Two soldiers honored for bridge and highway dedication
MUNCY – Earlier last month two local deceased veterans were honored for their dedicated service with a special bridge and highway dedication ceremony at the Muncy Baptist Church. The patriotic ceremony was hosted by the Muncy Historical Society and invited the families of Private Walter Smith and Lance Corporal William Merrill at the church located on 11 West Penn Street in Muncy.
The ceremony was led by Bill Poulton who remarked to a church filled audience, “Another call so strong, and moved by an unknown force to stand up and be counted.” Both men lost their lives in battle “carrying the equipment of war. They are young.”
Walter L. Smith was a native of Port Penn and enlisted as a private in the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in May, 1898. Ten days after his discharge, Smith reenlisted in the Army and was stationed in Cuba. In April of 1901 he was sent to the Philippines and 3 months later selflessly defended his company against an ambush attack by 60 native insurgents.
His actions saved the lives of two unarmed soldiers. Before long he was taken prisoner and was reported missing in action until Feb. 10, 1902 when it was discovered he “met his death at the hands of the insurgents on 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 at Muncy Cemetery.
The second soldier was Lance, Corporal William F. Merrill, a Muncy High School graduate from the class of 1966. He enlisted in the Marines and was stationed 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.”
While there 44 Marines were killed and 439 suffered injuries requiring medical evacuation. With complete disregard for his own safety, Merrill “ran across open and fire-swept terrain to retrieve a fallen comrade.” On Aug. 7, 1969, Merrill was wounded by shrapnel and although treated, he was not removed from duty.
It is recorded that on Nov. 26, 1969 nine Marines, along with Merrill, were returning to India’s position when they came to a ravine in a dangerous area where they hit a wire, which was attached to a booby trap. Merrill 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.
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 American Legion Post No. 268 of Muncy greeted families and descendants of both soldiers with a Presentation of Colors followed by a Pledge of Allegiance by Garman Zehner and an invocation from Pastor Robert Rice.
State Representative Garth Everett introduced passage of House Bill 1407 to designate the bridge on State Road 2014 over Muncy Creek as the Private Walter L. Smith Spanish-American War Memorial Bridge and the State Route 2044 as the Lance Corporal William F. Merrill Vietnam Veterans Highway. The signs were unveiled at the ceremony on October 9 and placed on the bridges the last week in October. “I am proud and privileged to make this happen for the families of Muncy,” Everett said. “This will be a forever reminder of these two sons of Muncy.”
“We are bringing their spirit home. It is never too late,” responded the families of the two soldiers.