Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Story of Merle Herron-A Wake Island Marines & POW during WW II

As a former social studies teacher, my passion for all things related to social studies continues.  I know most people are familiar with the story of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; “the date that will live in infamy.” But, few know the story behind Japan’s subsequent attacks on Guam, Midway, and Wake.  My Great Uncle Merle Herron was a Marines on Wake Island during the attack and eventual surrender to the Japanese. 

He was held by the Japanese as a prisoner of war until the end of the war in August 1945. Click on the following link to read Merle's 5 page personal account from December 1941 through September 1945.

All the details in Merle’s account speak for themselves. You will notice the date listed at the end; January 12, 1988.  It took him about 40 years before he was able to talk about his experiences. The final paragraphs summarizes his reasons why:

After I read Merle’s account, I wanted to know more, so I completed additional research of the Wake Island Marines for classes within my social studies major.  I started my teaching career as a social studies teacher in 1993. It would have been great to have Merle speak to my classes, but even better, I was hoping to interview, video, and archive Merle discussing his experiences.  I was extremely grateful that he agreed to be interviewed and video taped on a visit to his cabin in 1994. Here is the video:

It was one of the moments of my life that I know I will never forget. Spending time with and having the opportunity to interview not only a World War II veteran, but one who survived the cruelties of war as a prisoner of war.  In my eyes, A TRUE HERO. But, I found one quote by Merle to be a true testament to his character and others who also served:

“Some of the fellas gave their lives, so they are more of the heroes than the ones that survived.”

Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, supports his sentiment:

“It may be historically premature to judge the greatness of a whole generation, but indisputably, there are common traits that cannot be denied. It is a generation that, by and large, made no demands of homage from those who followed and prospered economically, politically, and culturally because of its sacrifices. It is a generation of towering achievement and modest demeanor, a legacy of their formative years when they were participants in and witness to sacrifices of the highest order.”

With so many troubling stories around the world and on the news every day, one can only wonder, why does war, hate, stereotypes, and racism continue today? It is obvious that the human race hasn't learned much or learned from its history, even after the sacrifices made by so many. The best way we can honor our veterans, former POWs, the MIAs, and those struggling with PTSD, is to model, hope, and pray for a more empathetic and peaceful world. Finally, we can also honor our veterans by never taking for granted the freedoms we have today. In Merle's words:

“I hope that helps the younger children to know what a lot of the ones in World War II sacrificed and especially the ones that died and gave their lives we wouldn’t have the freedom that we have.”

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