THE TRAGIC STORY OF MERLIN PADDOCK AS REMEMBERED BY AN ENEMY PILOT AND HIS WIDOW

By Henry Sakaida

merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

Merlin Paddock, US Naval Academy, Class of 1940.

“I think it was around May 1945 when I met that American,” remembered Takeo Tanimizu, a former Zero fighter pilot. “The guy parachuted down from his burning plane and was captured. My comrades and I went to the hospital to visit him. Our barracks were close by. We wanted to see who we were fighting against.”

takeo tanimizu zero pilot

Takeo Tanimizu had fond memories of meeting Merlin Paddock. He was the first enemy pilot he had met and asked me to find him.

Tanimizu saw the pilot in bed with bandages on his face and hands, and winced. They conversed through an English teacher. It was a friendly chat with no animosity. Tanimizu understood his opponent’s situation all too well and felt his pain. Just about six months prior, his Zero was hit by a P-51 Mustang and set on fire. He parachuted down with excruciating burns to his face and hands. The Japanese pilot told his opponent that they were both lucky to be alive.

“He was a very pleasant fellow,” remarked Tanimizu. “He told us that he was married and had a wife and child in Hawaii. I noticed that he had a large gold ring on his finger. I asked him what he flew and he replied that it was a Grumman. After our little chat, I left him some caramel candy, and told him not to worry, that he will be treated well. When I went back to see him the following day, he was gone. I heard later that he was taken away for interrogation. Would you please check and see if he made it home safely?”

I started my search in 1982. The Internet and personal computers belonged in the realm of Star Trek then.  I checked every American pilot lost over Japan in that area in 1945. In 2004, I succeeded in identifying the pilot. He was Lieutenant Commander Merlin Paddock of VF-23 from the carrier Langley. He led the escorting Hellcat fighters as their TBM torpedo bombers attacked a cruiser in Kagoshima Bay. In the intense anti-aircraft response, Paddock was hit and parachuted down, which confirmed what Mr. Tanimizu had told me 22 years earlier.

Merlin N. Paddock was the youngest child of John A. and Belle Paddock of Osmond (Pierce County), Nebraska. He was born in Wisconsin on 15 March 1917. The family had 3 boys and a girl, but John Jr. died in 1930. Osmond is a desolate prairie town which came into existence in 1890 due to the railroad. When Merlin lived there, the population was several hundred. Today (2017), it has about 750 inhabitants. His father John (1869 – 1948) was the town’s  Presbyterian minister.

Merlin was an ambitious and academically gifted young man; he wanted to go out and see the world. He entered the US Naval Academy which made his parents and the close knit community very proud. According to his graduation yearbook, “His enthusiasm  and humor readily win the liking of both sexes; his rangy, powerful frame makes him equally at home on tennis court or wrestling mat. A fast car, a trim speedboat, or a roaring plane put ‘Paddy’ in his happiest mood.”

merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

Merlin excelled in sports and wanted to become a fighter pilot. This photo is from his academy days.

 

In December 2006, I located Merlin Paddock’s wife in Honolulu, an incredibly accomplished woman with a dynamic personality. She was delighted that I had located her and eager to tell me their story.

“I was born here in Hawaii and I am now 88 years old, “ Marjorie began (she was born in 1920). Her father was Paul Carter, a Caucasian who was general superintendent of the Hawaiian Electric Co. Her Chinese mother was Helen Goo, a school teacher. The Carter Family had three daughters (Marjorie was second born). Marjorie graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1936.

marjorie carter merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

Marjorie Carter in 1935 at age 15. She was the youngest member of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, playing in the first violin section from ages 12 to 16!

marjorie carter merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

Marjorie Carter in white bathing suit, was crowned “Miss Cosmopolitan” in Hawaii’s first  beauty contest.

The first full-scale beauty contest held in the Territory of Hawaii was the Ka Palapala Beauty Pageant in 1937.  It was held on the grounds of the University of Hawaii. The theme for the event was ethnic diversity. Marjorie Carter became one of the seven beauty queens, each representing an ethnic group on the islands (Cosmopolitan – Eurasian, Caucasian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Asiatic-Hawaiian, and Caucasian-Hawaiian). She won the title again in 1938!

marjorie carter merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

27 August 1938. Marjorie Carter was charming, exotic, and stylish. She captured the hearts of many men.

marjorie carter merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

25 June 1939. The Carters were a prominent Honolulu family. Marjorie was very proud to be a USC Trojan.

Marjorie started working at Bergstrom Music Store on Fort Street in downtown Honolulu. Servicemen were always coming into the store. One in particular was a handsome young ensign named Merlin Paddock. His ship, the cruiser USS Minneapolis, had just docked in Honolulu. For this small town boy, Honolulu was a tropical paradise! Merlin visited the store almost daily. He feigned interest in records and always asked Marjorie to wait on him. She never bothered to remember his name; he was just another customer. Men were always hitting on her, only to crash and burn. “Merlin asked me out three times, but each time, I politely declined,” Majorie reminisced. “These young officers had a girl in every port and I wasn’t going to be one of them!”

marjorie carter merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

Once when Merlin was in the store, one of his buddies decided to embarrass him by saying out loud, “Hey, Merl, why are you buying records and needles? You don’t even own a record player!” The red-faced ensign was captivated by this 22 year old vivacious salesgirl, an alluring mixture of East and West.

“Where is that tall brunette?” asked Merlin to a salesgirl one day. ” I haven’t seen her around lately.” Back came the devastating reply, “She quit.” Merlin asked, then pleaded for Marjorie’s telephone number. “Well, I can’t give you her phone number, but her father runs the electric plant here,” she volunteered. Undaunted, he obtained the phone number of Mr. Carter at his office and called. Luckily, the old man wasn’t in, so his secretary Betty took the call. “I’m an old friend of the Carters,” he lied. “I’m shipping out in a few minutes! Gosh! They’ll never forgive me if I didn’t call to say goodbye! Mrs. Carter wanted to talk to me about something very very important! Darn, I lost their phone number! And…”

When Marjorie received Merlin’s call at home, she was very surprised. Her telephone number was top secret. Many men have tried and failed to get it. “How in the world did you get my number?” she asked. When Merlin confessed, she burst out laughing; his great sense of humor put her at ease. He was asking for a date and caught her completely off guard. She made an excuse and asked him to call back in a couple of days. Marjorie then telephoned her best friend for advice; her confidant was dating an officer on the Minneapolis. “Don’t worry Marj, I’ll ask him about your new friend!” she promised.

The next day, Majorie received the great news. “My boyfriend says Merlin is a really swell guy! Go out with him!” shrieked her girlfriend. “If you feel uncomfortable, we can double date!”  The two gals went to the Waiale Country Club, escorted by  their dates, resplendent in their naval dress whites. The evening was magic,  filled with music, dancing, and laughter. Marjorie was shocked when Merlin proposed to her! “Before the war, there was a rule that young ensigns had to wait 2 years until after graduation before they could marry,” Marjorie said. “But when the war started, that rule was dropped.” The couple married on 2 July 1942.

marjorie carter merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

Wedding announcement, 27 June 1942.

 

“Merlin became a flight instructor who set records everywhere,” Marjorie recalled fondly. “As a squadron leader, he did not have to fly missions since there was plenty of paperwork and planning to keep him busy. But he always wanted to fly and lead.”

On 11 April 1945, Paddock shot down a Judy bomber while his wingman downed a torpedo plane near Wan Airfield off Kikai Shima, halfway between Okinawa and Japan. This was his first aerial victory. Most likely, the Japanese plane was a Kamikaze belonging to the 721 Air Group which sortied from Kanoya on the Japanese mainland. Their targets were Task Force 58  warships in the area around Okinawa.

Yokosuka D4Y Suisei, had the Allied codename “Judy.” It was one of the fastest carrier dive bombers in the Japanese Navy and carried a crew of 2. Depiction by Shori Tanaka.

LCdr Paddock shot down a Judy bomber off Kikai Shima (marked bottom) on 11 April 1945 while on combat air patrol. Five days later, he was shot down over Kagoshima.

On 16 April, LCdr Paddock was declared missing in action. He was strafing an airfield at Kagoshima when he was hit by anti-aircraft fire. When the carrier returned to Honolulu, Marjorie received special permission from Admiral Nimitz to board the ship and talk with her husband’s squadron mates. They told her that he had parachuted and probably captured, and not to worry, that he would return.

The war came to an end on 15 August and Marjorie waited anxiously for any news from him. Days turned into agonizing weeks, then months. Merlin’s name was not on the list of repatriated prisoners. She stoically accepted the reality that she was now a war widow.

LCdr Merlin Paddock had not survived captivity. According to two young Japanese medical students who treated him, his burns were not life threatening. The US military suspected that he was murdered and launched an investigation, but they were never able to prove it. They interrogated the men who were involved in  his burial and recovered his Naval Academy ring. It was this ring that Tanimizu had remembered. It was returned to the widow. When I informed Mr. Tanimizu about Merlin Paddock’s fate, he was saddened. “I was hoping he survived,” Tanimizu wrote. “I feel as though I lost a colleague.” Mr. Tanimizu passed away in March 2008 at the age of 88.

When Paddock’s remains were returned in 1948, Majorie wanted her husband buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the Punchbowl Crater on Honolulu. She explained, “Merlin’s mother was a widow of a preacher. She lived in a very small town in Nebraska. Her mother wanted to bury him in the family plot. I understood and relented.” (Belle Paddock passed away in 1963).

marjorie carter merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

17 April 1946. As a war widow with 2 small children, life was tough. Her family and friends helped her through this most difficult period in her life.

marjorie carter merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

Photograph courtesy of Brad Kellogg. Merlin Paddock rests peacefully in the remote Osmond Cemetery just outside of town. I will go and place flowers on his grave someday for Mr. Tanimizu and myself.

During the war, Majorie worked as executive secretary in the office of Hawaii’s military governor. She also entertained the public and the troops, performing on radio with Bob Hope and Ann Blythe. She was involved in research for the Office of Naval Intelligence. From 1950 thru 1973, she served as executive secretary to 17 rear admirals who commanded the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. She also did local TV commercials. Majorie later became the first female president of the Japan-America Society and received a prestigious medal from the Japanese Government (Order of the Sacred Treasure) in 1993. After the war, she met the two Japanese medical students at a Chinese banquet in Honolulu, who had treated her husband while he was a prisoner.

Marjorie married Frank E. Midkiff, Ph.D, a respected educator and community figure in 1973. He was Kamehameha Schools Trustee, from 1939 until his death in 1983. Marjorie established a scholarship fund to help high school students and she was very active in promoting goodwill between Japan and the US. She was involved with many charitable foundations.

Marjorie Carter Paddock Midkiff passed away on 19 May 2010 at age 90. Her survivors include two daughters, five grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren.

The tremendous human toll in World War II can still be felt today although the guns fell silent 72 years ago. Lives were destroyed, families split apart, and worst of all, their hopes and dreams were never realized. The children of that conflict are with us today and their pain still exists.

merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

merlin paddock us navy WWII henry sakaida

*Special thanks to Professor John Stephan from the University of Hawaii for his help with my research.

For Related Articles See:


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For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Heroes of the Soviet Union 1941–45

Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45

I-400: Japan’s Secret Aircraft Carrying Strike Submarine, Objective Panama Canal

Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai

Aces of the Rising Sun 1937–1945

B-29 Hunters of the JAAF

One thought on “THE TRAGIC STORY OF MERLIN PADDOCK AS REMEMBERED BY AN ENEMY PILOT AND HIS WIDOW

  • A very touching story. I had hopes he survived and lived a happily-ever-after life with his beautiful wife. War has a knack of destroying not only lives, but hopes and dreams.

    E.M. Helms
    USMC (0311), Vietnam, 1967-68
    E/2/4, 3rdMarDiv

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