Manley John Merrill was born on September 7, 1920 in Fredonia, New York to Jenness Nelson Merrill and Lola Mary Mau, and he had five siblings: Jenness (b. 1916), Laura (b. 1919), Leon (b. 1922), Eleanor (b. 1924) and Auleen (b. 1925). He married Nellie Martha Kniese–the daughter of Cornelius Jacobus Kniese and Cornelia Jane Lak–on November 26, 1940 before enlisting in the United States Army in October of 1943. Manley was assigned to the 307th Airborne Medical Company–a battalion tasked with supplying the 82nd Airborne Division with ammunition, food, water, fuel and medical support–and he was sent to France, Holland and Germany during World War II. The difference between this and my other military stories, though, is that–well, Manley never made it home.
During World War II, the 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army specialized in parachute assault operations into denied areas, and they were deployed throughout the European Theatre. Manley’s battalion–the 307th Airborne Medical Company–aided the 82nd Division, and their first combat jump occurred in 1943 in Sicily; the 307th set up a medical clearing station in the area, and it was the only American medical service available in Naples for the next eleven days. Later, the 307th jumped into Holland to set up a clearing station near Groesbeek–Manley earned a Purple Heart for an injury sustained there–and they also provided medical aid and supplies in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. But then, there was Normandy…
…And Manley was there. The 307th was cited for “extraordinary heroism” and “outstanding performance of duty” in the initial assault on the northern coast of Normandy, France. On June 6, 1944–D-Day–the battalion landed by glider on the Cotentin Peninsula in the face of artillery, machine gun and anti-aircraft fire, but they quickly assembled and organized their personnel, ambulance jeeps and medical supplies. They established a clearing station and evacuated more than 500 casualties over a 24-hour period. Almost without rest or pause, the company’s men “gave the utmost of skill and will to accomplish their work of mercy in caring for the wounded.” And although they were, at times, under direct attack from artillery and small arms fire, each performed their task “unhesitatingly” and with “tireless devotion.”
Almost a year later–on April 30, 1945–Manley was killed in action during a mission in Germany, becoming the thirty-second young man from the town of Pomfret, New York to have lost his life in the war. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal for his gallantry in action–the United States Armed Forces’ third highest personal decoration for valor in combat–and his wife, Nellie, was given the Star on his behalf. The citation upon which the award was made follows:
For gallantry in action on 30 April 1945 near [redacted] Germany. PFC Merrill, supporting the first battalion of hte 505th parachute infantry, ferried his jeep to the far shore of the Elbe River through heavy enemy small arms and artillery fire in order to evacuate casulaties from an aid station on the bridgehead. With complete disregard for this personal safety, he drove his vehicle through heavy artillery fire over dangerous roads toward the aid station. A few hundred yards from the shore, PFC Merrill’s jeep struck a buried land mine which exploded, destroying the vehicle and killing him instantly. His courageous and exemplary action and complete devotion to duty was in keeping with the highest traditions of the medical department and airborne forces of the United States Army.
Private First Class Merrill has been awarded two Purple Hearts, Presidential Citation and Good Conduct Ribbon in addition to Silver Star. One Purple Heart was awarded for wounds received in Holland and the other posthumously for his death in action.
The letter received by the soldier’s wife was from Edward F. Witsell, Major General, acting Adjutant General.
Manley was buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten; three years after his passing, his wife took an advertisement out in the Dunkirk Evening Observer and left an In Memorium note to remember him. She included a poem–dedicated to Manley from both herself and their young son, Johnny–that reads: “Many a lonely heartache, // Often a silent tear // But always a beautiful memory // Of one we loved so dear.” This one shook me: most of my ancestors and their relatives who served in the military over time survived their war, and those who didn’t seem too far removed from me–the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, after all, were very long ago. But this story is different; my grandfather grew up hearing stories about this side of the Merrill family tree, and Manley was much too young to lose his life to war. The only comfort is that he was able to meet his young before his death; I’m sure he was dearly missed.