When Merlin Lanphier graduated from Newton Senior High School in 1943, he was already considered something of a local legend, two years later, he would be immortalized as a national hero.
Merlin left for the Army Air Corps (Air Force), one month after graduating from NHS and was well known for his athletic prowess. His athleticism most likely helped him ascend the ranks quickly, because by the time he was 20, Merlin was a second Lieutenant.
As a member of the Army Air Corps, Merlin was involved in the China-Burma-India Theater of World War II and served as a pilot on a North American B-25 Mitchell, which is a medium sized bomber and considered a highly equipped armory on wings.
B-25s were the primary plane of choice for the “Rough Raiders” of the 500th Bomb Squadron, a division of 345th Bombardment Wing. Merlin belonged to this group of aerial warriors and according to a website dedicated to all things 500th, the squadron dispersed 12,586,000 rounds of ammunition, dropped 6,430 tons of bombs put in a little less than 60,000 hours of flight.
This squad was as an essential unit in the war efforts in Southeast Asia in WWII and sacrificed 588 personnel to ensure America’s success in the war. Merlin was one of the men who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and a report from the Air Corps details the moment.
“On August 6, 1945, five men were killed in action due to (their) airplane being by hit by (anti-aircraft fire) from an enemy gunboat, causing the plane to cartwheel in the air and explode as it hit the water alongside the gunboat, near Fusan Harbor, Korea. No possible survivors.”
Merlin’s unit was there was a part of an overall mission to find and engage a reported convoy of 25 enemy vessels. Another report from the Air Corps detailed this operation.
“The first flight of six B-25J’s sighted an estimated 20 vessels in the Fusan area of southeast Korea. Because of the position of this squadron in the group, it was in the best position to make an attack on the gunboat. Taking four passes at this vessel, the squadron scored at least two direct hits and the ship was seen to roll over and disappear.”
“The second flight of 5-25J’s did not attack the convoy, but made its search east of Fusan, where the vessels had found refuge in the harbors. (Two armed Japanese merchant ships) were sighted and sunk. Eight bombs were also dropped on the southern tip of Orono Snina starting many small fires.”
Officials declared the bombing raids, for the most part, a success and said all targets were “strafed with accuracy” as was a 35 foot long enemy ship that was anchored close to the east coast of Crono Shinia. However, one portion of the mission didn’t go as well.
“One plane and crew were lost over the target,” read the last portion of the report.
Merlin’s quick ascension and honorable death resulted in him being posthumously being awarded the Purple Heart, Air, World War II Victory and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medals as well as an Honorable Service in WWII pin.
At the time of his death, he left behind both of his parents, three brothers and one sister and was labeled a “well-known Newton Athletic Star” in a 1945 edition of the Daily News.
Merlin is buried at Mount Zion Cemetery in Newton and his gravestone reads his name and “500th Bomb SQD,” proving that he was truly a Rough Raider until the end.
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.