William R. “Bill” Merrick was born on 8 December 1920, in LaSalle, Illinois, to William J. and Estella McCormick Merrick. He was the couple’s second son; their older son Harold was born in 1915 about a year after they married in 1914. William’s family on both his mother’s and father’s side lived in the United States for generations. However all but his maternal grandmother passed away either before he was born or when he was a small child. William probably knew his maternal grandmother well because his family lived with her and her second husband at 300 Third street in LaSalle at the time he was born.
In 1928 when William was eight years old, his grandmother’s second husband, Peter Baines, passed away. He had caught the flu and died after it developed into bronchopneumonia. After his death, William’s family continued to live with his grandmother at 300 Third street. During this time, William’s father worked as a dispatcher for a streetcar company. As William grew up, his family remained at their home on Third. He and his brother attended LaSalle-Peru High School. William played the clarinet and was in band all four years.
As an adult Harold, William’s older brother, attended a commercial school and worked as a musician. After high school, William worked a clerical job at Carus Chemical Company in LaSalle. The place where he worked was a particularly interesting choice based on an entry in his senior year high school yearbook which noted William was “baffled by chemistry.”
The day before William’s 21st birthday, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor; on his birthday, America entered the war. On the cusp of adulthood, William like many other young men at the time may have been wondering how their country’s involvement in the world war would impact their future. Within a couple months, William registered for the draft on 16 February 1942. Then a grown man, he stood 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 150 pounds with blue eyes and brown hair. William’s brother Harold had registered two years earlier in 1940 and entered the Army in November 1941. Almost a year after his brother entered the war, William enlisted in the Marines on 22 September 1942. His family held a gathering for him before he left for Chicago. At the time he expected to travel to Camp Elliott, San Diego for basic training.
After basic training Merrick entered the USMC HQ BN 3rd Marine Division HQ Company and deployed during January and February in 1943 to Auckland, New Zealand. From there his division participated in the Bougainville and Northern Solomons campaigns. On 21 July 1944, the 3rd Marine Division was part of the assault landing of forces in Guam. During the invasion, SGT William R. Merrick along with his division attacked the western beaches of Guam near Asan Point. He was killed in action during the first day of the mission. After his death, his division experienced another 19 days of savage fighting before the island was secured. SGT William R. Merrick was interred in a temporary grave until his body could be returned to Peru in 1948. That year, he was laid to rest in Peru City Cemetery.
SGT William R. Merrick received the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal. A year after losing his son, William Merrick Sr. died.
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 421,000+ of the US WWII fallen saved on Together We Served and Fold3. Can you help write these stories? These stories will be accessible via smartphone app at any war memorial or cemetery.
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You can also access this story at the following sites:
1920 U.S. Census, Peter Baines, Ancestry.
1930 U.S. Census, W.J. Merrick, Ancestry.
1940 U.S. Census, Mary Merrick, Ancestry.
Death Certificate, Peter Baines, 1928, uploaded to Ancestry by user patwilks69
U.S. Headstone Applications, William R. Merrick, Ancestry.
U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-2016, LaSalle-Peru High School, 1938, p. 42, Ancestry.
U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, William Merrick, Ancestry.
U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, Harold Merrick, Ancestry.
U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, Harold Merrick, Ancestry.
U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-2016, LaSalle-Peru High School, 1937, p. 89, Ancestry.
The 3rd Marine Division and Its Regiments, History and Museums Division Headquarters, USMC, 1983.