James Merrick, Jr. - Lieutenant
- Air Medal with V (for valor) (Somalia)
- American Defense Medal
- Viet Nam
Lieutenant James Lee Merrick, Jr. was born was born on Tuesday, September 21st, 1943, to James Lee Merrick, Sr. and Mary Watkins (formerly Merrick) right here in Ames, Iowa. As a young boy, Jami (as he was called then) was active in the local Cub Scouts Troop 46, where his mother Mary was the den mother. In one notable ceremony, he received a bear badge, a gold arrowhead, a silver arrowhead, and even played the role of one half of a horse in the ceremony’s “Western” skit. Merrick was devoted to his faith and attended St. Cecilia’s before enrolling in Ames High School. In high school, Jami, who now went by Jim, developed a love for sports, golf and football in particular. In fact, in 1959 The Ames Tribune wrote a story about a fateful golf meet that was all tied up, and Merrick had to make his last putt to win the meet. Unfortunately, the putt stopped one inch short of the hole, ending Ames High’s three-year reign as golf league champion. Jim loved football almost as much as he loved golf, and played tight end for the varsity team. He also went on to coach a squadron football team during his time in the Navy, and his team won the 11th Naval District Fleet League Football Championship that year.
While Jim was growing up, he spent much of his time on the water. The Merricks had a lake house in Minnesota, and his grandparents on the other side had a lake house in Wisconsin. He loved time spent on the lake, and was an excellent swimmer. He even taught one of his dogs, a Weimaraner named Duke, how to swim with floats, while his other dog, a Chesapeake Bay retriever named Red, stayed on shore. Jim cherished his time at the lake, and in 1962, he wrote the following poem about the lake house in Wisconsin.
The shore rises abruptly from the water’s edge
and the clay blends silently with the scraggly birch,
the handsome oak, and majestic pine.
You walk not on the rocky crust of this earth,
but on its underbelly of layers upon layers of soft pine needles.
The pale blue of the sky plunges into the icy blue water
and hides itself beneath the broken green shadows
cast from the hills above it with but a few rebellious ripples to disrupt it serene calm.
The spicy but sweet scent of pine is betrayed by
a subtle hint of a breeze wafting it through the trees.
The same breeze initiates an applause from the leaves and
branches as through voicing their approval of their environment.
It is impossible to put into words the regal splendor
and majesty of this eden.
To fully appreciate it one must view this panorama
of God’s grace for himself.
Jim enjoyed spending time with his family, and they shared many of the same interests. In fact, Merrick’s father, James Lee Merrick, Sr. and grandfather, Charles I. Merrick, were both in the armed forces as well. His father served during World War II as a B29 bomber flight instructor in Nebraska, while his grandfather served in both World War I and II as a flight instructor to French pilots. They were even flight instructors at the same time for a brief period during World War II. Flying was certainly in the Merrick family blood, as James Merrick, Jr. would eventually receive wings of his own.
Jim was in the Ames High graduating class of 1961, and went on to study at Iowa State University the next fall, joining the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity and enrolling in the NROTC program. In the summer of his junior year, he was assigned to summer cruise duty in the Western Pacific on the USS Duncan. Summer cruises were required of cadets before they finished their NROTC training at Iowa State and before they reported for duty following graduation and commissioning. Jim Merrick was a member of the first group of American midshipmen to visit Australia since World War II. The group arrived there on two Navy destroyers, and are shown in a photo in the Ames Tribune looking at traditional Australian wool sweaters in a Sydney store.
In the spring of 1965, Merrick graduated from ISU with a B.S. degree and was commissioned ensign, U.S. Navy, in August, 1965.
Merrick’s training as a Naval Aviator took place in Pensacola, Florida, and Corpus Christi, Texas. He received his wings in March 1967, and was assigned to the Photo Reconnaissance Squadron on the carrier USS Hancock. He flew an F-8 Crusader began flying an F-8 c in the Vietnam War in August of 1968. On Thursday, October 3rd, 1968, while returning from a routine mission over North Korea, Lieutenant Merrick was killed over the South China Sea due to non-hostile causes at the young age of 25.
Lt. Merrick was awarded the Air Medal, National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Because of Lt. Merrick’s devotion to his country, his mother, Mary Watkins, gives a scholarship in Jim’s name every year to the highest-ranking midshipman in the NROTC program at ISU who has been chosen for Naval Aviation Training.