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DD 976 Merrill
"Spirit of '76"

The USS Merrill (DD 976) was decommissioned on Mrch 26, 1998. The coat of arms of USS Merrill serves as a heraldic remembrance of the ship's namesake, Vice Adm. Aaron S. Merrill. The colors blue and gold are the traditional colors of the United States Navy, and the red, white, and blue, our national colors, allude to the ship's motto, "Spirit of '76".

The crest composed of waves, refers to the Distinguished Service Medal, awarded to Admiral Merrill for his service in the Solomons Campaign. The anchor and waves symbolize his expertise in surface seamanship and demonstrated knowledge of warfare tactics; the waves further refer to the Admiral's eight major sea battle: covering force for the capture of Russell Island, bombardment of Vila-Stanhope Air Field on Kolombangara Island and Munda Air Field, New Georgia Campaign, Treasury Island, Bougainville Island,covering forces for the Green Island occupation and Emirau Island. The anchor represents loyalty and naval leadership, together with the crescent moon, an emblem of the night, refer to the sobriquet, "The Navy's Nightfighter".

The five-pointed star signifying command, is flanked by two six-pointed stars, whose total of twelve poiints symbolize Admiral Merrill's command of Cruiser-Destroyer Division 12 and simulate his successful flanking strategy. The three stars together refer to the Third Fleet, within which his Division operated, and in addition indicate his highest rank achieved.

The arrow, symbol of leadership and martial readiness, also alludes to the Natchez Indians who were native to Mississippi, and connotes Admiral Merrill's distinction of being the first Commanding Officer of the new battleship INDIANA upon her commissioning in 1942.

The ship's motto, "Spirit of '76", couples the year of Merrill's christening with her hull number and the nation's bicentennial. In addition, this expression aptly summarizes characteristics which made Admiral Merrill one of the Navy's greatest leaders...courage, decisiveness, and dedication.

The USS Merrill (DD 976) was built by Ingalls Shipbuilding, West Bank, Pascagoula, MS. Her keel was laid on June 16, 1975. Launched on September 1, 1976, she was commissioned on March 11, 1978.

The USS Merrill deployed in 1995 as part of the Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Battle Group. During the first half of the deployment, the battle group conducted a variety of multinational operations and exercises designed to support U.S. interests and relationships in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the Arabian Gulf. The battle group maintained a continuous watch on all merchant shipping going to and from Iraq. Numerous ships were queried and boarded to verify their cargo manifests.

In July 1995, as part of a reorganization of the Pacific Fleet's surface ships into six core battle groups and eight destroyer squadrons, the USS Merrill was reassigned to Destroyer Squadron 7. Thereorganization was scheduled to be completed by October 1, with homeport changes to be completed within the following year.

From February 10 through 21, 1997, the USS Merrill (DD 976), took part in Pacific Joint Task Force Exercise (PACJTFEX) 97-1, off the Southern California coast. The 3rd Fleet exercise involved 20 ships, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters from USS Constellation (CV 64) Carrier Battle Group and USS Boxer (LHD 4) Amphibious Ready Group with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked. Army, Air Force, National Guard and Coast Guard units also participated. The exercise included various air strike and support missions, maritime interdiction operations, humanitarian operations, operational testing of weapons systems, logistics support, search and rescue, and command and control. Amphibious operations supporting the exercise culminated with an amphibious landing at Camp Pendleton, CA, involving surface and helicopter assault forces. PAC JTFEX 97-1 was part of a series of exercises previously named "FLEETEX." The change in name reflected the increasing focus on preparing naval forces for joint operations with other U.S. military services. During the previous several years this exercise placed increasing emphasis on incorporating joint procedures, planning, and command and control structures into task group training.

The USS Merril then deployed with the USS Constellation (CV 64) Battle Group, as part of a routine six-month deployment in the waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Constellation CVBG departed 5th Fleet's Area of Responsibility (AOR) on August 17, 1997. It had entered the Arabian Sea on May 16, and conducted there high tempo operations that included more than 4,400 sorties during more than 10 weeks in the Arabian Gulf. Operations included exercises with friendly forces in the region. After departing the Arabian Gulf, the Constellation Battle Group concluded its tour in the 5th Fleet with a joint-combined exercise with military forces from Pakistan. Dubbed Inspired Siren 97-2 and Inspired Alert 97-2, the exercises incorporated both surface combatants and air components, respectively. The purpose of this four-day training mission was to exercise the joint-combined naval and air capabilities of both countries, improve their respective levels of readiness and interoperability, and enhance military relations between the two nations.

Vice Admiral Aaron S. Merrill

Vice Admiral Aaron S. Merrill (1890-1961) was an outstanding Cruiser-Destroyer and Task Force Commander during World War II. A native Mississippian, Admiral "Tip" Merrill achieved extraordinary success during the first U.S. offensive operations against the enemy in the South Pacific. Most notable of his naval successes was the epic Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, a brilliantly executed night action in which Merrill's "small boys" and cruisers defeated a more powerful enemy naval group sent to drive the newly entrenched American land and sea forces from the Solomon Islands region.

His bold leadership, daring tactics, and indomitable fighting spirit during this battle and other naval actions contributed greatly to the success in the recapture of the Solomon Islands and won him the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Legion of Merit with two Gold Stars.

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