Whispering Hills hosts Veterans Day ceremony honoring former Air Force pilot

Published 3:05 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

On Saturday, Whispering Hills Natural Green Cemetery and Memorial Nature Preserve hosted its first Veterans Days program to honor a former Air Force pilot and Auburn ROTC instructor.

The program honored the late Wayne Merritt, who served in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War.

Edith Merritt, of Opelika, Alabama, was on hand to place an Air Force medallion on the stone marking her husband’s final resting place within Whispering Hills.

Wayne served as an ROTC instructor at Auburn University following his service in the Air Force where he piloted B-52 missions during the Vietnam War.

“Ever since [Wayne] was young, he always wanted to be in the military, and he wanted to fly,” Edith said.

Edith said she came from a family of military men, noting her father was a pilot as well. 

“My real daddy was a Navy pilot. He had crashed and died three months before I was born during World War II, but I was blessed with a stepfather.”

“I met Wayne. We continued to travel and it was wonderful. I loved it, and he loved flying,” Edith said.

Unfortunately, Wayne began having severe stomach aches during his third or fourth year as a pilot. The couple later learned that it was celiac disease, where he couldn’t eat anything with gluten, so Wayne was sent to Auburn to teach ROTC.

While he was there his health improved because Edith was doing his cooking instead of the mess hall, but he couldn’t fly.

“When it came time to go back overseas or wherever the Air Force wanted to send him, he said, ‘Honey, I just don’t think I want to get my stomach to start hurting again. What do you think about us being poor, and I go back to school and getting my PhD?’” Edith said.

She said she agreed and Wayne ended up teaching engineering, but he missed flying.

Edith and her son placed the Air Force medallion on the stone that marks Wayne’s final resting place inside the nature preserve. The mediation will later be permanently affixed to the stone.