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Highlighting the World Wars I & II Memorabilia Collection of Dave Sleeper

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Atwell Jr, Merrill H


Rank: Aviation Radioman 3rd Class
Serial Number: 8073924
Military Branch: USS Shangrila, CV-38, VB-85
Origin: Connecticut
Date of Death: 1945-4-29
Honolulu Memorial
Featured: No

ARM3C Merrill Hadley Atwell Jr. enlisted in the Navy on April 2, 1943 in Hartford, Connecticut. He was born in Eden, Vermont on August 22, 1924. He was the son of Merrill and Marjorie Atwell of Newington, Conn. He had been the President of his senior class in Newington High School. He was assigned to train at the US Naval Training Station in Sampson, New York. He was transferred to the Naval Air Training Center in Memphis, Tennessee April 10, 1943  for Aviation Radioman School. He was promoted to S1c October 16, 1943. October 30, 1943, he was transferred to Naval Air Gunner's School in Jacksonville. His rate was changed to ARM3c on November 20, 1943. He was transferred to NAS, Daytona Beach for operational training on December 6, 1943 and completed that training March 6, 1944. He was assigned to Bombing Squadron 85 on May 15, 1944. On August, 15, 1944 he had completed his 3 month's training and was qualified radio and radar operator and aerial gunner.

He was a gunner in a Helldiver in air group CVG 85 stationed on the USS Shangri-La. His plane was piloted by Lt.(jg) Robert Elmore. Accompanying paperwork shows his plane to be an SB2C-4E, BUNR 20755. His was one of three VB-85 planes lost that day. A pilot Ensign Charles C. Brownmiller was killed, but his crewman, AMM3c Frederick Coffee was rescued having received burns. The report of the loss is detailed in "USS Shangri-La" published by Turner in 2002 follows:

"Later that same morning, Shangri-la launched three dozen aircraft to attack targets on Kikai Jima. The raid encountered moderate but accurate anti-aircraft fire and three of Air Group 85's planes were shot down. The Helldriver flown by Lt.(jg) Robert Elmore had a wing shot off, causing it to spin violently into the sea with no chance of survival for Elmore or his gunner, ARM3 Merrill Atwell, Jr. Elmore and Atwell were Shangri-La's first combat casualties."

The group includes Atwell's posthumous officially engraved Type 3 Purple Heart and its presentation case plus the outside wrapper of the Registered Mail for the shipping box that has his parents' address on it. Also included is a copy of his service record from St. Louis.

The group also includes Merrill's undated posthumous Navy Good Conduct medal, WW2 Vistory medal, Asiatic/Pacific Campaign medal, American Campaign medal, blue wool Navy hat, and his squadron painted M422A flying jacket with nametag that is well worn. These items had been in the possession of Merrill's nephew and that of another collector until May, 2013, when I acquired them. 

Included below is a rendering of the actual VB-85 patch in full color, showing what it would have looked like when it was first painted.