James Harold Merryman (1929–2003)

James Harold Merryman was a pilot and three-star general in the U.S. Army who aided in the restoration of aviation as an army branch of service for the first time since the Army Air Corps ceased to exist in 1948. General Merryman’s military decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Legion of Merit, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, twenty-five Air Medals, and three Army Commendation Medals.

James Merryman was born in Hot Springs (Garland County) on April 3, 1929, to Jim Merryman and Edith Agnes Dyer Merryman. His father was a mechanic and thirty-third-degree Mason, and his mother was a homemaker. He had one younger brother. As a youth, Merryman sold peanuts and sodas at Oaklawn Park Racetrack (now Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort), and he also worked as a soda jerk at Crawford Drugstore and drove a Muse Laundry delivery truck to earn money for his schooling. He graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1946 and entered Henderson State Teachers College (now Henderson State University), where he initially majored in biology as a pre-med student until the professor of military science persuaded him to pursue a military career. Merryman devoted himself to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and was instrumental in establishing a chapter of the Kappa Sigma Kappa Fraternity at Henderson, serving as its first president. He graduated from HSU in 1950.

Merryman was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry in 1950 and was immediately sent to Korea to serve in the war, but he caught pneumonia in Japan en route and returned to the Army-Navy Hospital (now the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center) in Hot Springs for treatment instead. He married Jane Frantz of Hot Springs in December 1950; they had one son.

Merryman transferred to armor in 1955, becoming an artillery officer in 1959. He graduated from the U.S. Army’s fixed-wing and helicopter flight schools, the Army Command and General Staff College, and the Army War College. He also took advanced courses at the army artillery and armor schools.

Although Merryman served in the infantry, artillery, and armor branches, his impact on the army was primarily in aviation. As a young officer, he flew the border in Germany as an Army Security Agency fixed-wing pilot. In 1962, he served on the “Howze Board,” developing methods to evaluate the capabilities of various aerial firepower systems. From 1964 to 1966, he was with the Federal Aviation Agency. He served in Vietnam, commanding the 269th Combat Aviation Battalion in 1967 and 1969. His innovations in command and control, use of gunships, and aerial medical evacuation techniques were well known. In 1971, he returned to Vietnam and commanded the Seventeenth Combat Aviation Group. He also served tours in Europe and with the Army General Staff.

In 1973, he was promoted to brigadier general and became the director of Army Aviation. Merryman’s posts included service as commanding general of the Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and deputy chief of staff for Combat Developments with the Army Training and Doctrine Command. In his last assignment, as the U.S. Army’s deputy chief of staff for Research, Development and Acquisition, he influenced the development of such weapons systems as the AH64A/D Apache Attack Helicopter, the UH-60A Blackhawk Helicopter, the M1 Abrams Tank, and the M2/3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

After retiring from the army in 1984, Merryman became the board chairman of the Leica Corporation in the United States. In 1985, he was presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award by Henderson State University. He also wore the Master Aviator Badge and was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 1992.

Merryman died on June 24, 2003, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2003, the Lieutenant General James H. Merryman Memorial Scholarship was established at Henderson State University; it is awarded annually to the most outstanding ROTC cadet. In 2004, the U.S. Army dedicated the Merryman Training Facility at the Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker for the training of scout/attack helicopter pilots.

For additional information:
“James Harold Merryman.” Arlington National Cemetery. http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/jhmerryman.htm (accessed February 15, 2022).

“Lt. Gen. James H. Merryman.” Hot Springs Sentinel Record. June 29, 2003, p. 6B.

John H. Hesterly
Aberdeen, Maryland


    I graduated from Henderson State Teachers College in Arkansas with General Merryman, and I was a member of the Kappa Sigma Kappa fraternity with him, a fraternity chapter for which he achieved establishment and served as its first president. We participated in ROTC together also. My wife and I visited with General and Mrs. Merryman at Walter Reed Army Medical Center shortly before his death. With their permission, I worked to establish the Lieutenant General James H. Merryman Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded each year to the outstanding ROTC cadet at Henderson State University. The endowment will ensure this perpetual scholarship. I regard General Merryman’s widow, son, and brother as close friends today. I respect his army service highly and feel that he made lasting changes and improvements in army aviation. His career and achievements are exceptional and deserve recognition in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

    Mr. John Hesterly