Kehrer, Merlin Robert “Bob” (P2, C3, L7)
On 30 March 1951, Captain Merlin R. Kehrer, 29, of Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, perished in the crash of his F-51 “Mustang” near Leesburg, Virginia, while he was returning to Louisville from Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. Kehrer, was born on 17 August 1921, and graduated with the 1939 class at Male High School. While attending Male he was a member of the ROTC program from 1937 to 39, and of the Rifle team in 38 and 39.
On 10 April 1937, he became a member of the Kentucky National Guard’s, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 149th Infantry Regiment located at St. Matthews. He served with the Guard until 21 July 1939. With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Bob Kehrer wanted to serve in the Army Air Corps as a pilot, he was told he was too young to serve. After being turned down by the U. S. Air Corps, he headed north to Canada where the Royal Air Force was looking for young Americans to help fill their ranks.
On 21 February 1941, Kehrer enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After flight training he received his Pilot’s Flying Badge and Commission on 21 November 1941. He was posted overseas to England and then to Egypt and South Africa, and then back to England. On 15 November 1943, he left the RCAF to join the U. S. Army Air Corps.
Kehrer served as a First Lieutenant and P-51 “Mustang” pilot in the U. S. Army Air Corps flying combat missions over Europe during the war. His plane was shot down west of Stuttgart, Germany, on 24 February 1944, and the young officer was captured as a prisoner of war.
For the next 13 months, Lieutenant Kehrer lived as a POW alongside other allied prisoners of war at Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany. During their capture, the prisoners were served rations of variable quality, at one point eating just one meal per day of a turnip soup and perhaps a small potato, according to Lieutenant Kehrer’s POW log book. As the war drew to a close, the Germans began demolishing infrastructure and finally withdrew from Stalag Luft 1 on 30 April 1945, leaving the prisoners to care for themselves. American B-17s arrived 12 May to begin evacuating the camp, and Lieutenant Kehrer departed for France the following day. Before returning to the United States, he spent an undetermined amount of time at Camp Lucky Strike, near the Normandy Coast, where he met General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe.
Upon returning home from the war, Lieutenant Kehrer joined the newly organized Kentucky Air National Guard and continued to fly F-51s. He was promoted to the rank of Captain. He died on 30 March 1951, when his aircraft crashed near Leesburg, Virginia, while returning from a flight to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. His remains were brought back home and were interred in Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, on 4 April 1951 Section F, Site 311.