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Robert S. "Moose" Merritt

Moose Merritt on Maui in '43

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"Moose" Merritt came to "Butch" O'Hare's squadron in San Diego in the spring of '43. "Moose" was a seasoned fighter pilot and had the rank of Lt (jg) having been involved in the invasion of Tulagi in the Solomons. He claimed the distinctions of having been the last pilot to take off from the ill-fated USS Wasp (CV-7) after she was torpedoed on 15 Sept 1942 and before she was sunk off Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides Islands.

Merritt became one of the basic building blocks which our skipper, "Butch" used for the framework in his new squadron.. Other combat experienced pilots that fit in the same category were: George Bullard (XO), Sandy Crews (Ops), Paul Rooney, Al Fairbanks, Richard Tremble, Foster Blair and Dix Loesch.

VF-6 pilots Robert Merritt, Al Fairbanks and Paul Rooney July '43. Photo was part of a story done on the squadron by YANK, the Army Weekly the summer of '43 while we were at Maui.

See also the
Henry A. "Al" Fairbanks Dedication Page

VF-6 pilots Robert Merritt, Al Fairbanks and Paul Rooney July '43

At Puunene , Maui, when The squadron was first organized into divisions or teams, Merritt's division was made up of "Bob" Hobbs, "Tom" Hall, "Pearley" Gates and "Hoot" Hutt. (Spare). They flew that way very competitively, and developed a good reputation within the squadron.

After participating in practice operations on the USS Enterprise (CV-6), and the USS Essex (CV-9), his division embarked on the USS Independence (CVL-22), with Butch O'Hare and about two thirds of VF-6 pilots for the raid on the enemy held island of Marcus in early September, 1943.

Moose's division on Independence September 6, 1943. while returning to Hawaii. Photo shows L-R:- Bob Hobbs, "Moose" Merritt, "Pearley" Gates, Tom Hall, and "Hoot" Hutt

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Merritt's division was also involved in the carrier raid on Wake Island 15 and 16 October, 1943, along with Butch, flying from the Independence.

Soon after the Wake raid, "Butch" became the Commander of Air Group Six, and Harry "Stinkey" Harrison became the new skipper of VF-6.

Moose Merritt and his division remained aboard the Independence as she joined the Southern Carrier force, commanded by Adm Montgomery with two other carriers, USS Essex (CV-9) and USS Bunker Hill (CV-17). Their objective was to raid the enemy strong-hold at Rabaul where Adm Halsey had just recently (11/5/43) raided with the USS Saratoga (CV-3) and USS Princeton (CVL-23).

During the raid on Rabaul , Nov 11, '43 and in the defense of the carrier force, Merritt's division became involved in a huge dog fight against about 120 enemy fighters who attacked in several waves. During the hour long fight forty enemy planes were shot down while we lost eleven. "Pearley" Gates, "Tom" Hall and "Bob" Hobbs each shot down one plane while Merritt downed two. Unfortunately "Pearley" Gates did not survive.

As the force withdrew after the battle, Admiral Montgomery took his three carriers north to get in on Operation Galvanic*, which was scheduled to begin on 20th of November.

That very Day Nov 20, '43, the USS Independence was hit by three torpedoes (only one exploded) which knocked her out of action. She retired under her own power and withdrew to Funafuti in the Ellis Islands for emergency repairs.

After "Butch" O'Hare had been lost in a night defensive operation on 25 November and Operation Galvanic had been concluded on 4 Dec '43, all parts of Fighting Squadron Six managed to get back together at Kaneohe, Hawaii: i.e. "Stinkey" Harrison with "Moose" Merritt and his division and two others from the USS Independence, George Bullard with his 12 plane flight coming off the USS Cowpens (CVL-25), and Paul Rooney with his three divisions coming from the USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24).

This afforded the squadron the opportunity to rest and time to compare notes on recent operations and perhaps time to mourn the loss of their beloved leader "Butch" O'Hare .

On Christmas Eve 1943, "Moose" was a part of a twenty plane Memorial flight (lead by George Bullard) that winged its way to Maui. (Hersch Pahl and Pick Butler, non-pilot, arrived the day before). These 21 pilots and Pick Butler gathered at the home of Frank and Ethel Hoogs, dear friends of "Butch and his boys" as they called them. Together, they joined many other Island friends and loved ones in celebrating Christmas and paying solemn respect for "Butch". They all flew back to Barbers Point on Oahu the next morning, Dec 26, in a single flight of 21 hellcats as a final salute to "Butch" O'Hare. (See a more in-depth mention of this Christmas Party at the Hoogs' on the Butch O'Hare Dedication Page).

In early January, 1944, Merritt's division was reorganized as Air Group Six prepared to embark on the new carrier USS Intrepid (CV-11). Byron Byron "By" Webster and "Cherry" Klingler became his second section, while "Tom" Hall was moved over and became the wing-man for Al Vraciu.

That January, the Intrepid, as part of the largest task force ever assembled, under the command of Adm Spruance, sailed down south of the equator and then north to begin Operation Flintlock against the enemy-held Marshall Islands.

The operation began on 29 January and was completed in early February, 1944.

"Moose" Merritt and his division participated in the invasion before the force retired to Majuro Atoll for rest and re-supplies.

While re-supplying and preparing to attack the enemy at Truk Atoll, the squadron participated in a photo op.

VF-6 squadron as it was in early Feb '44 aboard the Intrepid at Majuro Atoll.

VF-6 Squadron Members,
February 1944 - at Truk Atoll


Stinkey Harrisons three division flight on the Intrepid at Majuro Atoll in early Feb '44. Moose Merritt's division is in the second row. L-R:- Merritt, Hobbs, Byron Webster, and "Cherry" Klingler.

List of Pilots in VF-6 Squadron Photo on left above:

Front Row, L-R: James Nichols, John Johnston, Willie Callan, Sy Mendenhall, Smoellen, Robert Klingler, Bloomfield, Jack Dunn, Godsen, Mitchell, Moyer, Bob Hobbs, and Malcomb Loesch.

Second Row: L-R: Altemus, Dan Lamb, Bud Kramer, Dix Loesch, Al Fairbanks, Dick Trimbell, Cy Chambers, George Bullard, Harry Harrison, Wheels Davis, Warren, Joe Robbins, Tom Kerr, Wilton Hutt, Hersch Pahl and Moinahan.

Third Row: L-R: William Searls, Gordon Little, Bob Merritt, John Ogg, John Stann, George Rogers, Byron Webster, Harvey Odenbrett, Sverre O. "Steve" Bach, Paul Rooney, Clifford Seaver, McCord, Pick Butler, Thadius Coleman and Al Vraciu.

Wing, L-R: Pealer, Roger Gunn, Ahern, Decker, Clyd "Buzzy" Bauer, Anastasio, Steel, Willis Dawson, Chief Williams, Lunsford, "Ugly" Alexander, Berrett, Steve Piwetz, Yeoman Hansen, Shamrow, Aiello, McKnight and Budd.

The INTREPID and Air Group Six participated in the raid against the enemy strong hold at Truk on 14 February 1944. Unfortunately, this gallant ship was hit by an aerial torpedo during the night and was forced to leave the battle group and make her way back to Pearl Harbor via Majuro.

The torpedo damaged the ship's rudder and made it difficult to maintain a straight course. To assist in the process the air group pilots (including Merritt), assisted the damage control people in erecting palisades on the forward end of the flight deck to support a huge canvass sail. The structure gave some assistance to the steerage problem and the event went down in history as the last capital ship to use a canvass sail at sea.

After participating in a Crossing the Line ceremony, where "Polliwogs" were duly initiated and inducted into the realm of King Neptune, "Ruler of the Deep" to become honorable "Shellbacks". The air group was launched on 24 February and flew into Ford Island and the USS Intrepid entered port at Pearl Harbor the next day and soon went into dry dock to take care of her wounds. . .

The personnel of VF-6 embarked on the USS White Plains (CVE-66) and passed under the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco on March 6, 1944, to end the first cruise of Butch O'Hare's fighter squadron. This was the end of the second combat cruise for "Moose" Merritt and a few others.

"Moose" Merritt was reassigned to shore duty and then I lost track of him until years after the end of hostilities.

L-R Bob Merritt and Hersch Pahl near Bob's
Business in Redlands, CA - about 1980

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In the 80s while I was visiting my Brother, Harold in Redlands, CA, I discovered that "Moose" was a local business man (with Dean Witter Co). We were able to get together for a short visit over a cup of coffee and later my wife Bonnie and I were dinner guest of the Merritt's in their Redlands home.

n 1990 Moose attended the first big VF-6 reunion held in Chicago, Ill. In addition to visiting with other squadron mates, Merritt and a bus load of other attendees gathered in the terminal of O'Hare Field where we ceremoniously presented a plaque to the city to be added to the Butch O'Hare Memorial located in the Terminal building.

VF-6 Reunions

Only a few short years later Moose took that "final cut" to land on that big deck in the sky to join Butch, The Bull, Sandy, Pearley, Tom Hall. Bobby Neel and other old buddies.

Moose Merritt was one great guy.

- Hersch Pahl

* Operation Galvanic is also mentioned on the following pages. Use your 'Back Button' or 'Return' Button at bottom of the page to return here.

  1. Pete Somerville Dedication
  2. Tom Hall Dedication
  3. Things of Interest - Play by Play Reporting

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