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Special Collections Online at The University of Tennessee

Ed Merkel Papers

Identifier: MS-3220

This memoir, entitled My Last Mission, details the life of Lieutenant Ed Merkel, a pilot and POW during World War II. Merkel was trained as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot and was first stationed at Bassingbourne Air Station in England. According to his description the death toll for pilots at this base hovered at fifty percent per mission. Merkel flew fifteen successful missions, but was shot down on the sixteenth. He describes in detail the actual crash and his long drift to the ground. Upon landing, Merkel was taken prisoner and sent to a POW interrogation center. At this center, there was constant pressure to answer questions. The cots were filled with mites, fleas, and other bugs. The prisoners were given barley coffee and sawdust bread with blood sausage twice a day. The threat of death was real and captives were forbidden from speaking to each other.

After leaving Dulag Loft, a five day train ride took Merkel to Stalag Luft 1, a typical POW camp in Germany. This camp was located in Barth, Germany along the Baltic Sea. Life at this camp was better than before, but became increasingly worse. The German Army withheld Red Cross rations and deprived prisoners of food following the D-Day invasion. Merkel describes the antics of the prisoners, including digging escape tunnels and making their own variety of schnapps in the camp. Prisoners received information about the war from hidden radios, which would broadcast the BBC news instead of the incorrect Nazi news.

This memoir also includes pictures drawn by Merkel in the POW camp. These images depict his crash, the town of Barth, and the barracks of Stalag Luft 1. Merkel dedicated his story to 1st Lieutenant Frank Kolts (Pilot), 1st Lieutenant Reed Alexander (Navigator), and 1st Lieutenant Harold White, (Bombardier). These three men were members of Merkel's flight crew who died when their plane was shot down on 1944 February 22.


  • 1943 May-1945 July

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Collections are stored offsite, and a minimum of 2 business days are needed to retrieve these items for use. Researchers interested in consulting any of the collections are advised to contact Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in this collection remain with the creator. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library.


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This memoir, entitled My Last Mission, describes Lieutenant Colonel Ed Merkel's time as a B-17 pilot and German POW during World War II.

Biographical/Historical Note

Lieutenant Colonel Ed Merkel was raised in Shafter, California. He graduated from pilot training in the Army Air Corps in May of 1943 and was assigned to a B-17 Bomber crew in Ephrata, Washington. In October of 1943, Merkel was sent to Bassingbourne Air Station in England and assigned to the 91st Heavy Bomber Group of the 8th Air Force. At the time, the base commander was the famed General James Doolittle. During Merkel's sixteenth mission (flown on 1944 February 22), his plane was shot down over Germany. Merkel survived the crash and was taken prisoner by the German Army.

Merkel spent the rest of the war in captivity. He was sent to Dulag Loft, a POW interrogation center, immediately after his capture, but was kept primarily at Stalag Luft 1. This prison was located in Barth, Germany along the Baltic Sea. During the night of 1945 May 1, the POWs noticed that the Germans were abandoning their post at Barth. It was at that time that Merkel realized that liberation had come.

Merkel was sent back to Germany during the Berlin Air Lift. He later taught at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Base and flew bombing missions over North Korea during the Korean War. His final post was near Tokyo, Japan. At the end of his service career, he had logged more than 3,000 flight hours in multi-engine planes.


This collection consists of a single folder.

Acquisition Note

This memoir was donated to Special Collections in 2007.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA