S1c Merle Joe Spence


S1c Merle Joe Spence

Merle Joe Spence was born Aug. 27, 1919 in Carroll County in northwest Tennessee. His mother, Vadie Cole Spence, was a homemaker and his father Green Berry Spence, a farmer. They had six children, including an infant son who died of colitis.

By 1920 the family lived in Hollow Rock, population 198, about 10 miles east of the county seat, Huntingdon. The spring 1940 Census said Merle had completed sixth grade (likely at the school shared with the larger nearby village of Bruceton), but was no longer enrolled. He worked 52 weeks in 1939 for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal Depression-era jobs program, and earned a total of $360 – the equivalent of less than $7,000 in 2022 dollars.

Young Mr. Spence enlisted in the Navy on Oct. 4, 1940. He was a seaman first class on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

His younger brother, Valgene, served in the Army near the end of the war. He and his parents are buried at Crossroads Cemetery in nearby Camden, Tennessee, where there is also a cenotaph for Merle.


Sources: Census; Navy muster roll; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs death file; Tennessee death certificate; grave markers. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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