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WWII veteran recalls bombing raid

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Allies invaded Japanese-held Biak Island near New Guinea on May 27, 1944. Japanese forces were entrenched in the island's interior limestone caves and fortifications.

After fierce fighting, the island was secured by the Allies on July 22.

American forces lost 435 and had 2,360 wounded in battle while invading the island.

The enemy continued to fight.

Albany's Merriell W. Eubanks, an airplane mechanic with the 156th AAF Base Unit, Southwest Pacific Wing, Air Transportation Command during World War II, was awarded the Purple Heart for the injuries he suffered in combat on Biak during a later USO show.

"The Japs were about gone when the USO came. The show was in a hillside theater. It was set on a hillside," said Eubanks, at the time a corporal with the Army Air Forces. "The master of ceremonies came out and said we would see a show called 'Hellzapoppin.' "

Thinking that he had already seen enough hell in the war, Eubanks left the hillside where the show was going on to return to his tent.

Eubanks' tent was usually a gathering place where he had gotten enough Coca-Cola syrup to make the soda and socialize with his Army Air Force fellows.

"We didn't have any ice, but it was good Coca-Cola," Eubanks said. "Even the pilots came around to my tent."

This night hundreds of military personnel were gathered at the theater for the show. Alone, Eubanks was back in his tent when he heard a plane, or two, or more.

"I knew it was a Japanese plane because the propellers were not in sync," said Eubanks, who had enlisted in 1942 as a top mechanic. "I was in a lot of air raids and I knew. The props weren't right, that's why we used to call the Japanese pilots 'Washing machine Charlies.' "

Eubanks ran out of his tent yelling that there was an air raid and everyone should hit the dirt. He fell into a gully and found himself staring up at three or four planes bombing and strafing the area.

To his left, he saw his friend, Joe Daily, get cut down by a daisy cutter, a type of bomb that bounces up from the ground and then explodes.

Daily began screaming that he lost his arm.

Daily's left arm dangled down. Eubanks called out for medics. He grabbed Daily and they two made their way to a tent where medics could work on Daily.

Eubanks was told to go sit down out of the way.

A medic noticed blood on the floor under Eubanks. He had been hit by shrapnel in the arm near the elbow and blood puddles formed on the floor from his wound.

Daily and Eubanks survived their wounds. Many others did not.

"I can't explain it. Forty-seven of my buddies died. There were 300 wounded or killed at the show," Eubanks said. "They were just blown apart. You could pick them up and put them in a gunny sack. I don't know why the Lord saved me."

Perhaps it was the karma of selfless rescues he helped with during other campaigns that somehow helped spare him. While under fire, he had taken part in a rescue of two downed Australian pilots earlier in the war.

His job was to follow the Seabees from island to island. Seabees would build air fields. Eubanks and his cohorts would fly in with needed supplies and the planes would take the wounded out to safety.

Eubanks sat back in his recliner, maybe feeling his 93 years or maybe feeling the memories of war. He pointed at a refrigerator in his kitchen. It is covered with pictures of children.

"That's why the Lord saved me," Eubanks said. "Right there on that refrigerator."

The pictures on the refrigerator? Eubanks' wife, Hazel, said that they had two daughters, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Hazel said her husband had received the Purple Heart for his wound.

He had also received the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with a bronze star for his part in the rescue of the pilots, among other service medals.

Of the medals, Eubanks said that he was just serving his country as were others.

"The thing I am proudest of is that we probably saved some lives when we took the wounded off the islands," Eubanks said. "Don't make me out to be a hero. I just served my country."

Additional information on the battle for Biak Island was found at the websites Worldwar2history.info and encyclopedia.com.