Merle Van Metre was born in Alexandria, Indiana, on 3 February 1903, son of Thaddeus and Sarah Essie (Johnson) Van Metre. He attended public schools in Anderson, Indiana, and was graduated from Carson City, Nevada, High School. Entering the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, as a Midshipman from Nevada on 2 August 1921, he was graduated with the Class of 1925, and commissioned Ensign to date from 4 June 1925. Through subsequent promotions, he attained the rank of Captain, his date of rank 20 July 1943.
After graduation from the Naval Academy in June 1925, he served for two years as junior officer in the battleships Texas and Nevada. During that period he had instruction in torpedoes at the Naval Torpedo School, San Diego, California. From 1927 to 1929 he was a division officer aboard USS New York, another battleship. He was then transferred to destroyers, and spent three years serving successively in USS Sharkey and USS Barney, units of the Scouting Fleet’s destroyer divisions.
In 1932 he returned to the Naval Academy and for three years had duty as an instructor in the Department of Electrical Engineering. After a period of sea duty (1935 to 1938) as Assistant Engineer of USS Northampton, he again served as an instructor at the Naval Academy. In December 1939 he assumed command of USS McCalla, a priority two destroyer turned over to the British Royal Navy in October 1940, as one of the 50 destroyers involved in the Lease-Lend agreement between Great Britain and the United States. The first five of these were in such excellent condition when taken over that their Commanding Officers were commended by the Canadian Prime Minister, the President of the United States, and the Secretary of Navy.
Reporting next to USS Milwaukee, he was Engineer Officer of that cruiser operating in the Atlantic. At the outbreak of World War II, the Milwaukee was undergoing overhaul in the New York Navy Yard, and soon thereafter he was detached to assist in fitting out the USS Forrest. He assumed command at that destroyer’s commissioning on 13 January 1942, and subsequently took her to North Africa where she participated in operations, 8 to 11 November 1942.
Detached from command of USS Forrest in March 1943, he reported the next month for fitting out duty in USS Chauncey at the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Kearny, New Jersey. He assumed command of that destroyer upon her commissioning, 31 May 1943. Six months later, December 1943, he became Commander Destroyer Division ONE HUNDRED AND TEN, USS Laws flagship. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”, and the Legion of Merit, also with Combat “V”, and cited follows:
Bronze Star Medal: “For meritorious service as Commander of a group of United States Ships, attached to Carrier Division SIX, during the assault on an enemy Japanese-held island in June 1944…Commander Van Metre directed the vessels of his command in the destruction of several enemy aircraft, thereby contributing materially to the success of our landing operations…”
Legion of Merit: “For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as a Destroyer Division Commander with Escort and Fast Carrier Task Forces engages in active offensive operations, against the enemy in the Marianas, Palaus, Philippines, Formosa, Okinawa and Philippines Sea during the period 1 June 1944 to 30 October 1944…”
When detached from command of Destroyer Division ONE HUNDRED AND TEN in November 1944, he next attended the Army-Navy Staff College, Washington, DC, and in May 1945 joined the staff of Commander North Pacific Force and Area as Planning and Intelligence Officer. He was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of the second Bronze Star Medal. “For meritorious service in connection with operations against the enemy as Planning and Intelligence Officer on the staff of Commander North Pacific Force and Area from 10 May to 15 August 1945…” The citation states that he “contributed materially to the continuation and successful conclusion of sustained operations carried out from the Aleutian Islands against the Japanese in the Northern Pacific Area…”
In December 1945 he was assigned as Head of the Home Base Section, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department, Washington, DC, and in January 1950 became Commander Service Division SIXTY ONE. In that capacity he commanded a Task Unit of the northern resupply group which resupplied weather stations in the Greenland-Elsinore Islands area. Returning to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department, in November 1950, he served Head of the Technical Planners Branch until June 1953, when he became Commanding Officer of the Naval Receiving Station, Washington, DC.
In addition to the Legion of Merit with Combat “V”, and the Bronze Star Medal with Gold Star and Combat “V”, Captain Van Metre has the American Defense Service Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia Clasp; National Defense Service Medal; and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon.
Rear Admiral Van Metre's brother, Captain Thaddeus J. Van Metre, USN, was a graduate of the Naval Academy, Class of 1930.