change

Sgt. W. Gibson, Squadron transfer

Sgt. Franklin, no change

Lt. R. Merrow was sent home for a 30-day R & R after completing 31 missions.  He was to return with a new crew after that, but his orders were changed and he never returned to the war.  Ralph had flown with 23 crew members, 13 of whom had been either KIA or KOLD. Of the remainder, only 3 are still alive‑ Lt. Strumski, Sgt. Kendle and Lt. Merrow.

Ralph felt he could do a better job flying a single-engine aircraft. He learned that a P‑38 Fighter‑Bomber Group was stationed north of Foggia, Italy. He went up and talk­ to the Group CO was informed that he would be accepted since he had approximately 400 hours of multi‑engine flight time. He wrote a request for transfer to the Group CO, Col. Glantzberg, but he rejected the request stating that he needed all of the 4-engine pilots to keep him in good personnel position for flying B‑24s. There were other requests also, but they were all rejected.

When missions were scheduled to north of Italy, you usually had to fly around Switzerland since they were a neutral country. If you flew over this country in error, they would send up a couple of fighters to check you out. The ruling was, if you had some problem, you put your wheels down to indicate that you needed to land. After you landed, you were kept there as a refugee for the rest of the war so they could remain neutral with the warring countries.

You were told to keep all information about your location, any news items as to missions flown etc. out of letters to folks at home in the U.S.A. The trick was to develop a code where any numbers were about other happenings in your life which the recipient of your letter was well aware of. They then could relate to your actions more easily.

To create excellent formation flying, both Col. Glantzberg and Lt. Col. Hawes would fly the P‑40 fighter plane they had secured into the formation where you were supposed to be and tell you to get into position where they were flying.

On my 2nd mission to the Ploesti oil fields, as we were returning to our base flying over Yugoslavia, one of the radio operators had heard on his radio that the invasion of France had started ‑ 6 June.  He then announced over his radio to the other radio operators and before you knew it, the whole formation broke up into a wide open formation as we all had become real excited about the news of the invasion of France. This was really the "D-DAY" for all.

The following is the official flying record for Ralph Merrow:

764TH BOMBARDMENT SOUADRON (H)

OFFICE OF THE OPERATIONS OFFICER

AP0 520     US ARMY

10 AUGUST 1944

CERTIFICATE

I CERTIFY THAT 2ND LT RALPH L. MERROW, 0‑811422, HAS COMPLETED THE FOLLOWING MISSIONS, WITH DATES, TIME AND TARGETS BELOW.

DATE TIME TARGETS
2 APRIL 1944 5:35 BIHAC, YGOSLAVIA
12 APRIL 1944 5:45 ZAGREB, YUGOSLAVIA
15 APRIL 1944 7:00 BUCHAREST, RUMANIA
17 APRIL 1944 4:00 ZEMUN, YUGOSLAVIA
20 APRIL 1944 6:30 FERRARA, ITALY
23 APRIL 1944 4:25 BAD VOSLAV, AUSTRIA
30 APRIL 1944 7:10 ALESSANDRIA, ITALY
5 MAY 1944 8:00 PLOESTI, RUMANIA
7 MAY 1944 8:00 BUCHAREST, RUMANIA
12 MAY 1944 7:00 VIAREGGIO, ITALY
14 MAY 1944 6:00 PADOVA, ITALY
18 MAY 1944 6:00 BELGRADE, YUGOSLAVIA
22 MAY 1944 6:45 PIOMBINO, ITALY
23 MAY 1944 4:30 SUBICO, ITALY
25 MAY 1944 6:30 CARNDULES, FRANCE
26 MAY 1944 8:30 LYONS, FRANCE
27 MAY 1944 8:00 SALONDE PROVIENCE, FRANCE
30 MAY 1944 7:30 WELS, AUSTRIA
2 JUNE 1944 7:00 SZOLNOK, HUNGARY
4 JUNE 1944 7:45 ORELLI, FRANCE
6 JUNE 1944 8:30 PLOESTI, RUMANIA
7 JUNE 1944 7:00 ANTHEOR, FRANCE
10 JUNE 1944 6:00 PORTO MARGHERA, ITALY
13 JUNE 1944 7:00 PORTO MARGHERA, ITALY
22 JUNE 1944 5:45 TRIESTE, ITALY
26 JUNE 1944 7:30 KORNEUBURG, AUSTRIA
28 JUNE 1944 8:30 BUCHAREST, RUMANIA
30 JUNE 1944 6:10 BLECHHAMMER, GERMANY
3 JULY 1944 8:45 BUCHAREST, RUMANIA
5 JULY 1944 8:30 BEXIERS, FRANCE
6 JULY 1944 6:15 ACIANO, ITALY
8 JULY 1944 7:15 VIENNA, AUSTRIA

TOTAL NUMBER OF COMBAT SORTIES, 31; TOTAL NUMBER OF COMBAT FLYING HOURS, 219:05

/s/ WILLIAM H. TALLANT

CAPT., AIR CORPS

OPERATIONS OFFICER

Ralph reported to Atlantic City at the end of September 1944 for return to active duty at which time he was told that he was not to return to Italy. Oddly enough, a hurricane hit Atlantic City before he received a new assignment and they gave him another 10-day leave due to weather damage. He was finally assigned to duty as a combat pilot instructor at Westover Field, Mass. (near Springfield). The duty was to fly with crews who were going to be sent overseas. He was there for a month and then reassigned to a position at Maguire Field, Fort Dix, NJ (Near Trenton). This was an excellent opportunity as this was flying for a GCA (Ground Control Approach) Training Group.  Today this is the Air Traffic Controller system that controls the commercial flights ‑ all weather situ­ations, mostly wet weather days, fog, etc. He flew single-engine, twin-engine and 4-engine B‑24 aircraft for short periods of time to provide training for the crews learning how to control aircraft by radio. They were taught how to guide your approach to the runway.  He enjoyed this duty very much as he could fly any aircraft they had available. He flew: A‑25 (SB‑2C Navy dive bomber), BT‑13 single-engine trainer, UC‑78 twin-engine trainer, C‑45 6-passenger transport twin-engine, B‑25 twin-engine Mitchell bomber and the B‑24 4-engine bomber. He enjoyed the B‑25 twin-bomber the most.

Ralph was then assigned to Detached Service at Mitchell Field, Hempstead, Long Island, N.Y. until he was recalled for discharge in August 1945.  He was put into the Air Force Reserve (Active) so that he could keep my flight status current in case he was needed again.  He flew while in Providence, RI until 1953 when he secured another position with James Lees & Sons.

Ralph, Bertha and Ralph, Jr. lived Providence, RI until March 1953 when they moved to Norristown, PA to work for James Lees & Sons.  For the next three years Ralph was the manager for the dyeing and finishing of the carpets.  In 1956, J. Lees Co. expanded with the construction of a new plant explicitly for carpet production.  Ralph was transferred to Rabun County, Georgia.  While in Rabun County, Ralph expanded his interests to include politics and the Episcopal Church.

Ralph’s political involvement was in the City of Sky Valley.  He had built a retirement home for his wife and grandchildren.  In 1978 the state government founded the city, but the residents were unhappy with their efforts.  The homeowners association drafted three candidates for the next election including Ralph.  He was elected primarily because of his work with his church.  He served on the city council for seven years and was Mayor-Pro-Tem for four years because the Mayor only attended four meeting in his last two years.  After leaving the city council, Ralph was appointed City Administrator for a year and a half.  He was then appointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission and served as its chairman

Ralph was the first elected Senior Warden of the Episcopal Church.  He was treasurer and served as Financial Treasurer during the construction of the Church building.  He was a licensed Lay Reader conducting Morning Prayer service since they were a mission church at the time.  He also developed the visiting Clergy program during the summer months.  The church only had a priest once a month for Communion Service.  Ralph recruited vacationing clergymen who were happy to conduct services.  While Ralph was treasurer, the church bought and sold several lots and finally constructed the church building.  The mortgage was $45,000 which Ralph had paid off in only five years.  Bertha had been the church organist during this time.  In 1985, they both retired.