Robert O. Merriman

Robert O. Merriman's Harley. Courtesy photo

Often, word of mouth leads to another Veteran and another excellent article and that’s the case here with Bob Merriman.

Recently, I had interviewed WWII Veteran Paul Yadlosky with his son Mike’s assistance. Later Mike informed me of Bob’s service which led us to meeting at Valencia’s Corner Bakery. It was a pleasure meeting Bob and learning about his honorable service.

Rocketing on the 405

Bob Merriman was born Sept. 24, 1946 in Racine, Wisconsin, and, at 5 years old his family moved to Southern California where he grew up graduating from Bishop Alemany High School June 19, 1964. Hollywood comedian Richard “Cheech” Marin was a fellow graduate.

Bob’s father was elated that he planned to attend college so he presented him with an impressive graduation gift – a 1964 hi performance Buick Special.

Bob’s dad said, “I know you can drive it but, don’t let anyone else drive it.”

However, on Dec. 21, 1964, Bob allowed his best friend Dick Farnsworth to drive his new car with him to Culver City for a maintenance service call.

While cruising southbound in I-405’s fast lane approaching Westwood, they encountered a sluggish driver so Dick promptly down shifted and sped around that slow motorist. Unfortunately, Dick lost complete control and rocketed across all four lanes slamming into a guard rail taking out two sections and then ramming into a bridge abutment. At age 18, that horrendous accident left Bob’s Buick broken into two sections.

Bob was knocked unconscious and left with a broken back and horrific facial injuries resulting in 500 stitches. He had cosmetic surgery and was in a body cast for one month and spent nine months on crutches. He lost two teeth and his lower lip was practically severed off. Needless to say, this was a memorable life experience for Bob.

Uncle Sam’s Greeting

After recovery, while attending Valley State College Bob became disenchanted as he considered himself a “gear head” having much more interest in construction and drag racing.

Soon he befriended brothers of legendary Mopar drag racer Dick Landy, nick named “Dandy Dick,” which led him to working for Hank Landy who owned H & K Construction Inc.

Meanwhile, Bob further infuriated his Dad by leaving college which resulted in immediate induction into the U.S. Army on Oct. 25, 1966. Bob literally limped through induction at the Los Angeles induction station, armed with UCLA medical staff letters informing the induction personnel that Bob was unfit for military service due to serious injuries.

However, those informative letters were soundly rejected as Uncle Sam required mass numbers of troops in Vietnam. Bob was highly dismayed but was bound and determined to serve his country honorably.

Merriman’s home sweet home, Chu Lai 1968. Courtesy photo

#1 Army Buzz

Bob was sent to Fort Ord, Calif. for 10 days of Army induction that included a #1 Army buzz haircut, multiple vaccinations, brand new olive drab clothing, and all things Army.

Afterwards, Bob and his fellow soldiers were airlifted to Fort Hood, Texas for Basic Training joining the 5th/6th Infantry, 1st Armored Division.

After Basic, Bob was then classified as senior clerk assigned to the unit’s motor pool. The 5th/6th Infantry trained at Fort Hood for one year before going to Oakland for deployment to Danang, Vietnam aboard a Navy transport ship, the USNS Upshur.

Robert O. Merriman at Chu Lai Air Base 1968. Courtesy photo

By November 1967, Specialist 4th Class Bob Merriman arrived at the Chu Lai Air Base assigned to the 1st/6th Infantry Battalion, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Infantry Division.

Bob’s unit was positioned on a Chu Lai hill next to an artillery unit, thus it was immediately noticeable that every night would be filled with nerve-rattling, continuous, thunderous cannon fire that supported infantry missions.

Bloodied Combat Gear

Bob’s chief responsibility was providing everything his 198th infantry troopers required in the field such as ammunition, c-rations, PRC Radios, jungle boots, fatigues, helmets, etc.

Merriman 198th Patch

There were a number of memorable events during Bob’s tour of duty, notably The Battle for Lo Giang south of Danang, which was part of the North Vietnamese massive 1968 Tet Offensive.

The 1st Marine Division was under heavy assault when elements of the 198th Light Infantry Brigade was sent to Lo Giang to assist battling the NVA.

After four days of fierce fighting, the threat to Danang was obliterated. Americal Division units killed 308 enemy soldiers while the Marines killed 411.

Bob’s job was “direct exchange” which meant prompt replacement of combat damaged equipment. And, too often that included replacing bloodied gear of his fallen warriors.

This battle served as a stark reminder of combat’s viciousness that left a lasting impact on Bob.

Tragic Mistake

In September 1968 Bob was assigned perimeter bunker guard duty for several days with two newly arrived replacements who grew up together and joined the Army on the buddy system.

One night, while one replacement was on his two-hour shift, Bob abruptly awoke to gun fire and discovered that somehow one of the newbie’s had mysteriously wandered off and inadvertently shot and killed his lifelong friend.

Bob will never forget that distraught soldier reacting to his tragic mistake as he hysterically ran around in utter turmoil. That panic-stricken young soldier ended up in mental psychotherapy.

Meanwhile, another soldier arrived to continue guard duty with Bob to whom he credits for saving his sanity as this disaster deeply anguished him.

Merriman Vietnam Campaign Medal

Bob’s tour ended Oct. 1, 1968, so he departed Cam Ranh Bay for Fort Lewis, Washington, but his flight was diverted to Anchorage, Alaska for several hours due to inclement weather.

When they finally lifted off a bumpy runway, their pilot announced that their front landing gear was destroyed, which freaked out the homebound soldiers. While approaching Oakland, the pilot ordered everyone to prepare for a crash landing, but fortunately only one tire had blown out.

Early Retirement

Bob was promptly honorably discharged so he returned to his parent’s Granada Hills home to attend Loyola University.

To his Dad’s great frustration, Bob left college again and went back to H & K Construction for two years with the goal of becoming a general contractor.

But, soon, he applied with Los Angeles County for a journeyman carpenter job. Of 360 applicants, Bob was quickly hired as his test score was 4th highest. Bob worked for L.A. County until retirement at age 62.

In 1972, while visiting his Dad at St. Vincent’s hospital, Bob was attracted to a beautiful nurse named Terry Stark and soon they were dating.

Nine months later they were married and promptly purchased a new home in Canyon Country and together they had one son and one daughter.

Bob Merriman & wife Jody. Courtesy photo

Due to irreconcilable differences they divorced and later Bob married Jody McKnight and they had one son. Sadly, Jody passed away Dec. 19, 2013.

These days, Bob is very active with the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), riding his Harley Davidson and enjoying sports shooting. Bob maintains a cheerful and positive attitude despite tough times losing a wife, overcoming three heart attacks, colon cancer, and spinal fusion. Bob is a proud Vietnam Veteran and very proud of achieving the American Dream.

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