Robert Merchant spent most of his service time stationed in the Pacific especially, Australia and New Guinea. There he encountered people and animals very different from those found in his home town of Wayne, Nebraska.
Wayne reported a population of 2,719 in 1940. Merchant finished high school while helping his father with the family business, and before enlisting in the army was working for International Harvester selling dairy equipment to local farmers.
Nothing in Merchant’s experience prepared him for the customs he encountered in New Guinea. Several native tribes reportedly practiced cannibalism, pigs were regarded as sacred creatures, and tribal women did not wear shirts. The 90th also encountered large snakes that often crept into base fortifications.
Merchant also documented tropical camp life. Regular day-to-day chores, such as doing laundry by hand, occasionally led to some goofing around in front of the camera. This portion of the collection offers a glimpse at daily life in the U.S. Army in the Pacific.
Robert Merchant “helps” two friends relocate a trunk full of photography equipment.
Robert Merchant, four 90th Bomb Group personnel and one native man lean against a native boat while stationed in New Guinea. Third from the left is Captain Norman J. Lawler.
In this group photo of the 90th Bomb Group, Robert Merchant stands in the second row from the top, fourth from the left.
A group photo of Robert Merchant’s unit while stationed in the Pacific. Merchant stands at the far right. The officer far left, front row is Lt. Gen. George Kenney, Officer Commanding 5th Air Force. The first from the left in the back row is Colonel Ralph Koon and the fourth from the left in the back row is Lt. Colonel Art Rogers.
While stationed in Australia, this tent served as home for Merchant and the fellow members of his unit.
An Army officer poses in front of a base sign for the “400th Bomb Squadron”.
A makeshift billboard outside a U.S. Army base camp depicts two contrasting ideas of army life during the war.
A sign that hangs outside the 90th’s base.
Robert Merchant and his friends goof off for the camera.
Robert Merchant and three friends sit outside their living quarters on a U.S. base in the Pacific.
Many large, poisonous snakes inhabit the jungles of New Guinea. These men pose with a snake discovered in their base camp.
Sleeping can be difficult with a large poisonous snake hanging from your ceiling. Merchant (right).
Nine enlisted men stretch out a snake found at their base camp somewhere in the Pacific.
Soldiers completed everyday chores, such as laundry, the old fashioned way. Here Merchant washes his clothing using a washboard, while laundry dries behind him.
While visiting a native village Robert Merchant and an Australian Army Lieutenant pose in front of a village hut with a native woman. A note from Merchant on the back of the photo reads , “Dad, was it hot this day”.