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By: Katie Galyean

If you had the chance to save dozens of lives, would you? Most of us would undoubtedly say yes. But what if it meant sacrificing your own life so the others could live?

This is the choice Robert Mercer, 21, was faced with on January 28, 1945, in Belgium after a bombing mission gone wrong.

Born in Bladenboro on August 12, 1923, to Charles and Callie Mercer, Mercer quickly became known as ‘Bob’ and was loved by many.

When World War II broke out, Mercer, then 19, knew it was his duty to serve his country and enlisted on January 28, 1943 in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was stationed at Horham Field in England.

Mercer quickly excelled as a solider. In a letter sent to Mercer’s family, Lt. Jack Benrube said, “Bob was a very good pilot and had been asked numerable times to try for Lead Crew but knowing that his crew would most likely ‘break up’ he refused.”

On the morning of January 28, 1945, exactly two years after he enlisted, Mercer set out with his squadron to their primary target at Rheinhausen Railway in Duisburg, Germany.

Mercer was serving as deputy leader that day with Chuck Taylor as his co-pilot and seven other crew members.

There was no report of enemy resistance until the squadron had only one minute left to their destination. At that point, at an altitude of five miles, Mercer’s plane took at least three flak hits under the cockpit.

Mercer ordered for his crew to quickly unload all of the bombs on the plane and pulled out of formation.

There was damage to three out of the four engines with two of them wind milling.

Mercer pointed their plane towards an airfield in Brussels, but was then sent to an emergency field 60 miles away because the airfield was too full to take them in.

Just ten minutes before landing, the No. 2 engine caught fire and the cockpit was filled with smoke. While Mercer and Taylor struggled to control the aircraft, the rest of the crew was ordered to parachute to the ground below.

Mercer told Taylor to jump next while he held the engine steady enough for him to jump. Taylors did jump, but sources say his parachute was either damaged from the flak or he was unable to pull the string for it to expand because the parachute did not unfurl in time for him to make a safe landing and he lost his life.

Unable to control the plane enough to make a jump himself, Mercer knew he had to crash land it. He was right above a small village called Kain-La-Tombe. 

The bomber was headed straight for the villager’s church, school, and houses. Mercer was able to direct the plane sharply to the left at the last moment and crashed about 100 meters behind the church.

Initially buried in France, Mercer’s body was returned to the US two years after the crash. He is now buried in Butters.

Mercer’s sacrifice was lost in the sea of chaos that war always brings until 2008 when a memorial service to recognize Mercer and thank his family was hosted in the village church’s yard. Several members of Mercer’s family were able to attend as well as 200 some citizens from the village.

The Military Museum in Bladenboro has dedicated the Air Force section to Mercer. “We were so proud of him that we dedicated the whole air force module to him,” said Bobby Ludlum, museum volunteer and Air Force veteran.

The museum holds several artifacts from the crash as well Mercer’s uniform. The museum is hosted in the Bladenboro Historical Building and is open from 10 a.m. to noon during the week and on weekends from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. 



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