Grand Marshal Ernest Merle Hancock
Merle Hancock was born May 23, 1924 in St. Louis, Missouri. The older of two boys, Merle and his brother, like many children of the “Great Depression” moved with their parents to where work was found. After living with his grandparents at age 17, Merle moved to California to work on his own. World War II changed his and others’ lives forever.
Inducted into the Army Air Corps in 1943, Merle was trained as an aircraft engineer and top turret gunner on B-17 bombers. After training in the United States, and now a Technical Sergeant with an operational crew, he deployed to Italy with assignment to the 483rd Bomb Squadron, 815 Bomb Group (H), 15th Air Force. On July 18, 1944, during his 37th combat mission, Merle’s squadron was attacked by approximately 200 German fighter planes over Memmingen, Germany. After a heroic defense of his B-17, nicknamed “Bunkie”, he and the surviving crew members were forced to bail out. Merle was credited with destroying 3 enemy fighters and was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star for his gallantry. His citation reads in part:
"Despite being seriously wounded about the legs, and in intense pain, Sergeant Hancock gallantly remained at his guns in defense of his crippled aircraft. He successfully destroyed three (3) of the attacking aircraft. Even with flames inflicting severe burns to his legs and hips, he remained at his post until ordered to bail out."
After parachuting from an altitude of 23, 000 feet Merle was captured, questioned by the Gestapo, and imprisoned in Stalag Luft IV until liberation in May of 1945. While a Prisoner of War, TSgt. Hancock participated in what is now known as the European POW Mud-Death March of February to May, 1945. He and over 2,000 other prisoners were forced to march from Poland to the German North Sea area without food or shelter to avoid Allied liberation.
Merle remained in the military for thirteen years. Besides WW II, his service includes transitioning into the new United States Air Force in 1947 and participating in the Korean War.
Merle lives in Manassas, Virginia and has two daughters, Deborah Hepburn and Cindy Hancock, three grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren.