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Private First Class Merton Raymond Riser

  • Unit: 2nd Marine Division, 8th Marine Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Company K
  • Service Number: 510776
  • Date of Birth: September 1, 1924
  • Entered the Military: December 14, 1942
  • Date of Death: November 20, 1943
  • Hometown: Sanborn, Iowa
  • Place of Death: Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands
  • Award(s): Purple Heart
  • Cemetery: Tablets of the Missing. National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawai’i
Contributed by Matt Helmers
Mentored by Mrs. Jennifer Westerhoff
Manson Northwest Webster Junior/Senior High School

Early Life

Merton Raymond Riser was born on September 1, 1924, in Moville, Iowa. He was the second of four children, and first-born son of John “Jack” Riser and Elsie (Wink) Riser. Riser was welcomed home by older sister, Norene. A second son, Merle, and the youngest in the family, Ardis, soon followed.

Merton completed school up until the eighth grade in Moville, Iowa, and attended Primghar High School for one year. After a single year, he left to help his father on the family farm. Riser’s favorite hobbies included horseback riding and hunting with his younger brother, Merle. Riser proved an expert rifleman as a young man and provided his family with plenty of wild game. 


Iowa: “Food Will Win the War”

A World War II slogan told Americans that “Food Will Win the War.” The United States not only needed to supply its own troops with food, but the rest of the Allied troops as well. A lack of food production on the American homefront meant challenges for those serving overseas and could draw the Allied forces war efforts to a halt.

Before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps, Merton Raymond Riser aided in the war effort. The Riser family, like many other families, played an integral role on the homefront by growing food in order to supply Allied troops.

With the aid of mechanized farm implements and hybrid seed corn, food production soared. In 1940 212,318 farms in Iowa together increased food production, with a value of $561,836,688. In 1945, 208,934 farms in Iowa contributed to wartime agricultural efforts, with a production value of $1,232,010,705. This dramatic increase of production experienced during the war showed the determination and dedication Iowa farmers had to produce food for the war effort.

Along with wartime food production, many factories in Iowa were converted to the production of war materials. Among these were Solar Aircraft in Des Moines, the John Deere plant in Ankeny, and the Army Ordnance Plant in West Burlington. Solar Aircraft was tasked with the production of aircraft components while John Deere and the Army Ordnance Plant were responsible for manufacturing ammunition. These factory conversions were instrumental in keeping Allied troops armed and fighting. 

Military Experience

Joining the Marine Corps

Merton Raymond Riser enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on December 14, 1942. He qualified as an Expert Rifleman and completed recruit training in the 9th Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California.

Pacific Theater Deployment

On August, 16, 1943, Merton received a promotion to private first class and embarked on a ship from San Diego in the 26th Replacement Battalion. During October, Riser disembarked at Noumea, New Caledonia and traveled on the USS Tryon, arriving in Wellington, New Zealand on October 10, 1943.

Upon arrival, Riser was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, 8th Marine Regiment, 3th Battalion, Company K, at Camp Paekakariki, New Zealand. On November 1, 1943, he traveled on the USS Monrovia bound for landing rehearsals at Efate, New Hebrides.

Battle of Tarawa

In autumn 1943, the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet set its sights on the Gilbert Islands. The possible seizure of the Gilberts allowed the Pacific Fleet a platform from which to launch air assaults on the Marshall and Caroline Islands. However, before the U.S. Army seized control of the Gilberts, the Pacific Fleet needed to capture Betio Island located within the Tarawa Atoll. Betio Island contained a key Japanese air base that prevented American forces from launching attacks on the Marshall Islands.

The planned assault on Betio Island, codenamed Operation Galvanic, involved an unprecedented amphibious landing conducted by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The invasion was divided into three primary landing zones: Red Beach One through Three. Private First Class Merton Raymond Riser landed alongside, and in support of, his fellow Marines on Red Beach Three.

The landing commenced at 8:30 a.m. on November 20, 1943. The Second Battalion launched the first assault wave on Red Beach Three at 9:17 a.m. Due to heavy enemy resistance, the men of Second Battalion, however, quickly became bogged down behind the seawall. In order to further the assault, the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, landed on the beach and attacked in support of the Second Battalion on Red Beach 3., Private First Class Riser’s company, Company K, along with Company L, led the attack to assist Second Battalion’s assault.

The 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines used Higgins Boats for its amphibious assault, causing problems for the troops. They struggled to get the boats over the coral reef surrounding the landing zone, forcing the Marines to wade 600 yards to the beach under heavy enemy fire. As a result, the 3rd Battalion suffered 70 percent casualties. Private First Class Riser was among the casualties, being reported missing in action on November 20.

By November 23, 1943, the Battle of Tarawa had ceased. The Marines hastily gathered the dead they could and moved them for burial in the temporary cemeteries established on the island. Private First Class Riser’s remains were not identified following the battle and would remain missing for 75 years.

Thanks to DNA testing performed at the Armed Forces DNA Laboratory, Private First Class Riser’s remains were identified on July 27, 2018. His identity was revealed from skeletal remains recovered from Cemetery No. 26 on Betio Island. Analysis showed that blast injuries were the cause of Private First Class Riser’s death.


Merton Raymond Riser was 18 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps on December 14, 1942. Due to his height of almost 6’2” and slender build of only 146 pounds, Riser stood out in the Marine Corps. He completed recruit training in the 9th Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California.

Private First Class Riser was part of the planned assault on Betio Island, code named Operation Galvanic. During this attack, the Third Battalion suffered seventy percent casualties. Private First Class Riser was among the casualties, being reported missing in action on November 20.

For his service, Private First Class Riser received the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, Purple Heart, and Rifle Expert Badge. Marine Private First Class Merton Raymond Riser, known to his family as a son, brother, and uncle, was laid to rest next to his parents in Roseland Cemetery, Sanborn, Iowa, on September 28, 2018, 75 years after his death.

Thank you, Private Merton Raymond Riser, for your service and for your sacrifice. May you forever rest in eternal peace.


My participation in the Sacrifice for Freedom®: World War II in the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute proved to be a surreal and humbling experience. Through this program, I was able to learn much about World War II in the Pacific Theater and was afforded many opportunities I would otherwise not be able to partake in, and for that I am grateful.

Through our reading and writing assignments, we were able to understand the enormity of World War II while also gaining particular insight on the war effort in the Pacific Theater and its importance. This research, coupled with the study of our silent hero, provided an experience that was both factual and yet very personal.

Visiting locations such as Pearl Harbor, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, USS Bowfin, USS Missouri, and numerous other historical sites gave a rich environment in which to learn and truly understand the historical events of World War II. Of all the locations we visited while in Hawaii, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific was by far my most favorite and the most meaningful.

After months of researching our silent hero’s life, all the work finally culminated at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific with the reading of our silent hero’s eulogy. This emotional moment made me understand the meaning and importance of sacrifice. Without those like Merton Raymond Riser who were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice, I would not have the privilege to enjoy the freedom and splendor that I currently do.

The Sacrifice for Freedom®: World War II in the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute has instilled within me a sense of pride and eternal gratitude for those who serve our country. I can only hope that this program will continue on into the future to provide other students with such an extraordinary learning experience and to give them a perspective on the importance of sacrifice.  


Primary Sources

Cemetery 33 on Tarawa. Photograph. 1946. National Archives and Records Administration.

Elsie Riser (Wink). Iowa Marriage Records 1880-1940. Digital Images.

International Harvester. Food Will Win the War. Poster. 1943. Wisconsin Historical Society (4762).

Iowa. O’Brien County. 1940 U.S. Census. Digital Images.

Merton Raymond Riser. Photograph. c. 1943. Marines – Together We Served.

Merton Riser. Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current. Digital Images.

Merton Riser, Official Military Personnel File, Department of the Navy. U.S. Marine Corps, Record of the U.S. Marine Corps, RG 127, National Archives and Records Administration – St. Louis.

Merton Riser, Individual Deceased Personnel File, Department of the Army.

Secondary Sources

“3rd Battalion 8th Marines (3/8).” Marines – Together We Served. Updated 2011. Accessed June 20, 2019.

“Battle of Tarawa.” HISTORY®. Updated August 21, 2018. Accessed June 21, 2019.

Crowl, Philip, and Edmund Love. Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls. Washington D.C.: Center of Military History, 1993.

“Merton Riser.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed August 26, 2019.

Pry, Todd. Email Interview. March 7, 2019.