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Silence of a Soldier
William J. Duggan
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with a vengence. We kept our introduction brief because we didn’t wish to interrupt their lunch. The couple
introduced themselves as Smith and Gertrude Merrill. As we prepared to make our departure, Gertrude said,
“Now don’t you mind us because we are kind of queer” With a chuckle we replied, “Well, aren’t we all!” From
that time on we became good neighbors; never intrusive, but always willing to lend a helping hand.
We moved into our home in mid-August. Since both our lawns were young, they needed some tender loving
care. Bub (Smith) and Treg( Gertrude) Merrill were often outdoors working on the lawn or the flower bed. Bub
and I would occasionally meet in the vacant field between our houses. We chatted about this and that,
complained about the owner’s association, talked about the lawns.I did not know at that time that Bub was a
survivor of the Bataan Death March. He never mentioned it. It was a neighbor across the street who told me
about Bub and Bataan. Being somewhat of a WW11 buff, Bub Merrill took on a new fascination for me.
Bub’s formal name was Smith Merrill, the son of Laura and Leigh Merrill.This did not mean much to me at
first until I made the connection that Bub’s mother, Laura was the daughter of Christopher Smith, the founder of
The ChrisCraft Corporation. As a child, I grew up in Detroit. Along the Detroit River, the names of ChristCraft
and Gar Wood were household names, especially in the world of power boat racing. In the late summer of 1997,
I read Mitch Albom’s book, “Tuesdays With Morrie.” It was a heart warming story about the relationship
between a former student and a lovable professor in the last throes of a killing disease. The thought struck me
that Bub Merrill was truly a wonderful subject for a book. His personal experiences as a Japanese prisoner of
war would provide any reader with greater insights into the tragedy of the Bataan Death March and of Japanese
imprisonment. There was just one problem; Bub was very reluctant to talk about it. He had taken great pains to
block out from his memory these terrible experiences He was also afraid that he wouldn’t be able to remember
specific times and places. I did not press Bub any further, that summer. When the winds of October blow off
Lake Michigan, it is time to head south. The snow blizzards are not far behind. We winter at Seabrook Island, a
few miles south of Charleston, South Carolina. This area is one of God’s garden spots known as “ the low
country’. Bub and I would communicate via the Internet. Mostly, we would exchange the innumerable jokes
that would float across our screens. Bub took an interest in the Internet. He made an effort to find some of his
fellow prisoners. He was amazed to learn how much information about the Bataan Death March was available
via the Internet. The Internet served as a key to open his memory. He began to remember more clearly the sad
events of his life. As he sent and received information about fellow prisoners who shared similar experiences,
the cloud of silence concerning these events began to lift.
The title, Silence Of A Soldier, has a twofold significance. When Bub was captured by the Japanese, a veil of
silence lingered for four years. His mother and father had no word from him. The last word his beloved
Gertrude would receive was a Christmas card from Del Carmen, Philippines, dated December 19, 1941. She
would not hear from or about him until 1945. This remarkable young girl had a deep love for Bub. She knew in
the depths of her heart Bub would return. She never faltered in this belief. The second aspect of this soldier’s
silence was that for many years after the war, Bub would not talk about The March nor his imprisonment. These
memories were simply too painful. He blocked them from his mind. Only time would heal the scars inflicted
upon his body and soul by a brutal and inhumane enemy.
The summers of 1998 and 1999 were spent pretty much the same We frequently saw Bub and Gertrude
working outdoors. Our routines were occasionally broken by having lunch at one of our favorite hamburger
joints. In the spring of 2000, I approached Bub once again about writing his story. He was quite responsive. He
was willing to talk about his experiences. He felt he owed an accounting to his children. The story that unfolds
is a true story. It reflects the memoirs of a man in his eighties. But, these memories are quite accurate when
cross checked against the vast materials that are available. What unfolds is not a history or a chronology. It is
annecdotal: the story of a young man caught up in the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and his subsequent
imprisonment. It is a story of the will to survive expressed by the survivor. It is a remarkable story about a
remarkable man; simple, honest, and courageous. He would blush at my use of these words.But, they are true.
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