Grayson Merrill, 99, died July 13 of natural causes at Severna Park Genesis.
He was born January 1, 1912 in Los Angeles California to Elizabeth E. Hatch and Grayson Merrill Sr. After his father’s death he went to live at the Masonic Home for Children in Covina, CA.
Grayson enlisted in the Navy in 1929 and attended the Naval Preparatory School in San Diego prior to being appointed to the US Naval Academy in 1930. Following his graduation and commissioning as an ensign in 1934, he served for a year on the battleship, West Virginia. Grayson then started flight training at NAS Pensacola. After receiving his wings as a naval aviator he served aboard the aircraft carrier Saratoga.
In 1941 Merrill was taking the electrical engineering course at the Naval Postgraduate School when Commander Delmar S. Fahrney, Director of Pilotless Aircraft in the Bureau of Aeronautics, selected him to be his deputy in the Special Design Branch of the Bureau of Aeronautics, where the Navy’s first guided missiles were being developed. As a team, the two officers then formulated and directed much of the Navy’s World War II early postwar guided missile efforts.
In 1943 Merrill succeeded Fahrney as Head of the Special Design Branch. Merrill then faced the task of supporting the engineering and production program for the assault drone program. He initiated and directed the development of the following weapons in response to wartime requirements: the Lark surface-to-air missile; the Gargoyle air-to-surface missile, and the Little Joe ship-to-air missile. The latter was a quick-fix response to the devastating attacks then being made by the Japanese kamikaze suicide bombers.
The obvious shortcomings of Naval Air Stations for testing guided missiles led Grayson to ask CNO for a requirement for a new post-war sea test range. Merrill was a member of a board that investigated 26 sites on the East, West, and Gulf coasts. The board’s final recommendation, drafted by Merrill in March 1945, was that Point Mugu, California was the most suitable site. Merrill left the Bureau of Aeronautics to become the new center’s technical director of the Naval Air Missile Test Center.
In the late summer of 1945 Merrill learned about a large group of German scientists who had agreed to be brought to the United States under “Project Paper Clip” to work on weapons programs. Merrill requested that 12 of the scientist be assigned to Pt. Mugu, including Dr. Herbert Wagner, designer of the HS-293 flying bomb that the German Luftwaffe first used in combat in 1943. Merrill assigned the scientists to individual projects akin to their specialities where they could work directly with civilian counterparts. The approach proved productive in both the direct knowledge imparted by the Germans to the rest of the technical work force, as well as to the many new and improved designs they developed in optical and radar instrumentation, launching devices, and guidance systems.
During his final tour of active duty, prior to retirement from the Navy in 1957, Captain Merrill was the first technical director for the Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile program. For this work he was presented the Legion of Merit Award.
Between 1950 – 1960 Captain Merrill coauthored and edited a 13 volume series of university-level textbooks titled “Principles of Guided Missile Design. The American Rocket Society gave him the G. Edward Pendray Award for excellence in technical literature.
After Merrill retired from the Navy, he was the General Manager of the Fairchild Aviation’s Guided Missile Division and then president of PRD Electronics, a defense industry company.
In 1996 at the 50th Anniversary of Point Mugu’s commissioning, Merrill was named “Father of Point Mugu”. Concurrently President Clinton authorized the Navy to rename the Missile Systems Building to the Grayson Merrill Missile Systems Evaluation Laboratory.
Grayson Merrill continued to be a volunteer supporter of his alma mater by serving as the President of Class of 1934 for many years. He left the following words: “I thank the Navy for the opportunity to serve my country.”
Grayson was preceded in death by his first wife, Mary Elizabeth in 1977, son Hugh Merrill in 1942 and son Johnny Merrill who died September 26, 2010.
Grayson is survived by his wife, Jane Merrill, sons, Andy Merrill of Beaufort, SC, Donald Merrill of San Francisco, CA, Lee Merrill of Lexington, VA and David Merrill, of Severna Park, MD; six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren, and his sister Eunice Weber of Bakersfield, CA. Grayson’s final quote was “God’s greatest gift to a man is his loving family.”
A funeral service will be held on Tuesday, July 19, 2011, 10:00 a.m. at the Chapel on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy. You must enter through Gate 8 and state that you are attending the funeral for Grayson Merrill. Make sure you have a picture ID with you. Interment will also be on the grounds of the Academy, followed by a luncheon reception in Fellowship Hall of Asbury Church at approximately 12:00 noon. In lieu of flowers, gifts in honor of Grayson’s memory may be made to The Alumni Association of the United States Naval Academy (247 King George Street, Annapolis, MD, 21402). Online contributions can also be made by googling “USNA Alumni Association & Foundation.