Family history moment: Discovering history

I was born in July 1946, so I never knew my mother’s next youngest brother, Richard Miller Merrill, a WWII B-24 navigator, who died when his plane crashed two days before his 20th birthday on a bombing mission over Vienna, Austria, Oct. 17, 1944.

What actually happened to my Uncle Richard and his ten-man crew was unclear. The crew’s lone survivor was quoted in the Missing Air Crew Report indicating their B-24 was hit by flak over Vienna, spiraled under control, with one or two parachutes reported from the plane.

I listened somewhat intently when hearing stories about Uncle Richard during my growing up years. For some reason I began to think more about him in the late 1980s.

In May 1989, I was coming out of my third-floor office heading home at the end of the day in Pendleton, Oregon, when a still, small voice came into my mind, saying, “Your uncle trained in Walla Walla, Washington”… with a clear impression that I should begin searching for what actually happened to my uncle and his crew. For three years, I wrote letters, made phone calls and made visits across the United States.

Then a letter dated June 25, 1992, arrived from a woman with whom we had visited in Arkansas, who also lost a brother in WWII. She referred me to an Austrian named Felix Rameder who lived in Ebergassing, about 8 miles east of Vienna several miles from the crash site.

Felix was 13 years old in 1944. He recalled that Allied bombing was almost a daily occurrence and was a witness to what happened to my uncle’s plane. On Oct. 17, 1944, just after lunch, his mother tried to hustle her children into a shelter when he noticed a low flying B-24 coming in over his village, three miles from the Goetzendorf military airfield, with its wheels down.

Fascinated, he broke away from his mother, ran to his upstairs room and watched the plane’s final moments through binoculars. A green flare was shot from the plane meaning emergency landing, injured on-board.

Felix said the plane was fired upon by anti-aircraft from the small military airfield. The plane pulled up, turned on its left side and fell out of the sky. Felix said the crash of my uncle’s B-24 was the experience that led him to be an Austrian air war researcher after WWII.

The 48-year-old mystery and circumstances concerning my Uncle Richard and his crew were finally put to rest by the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost. — Kenneth Merrill Reading, Meridian Idaho Amity Stake

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