12 April 1998
L/Cpl William F Merrill
You must realize I was not quite fifteen, more than thirty years ago now, when this part of my life began, so my recollection may not be completely accurate. But this is my brother's story as I remember it!
It was late 1967, Bill had graduated the year before, from Muncy High School. Shortly after that, Dad had gotten a new job, therefore the family had moved to a new place, essentially a new world for all of us. Bill wasn't ready to enter college yet, financially it was not an option, so he found a job and was working, helping all of his family with the transition. He was making new acquaintances in his new home, making new friends while he kept contact with some old ones. He had even met the girl he hoped to marry. His whole future was before him!
But off, across the sea, there was a war going on. Bill's deep sense of duty to his country, made him feel like he needed to do his part. The draft loomed before him and he wanted to be able to choose the branch of the military he would serve his country in, so he went to see an Air Force recruiter. Off to New Cumberland he went to have his physical exam, full of great expectations, only to be sent home told that his vision problems, a previously detached retina, would not allow him in the Air Force.
Meanwhile his number came up and he was called for the draft. He went for his draft physical, and strangely enough he passed that one. The problem that had seemed to keep him out of the Air Force wasn't a problem for the draft. He didn't want the Army so he questioned why one would take him and one wouldn't? Asking added more delay to his enlistment, while the two branches of the military cut through the red tape to decide which would take him. While the two branches bickered over whether he was qualified to serve with either one of them, the USMC came and met with him, examined him, and enlisted him and off to Paris Island he went to become a US Marine. He graduated from Parris Island in late summer of 1968, I remember Mom and Dad went to his graduation, I can still see the pride in Mom's face when she came home and talked about her son, the Marine.
From Parris Island he went to Camp LeJeune for further training. While there he introduced me, via the US mail, to the man who would eventually become my first husband. He was there till November '68 when he came home on leave. While he was home he broke the news to us that he would be going next to Camp Pendleton, California, then to Vietnam. The family spent Christmas together as always, but with the future looming before us. Bill got engaged that Christmas! I remember him telling us that after he got home from Vietnam he and his girl, Sharon, would get married, he'd finish his time in the service, then go to college to become an architectural engineer. The Holidays passed, Christmas with all its glitter, joy and sharing of family love. Then the New Year was upon us, 1969 was here. Too quickly, his leave was over and the day we dreaded had come. That morning, I gave Bill a poem I had written for him, sharing my feelings about his going to war. He said he would keep it with him till he came home! The whole family, along with Bill's Fianc� took Bill to the Phillipsburg airport to catch his plane to California. We waited patiently for the plane, that would take him away, to arrive at the airport, actually hoping it would never come. But it did, and then the sad moment came to say Good-bye. Bill, one by one, said good-bye to his family members. He started with the youngest and worked his way up the family line. Kym, our baby sister, then Scott, our little brother, next to me. Bill and I had a very unique Brother/Sister relationship, we had always shared a special understanding with each other, to try real hard not to cry or be sad for the other. To face the challenges life gave us with a smile, to send the other on their way with something positive in their hearts. This day was no exception! When it came time for him to say good-bye to me he looked at me smiling, with the glistening beginning of tears in his eyes and whispered in my ear, "Be strong, for Mom and Dad for me. You'll be the oldest one at home now. Watch out for our little brother and sisters, they will need their big sister now more than ever. Listen to what Gram has to tell you, she can help you and teach you a lot. Please don't cry Sis, I want to leave, seeing you smile for me one last time." he gave me a kiss, smiled at me again and then he turned away and left me standing there. I fought hard to hold back the tears I could feel building in my eyes as I watched him say the rest of his good-byes, then leave and board that plane. But, I know as he looked back, one last time, I was smiling! That was the last time I saw my brother alive!
While Bill was in Vietnam he wrote home frequently always trying to keep his letters positive even though we all knew he was seeing and doing things that terrified him. He still thought of his family even when he wrote them. Of course they also told of his buddies and their friendships and some of the fun things they did together. He sent home pictures of the 21st Birthday dinner we had sent to him. He and his buddies cooking homemade spaghetti and sauce in their helmets with a birthday cake and all the trimmings for desert. While in Vietnam he still drew pictures and painted. He designed and painted a big poster for the Marine Unit he was assigned to over there.
On November 26th 1969, the day Bill was killed, our mother was in the hospital having some tests done. She had an allergic reaction to some of the medication they used for those tests and almost died herself. In the mail, that day, came a package for Mom from Bill. A Thanksgiving gift. We took it to her in the hospital for her to open. In it was a dozen roses, roses that had somehow, in the shipping, managed to have all the blooms broken off from the stems, all but one, which was still intact. In the box was a card that said "I Love You Mom, Happy Thanksgiving". It was two days later that we were notified that Bill had been killed! His death occurred while he and his Sergeant were trying to disarm a land mine they had found while on patrol. As he and the sergeant were trying to disarm it the enemy detonated it by remote control causing it to explode taking his life.
Bill's body was recovered and sent home. His body was laid to rest Dec 11, 1969 in the cemetery across the highway from the 28th Division Shrine in Boalsburg, Pa, a place Bill knew and loved well. For the Shrine bears a memorial to his namesake, Great Grandfather Captain Franklin D Wolfe, who gave his life while serving in France during WW I. The cemetery was also adjoining the property of the church he had attended before entering the Military. He was buried with full Military Honors. It was a cold day with a little sunshine and a small tracing of snow on the ground. To this day the sound of "Taps" still sends a chill through me as it recalls that day.
He was my brother!
I was lucky, I had the chance to know and love him!
He was an artist, he loved nature, animals, the sky, and all things beautiful.
He loved his family, his country and his God!
He died too Young!
His memory will live on in the lives of my own children and grandchildren!
And I will love him forever!
complete memorial for Bill Merrill
Placed by his sister,
La'Na R. Brown