Decorated World War II pilot John O. Merrill Jr. dies at 90

By JANIS MARA | The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) | Published: May 15, 2014

Architect John O. Merrill Jr., a bomber pilot who was shot down over Germany during World War II, taken prisoner of war and later honored for helping liberate a German town, died at his home April 25 in Tiburon, California. He was 90.

Mr. Merrill was the son of John O. Merrill, a founder of architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP. As a partner in the firm, Mr. Merrill oversaw projects including Hawaii's Mauna Kea hotel and San Francisco's Crown-Zellerbach building.

Mr. Merrill was born in Evanston, Ill. in 1923. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, at the age of 19, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet.

He flew B-25 and B-26 Marauder aircraft. While leading a dangerous three-ship mission near the Rhine River in Germany in 1942, his bomber was shot down; he was taken prisoner of war until he was liberated by U.S. troops in 1945.

In recognition of his service Mr. Merrill was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. In 2011, the German consul-general held a reception to honor him for his role in helping to liberate the town of Andernach.

Mr. Merrill joined his father's firm in 1949, but his military service continued in a captain's role with the reserves until 1954. In 1952, he helped establish the architecture firm's Portland branch, and he became an associate in 1953 and was elected partner in 1957.

Mr. Merrill was the partner in charge of many of Skidmore's projects, which also included the Crocker Galleria in downtown San Francisco, the Oakland Coliseum, Davies Symphony Hall and Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarters in Tacoma, Wash.

He attended the University of Wisconsin, the University of Minnesota and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mr. Merrill was a director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the Bay Area Council and the Planning and Urban Institute. He was a trustee of Mount Tamalpais School and served as chairman of the board of trustees of the San Francisco Art Institute.

Mr. Merrill is survived by his wife of 36 years, Elizabeth, and his children, John O. Merrill III, of San Rafael; Alison Doughty of Novato; Jennifer Martin of Mill Valley; Lindsey Kauffman of Stockton; Charles Merrill of Mill Valley; Katherine Alvarez of Petaluma; and Ross Batt of Novato.

A celebration of Mr. Merrill's life will be held June 25; for more information, send email to jomtribute@gmail.com.


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