The families of Private Walter Smith and Lance Corporal William Merrill, along with Muncy Historical Society, will host a Bridge and Highway Dedication Ceremony, in recognition of the deceased soldiers’ service and sacrifices, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9 at the Muncy Baptist Church, 11 West Penn Street, Muncy.
State Representative Garth Everett introduced, and achieved passage of House Bill 1407–Act 46 of the 2016 Pennsylvania Legislature, which included language to designate the bridge on State Route 2014 over the Muncy Creek, Muncy Creek Township as the Private Walter L. Smith Spanish-American War Memorial Bridge, as well as a portion of State Route 2044 as the Lance Corporal William F. Merrill Vietnam Veterans Highway. Family members and state officials will unveil the bridge and road signs at the dedication ceremony.
Walter L. Smith, a native of the Port Penn section of Muncy Creek Township, first enlisted as a private in the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in May, 1898, and on November 11, 1898, just 10 days after his discharge, he reenlisted in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Cuba from Dec. 29, 1898 to Sept. 6, 1900, and, in April 1901, he arrived in the Philippines. On July 28, 1901, while on a supply patrol with a small detachment, he bravely and selflessly defended members of his company against an overwhelming ambush attack by approximately 60 native insurgents at Don Carlon, Samar, Philippine Islands.
During the engagement, his sergeant, the only other man who was armed, was shot and killed by the insurgents. As Private Smith, with courage and fearlessness, fought alone, and under the protective cover of his return fire, his actions saved the lives of two unarmed soldiers. He was soon overpowered, captured and taken prisoner. The U.S. Army conducted multiple searches to locate Private Smith, listing him as missing in action until Feb. 10, 1902, when the fact was established, beyond a doubt, that he had met his death at the hands of the insurgents on the date of his capture, July 28, 1901.
Private Smith’s remains were never recovered, and in 2006, family members honored his service by placing a government-issued memorial headstone in the Smith family plot, Muncy Cemetery.
Lance Corporal William F. Merrill, a Muncy High School graduate, Class of 1966, enlisted in the U. S. Marines in May, 1968 and was assigned to India Co., 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines in Vietnam as a radioman. He was with the 1st Marines during Operation Oklahoma Hills, a clear and search operation, whose objective was to clear out NVA units from their base camps and infiltration routes in the hills and valleys of Quang Nam Province, southwest of Da Nang. Though these NVA units largely avoided major confrontation with the Marines during the operation, 44 Marines were killed and 439 suffered injuries requiring medical evacuation. Under heavy enemy small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire, Merrill, with complete disregard for his own personal safety, ran across open and fire-swept terrain to retrieve a fallen comrade. After administering life-saving first aid, Merrill carried the wounded Marine to a covered location where he could receive professional treatment. On Aug. 7, 1969, Merrill was wounded by shrapnel and although treated, he was not removed from duty. On Nov. 26, 1969 nine Marines, along with Merrill, were returning to India’s position when they came to a ravine. The first man to cross the danger area hit a wire, which was attached to a booby trap, and he called out for Merrill, who then guarded the device as the rest of the Marines went around the danger area. Merrill called for his sergeant to come up and as they were standing at the device, the booby trap, believed to be command detonated, went off, killing Merrill and fatally wounding his sergeant.
Lance Corporal Merrill’s body was returned for burial in the Boalsburg Cemetery, across the highway from the 28th Division Shrine. His grave is near that of his namesake, his great grandfather Capt. Franklin D. Wolfe, who gave his life while serving in France during World War I.
The ceremony to honor and remember the service and sacrifices of Private Smith and Lance Corporal Merrill is open to the public. A reception will immediately follow the ceremony. Please call (570) 546-5917 or visit the society’s website, http://www.MuncyHistoricalSociety.org, for more information.