Ray Merritt was born in 1929 in Portland, Oregon, and grew up in Los Angeles and San Gabriel, California. He enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on July 10, 1947, and was honorably discharged to enter the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Air Force on August 17, 1950. He enlisted in the Air Force on August 18, 1950, and was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his pilot wings at Williams AFB, Arizona, on March 22, 1952. Lt Merritt then completed F-80 Shooting Star Combat Crew Training before deploying to Korea, where he served as an F-84 Thunderjet pilot with the 7th Fighter-Bomber Squadron from October 1952 to March 1953, followed by service as Assistant Operations Officer with the 49th Fighter-Bomber Group in Korea from March to July 1953. His next assignment was as a gunnery instructor with the 3603rd Combat Crew Training Squadron at Luke AFB, Arizona, from August 1953 to October 1956, and then with the 3513th Combat Crew Training Squadron and the 3510th Combat Crew Training Wing at Randolph AFB, Texas, from October 1956 to September 1958. Capt Merritt then received an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment to complete his bachelor's degree at Texas Tech College from September 1958 to February 1961, followed by service as a staff officer with the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division of Air Research and Development Command at Los Angeles, California, from February 1961 to December 1963. After completing F-105 Thunderchief Combat Crew Training, Maj Merritt served as an F-105 pilot with the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kadena AB, Okinawa, and deployed to Southeast Asia, from May 1964 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on September 16, 1965. After spending 2,707 days in captivity, Col Merritt was released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at March AFB, California, and then attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., from August 1973 to August 1974. After completing F-4 Phantom II Combat Crew Training, Col Merritt served as Director of Operations for the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing at Bitburg AB, West Germany, from October 1974 to January 1976, followed by service as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations with Headquarters 17th Air Force at Sembach AB, West Germany, from January 1976 to July 1978. His final assignment was with the A-10 Thunderbolt II Program Office, Air Force Material Command, at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, from August 1978 until his retirement from the Air Force on October 1, 1979.
His 1st (of 2) Silver Star Citation reads:
Major Raymond J. Merritt distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force over North Vietnam on 16 September 1965. On that date, Major Merritt led a flight of F-105s on a search and destroy mission against multiple surface-to-air missile sites deep within hostile territory. Penetrating the defensive envelope on a low level high speed run, Major Merritt sacrificed the limited safety of maneuver for accuracy in weapons delivery as he courageously flew through a curtain of ground fire to attack the target. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Major Merritt has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.