Robert Merchant Collection


Robert Merchant seated at typewriter [RG5841.PH1-13]

Robert Merchant writes for an U.S. Army magazine in 1943. [RG5841.PH1-13]


A Nebraskan Aerial Photographer's Experience in the Pacific During WWII

Robert Auker Merchant (1920-2008) at age 22 became a staff sergeant with the 90th Bomb Group (the “Jolly Rogers”) in the United States Army Air Forces. He served from 1942-1945. The 90th Bomb Group operated predominately in the Southwest Pacific (Australia and New Guinea) as a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber unit assigned to the Fifth Air Force. Merchant worked as an aerial photographer, documenting several attacks, battles, and rescue missions while in air and while on the ground. He also captured B-24 nose art and wrecked Japanese warplanes.

Photos taken by aerial photographers were not always simply for historical purposes, as one of Merchant’s pictures in the Pacific region illustrates. Their skills were often used for reconnaissance, mapping the location of enemy troop formations and target areas. Merchant served with several other photographers in his unit. While it is presumed that all the photos in the collection were taken by Merchant himself, some trading of photographs did go on between photography units.

After WWII ended Merchant returned home to Wayne, Nebraska, and took over management of his father’s business, Merchant Oil Company. Merchant married Pauline K. Kunde in 1946; they had two daughters, Paulette and Joanie. Merchant was an active member of the Wayne community. He served as president of the Wayne Chamber of Commerce and was instrumental in forming the Wayne Rural Volunteer Fire Department. Starting in 1947 he was also involved in freemasonry, receiving the Grand Masters Humanitarian Award in 2002. Merchant’s daughters, Paulette and Joanie graciously donated his collection to the Nebraska State Historical Society in 2011. With more than 300 photos in the collection, Robert Merchant’s camera lens allows us a glimpse into life in the Army Air Forces during the Second World War, seen from the perspective of a young man from Wayne, Nebraska.


For more Merchant Collection Photographs, visit the NSHS Collections Search

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