Merrill Steele ADY [1895-1982]

Submitted by David on Tue, 04/17/2012 - 11:57
Merrill Steele
Birthplace (town, state)
Omaha, Nebraska
Birthplace (country)
United States

Mr Ady was an American missionary working in Southern China.

He was interned at Stanley by the Japanese in 1942, and repatriated with the other Americans later that year.

He returned to South China where he worked with the OSS.

Click here for more about Mr Ady's work with the OSS.

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Here is the text of a letter extracted from the link that Brian Edgar sent for me to see on the Stanley website. It was amidst some BAAG papers he quoted. The letter is a copy of one sent to the guerilla chief, whose name I had not seen before.

Merrill Ady’s farewell letter to Commander Tsang Shang

13 August, 1945 

Dear Commander Tsang,

I have enjoyed your hospitality and that of Mr. Wong for a few days longer than anticipated when I last saw you. But now I am really leaving. I’m sorry to go, though it seems best that I do so. I shall remember the constant courtesy and cordial good-will which has marked my stay here. I have always been conscious of being with very good friends. 

The work of intelligence carried out by you through Mr. Yuen’s department has been notable. Things that I have learned and now certain confirmations which Lieutenant Davis brings from Hora. Leave no doubt of this. We may take great satisfaction in what has been done. Please convey my very deep thanks and appreciation to Mr. Yuen and his staff. I remain with the hope that our association and friendship may be continued in a world in which many difficulties of the moment have been resolved. 

Yours sincerely, 
Merrill S. Ady Tech. Rep. 

Two interesting points in the letter. "Yuen" I should think is a code name for the intelligence head of the East River Column whose actual name is Yuan Geng. Mr. Geng must have been a very close associate during the intelligence work. The other point is a mysterious matter alluded to about word to be delivered by Davis who was to be Dad's successor (briefly).  I should think this allusion has to do with some help some groups of East River Column soldiers were to get from the US Navy. War's end left some cut off without egress from Nationalist troops greatly outnumbering them. I think I once read of it in maybe GWULO ? that evacuation WAS DONE using some naval landing craft.

I think that after such a length of time there would be no harm in sharing the letter.

Regards, Don Ady

Merrill Steele Ady

b. Dec. 15, 1895.  in Omaha, Nebraska
 d. Nov. 2, 1982    in Duarte, California

Dad died at 86, nearly 87. When in the army the records "changed his name" - maybe it was an added "e" on the Steele. He went along with it. He was named after the last names of two of my Grandfather Ady's friends. He was the eldest of three survivors. However, two older children had already been deceased - of scarlet fever before he was born. When he left the guerillas in 1945 he was not quite 50. He left a little before the OSS closed out its intelligence operation with the guerillas which was soon after VJ day. He had started suffering from jaundice and needed medical attention.

Regards, Don Ady

I had not heard of Shang’s name at all before. Dad’s closest colleague among the guerrillas would have been Yuan Geng, their head of intelligence. In the letter Dad refers to “Yuen” - a different spelling. I guess if not a typo that this is a code name for Yuen Gang.

The “important message” to brought to the guerrillas by his soon to arrive replacement Lt. Williams, is another item for which I have a bit of likely guess work. Dad writes on August 13th, shortly after VJ Day. He is ailing with jaundice and needs to go. At this time as I have read elsewhere there were some small elements of the East River Column that were stranded behind Nationalist lines. Greatly outnumbered, they are in peril. They asked for help. The help did come and a little later operated successfully.. Some small US
naval landing craft were used. It seems very likely that this is related to the mysterious information to be brought by Williams. That is, location(s) and time(s) and recognition signals for the pickups.

This letter reinforces the very strong impression of close relations that I had when learning years ago of the guerrilla’ parting gift to Dad: the Samurai sword from a slain Japanese General. Most extraordinary. Very definitely not some casual offhand gesture!

I heard from some people in Shenzhen - was it several years ago? They were  doing a biography of Yuen Geng. It had come to their attention that he and Dad were a very close pair. They knew nothing of Dad and wanted more information. I provided it. In exchange I did not get anything substantial, just some quite flowery thanks, and then nothing more. They did send one piece of information.
This was of a book available in Hong Kong, a bit over 400 pages, with essays by various guerillas. Yuen Geng wrote 18 pages. There is some (not much) English in the book which is generally in traditional Chinses script. The book title is The Defense of Hong Kong - The Hong Kong Kowloon Brigade of the East River Column. I can not read it. Google Translate often works for me on web pages for
Chinese, but would not work on the 18 scanned pages 249-256 which I had snipped out of the book to lay on the scanner bed.

For awhile after the war Geng had a CCP office in Hong Kong. Later, he was in Shenzhen. According to the web, it was in Shenzhen that Geng led a pilot project in industrial development. So, without any substantiation, I can fantasize that  maybe Dad influenced him to become “the father of miraculous industrialization”. Or, maybe that is a big stretch.

I have also seen it mentioned that Chou En Lai himself took a lively interest and sometimes active hand in the intelligence effort and allied cooperation. Did Dad ever meet him in the field?  Another fantasy.

So what did Dad discuss with Geng and others that made them close? After dark and after arduous daily marches? It would not have been Christianity as they (the cadre if not the men) were generally militant atheists. It seems likely that some vow of silence on that subject might have been a sine qua non of accepting a liaison.

Dad actually was quite expert on military technology. In WWI, in France, in the Field Artillery, he got swiftly kicked upstairs. He started out as a private with no stripe and ended up in officer country, First Lieutenant. So, he learned a lot and quickly.  So it was not only that casualties opened the way for him. Colonel Heppner and Wild Bill Donovan who wrote Dad’s commendations were not aware of this service, but Bob Lynn, mission doctor who recruited Dad, likely knew. WWI “sent him to seminary” as well as taught him. He was just about as tight lipped on that as he was on the OSS. We got little beyond the following statement and similar things: “They gave us two quarts of coffee a day to drink, shave, and wash our socks”!

Dad could have if he would have discussed military things. He loved philosophy. It is not unlikely that he read some of it in Chinese. Perhaps the warriors were not overly interested in the Analects of Confucius - I think Mao despised such things. However, Sun Tze’s “The Art of War” would be something else! Shades of Machiavelli there.

Regards, Don

Your father's name turns up in documents I've uncovered while researching my latest book--specifically, documents from AGAS (Air Ground Aid Section) and CTSD (China Theater Search Detachment).  In some documents he is referred to as a "Major Ady" and in other documents as a "Dr. Ady."  Do you know if he was, in fact, a major and/or a doctor?  I realize that as an OSS agent he may have claimed both as circumstances demanded!  Still, I'd like to get my facts straight, since I mention his role in the book when I describe the escape and evasion of pilot Lt. Donald F. Egan of the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron.


Steve Bailey

Merrill Ady never went to medical school. When entering the field with the OSS he passed through Waichow and I later saw the BAAG report citing that fact. "Dr" Ady was a cover story. I believe he had a medical back pack or had in his own pack some quantitiy of medical supples. At a guess sulfanilamide and atabrine and various other items then in favor. His OSS superior, Robert E. Lynn, was a highly qualified surgeon and may have set him up with that. Dad had some limited skill as an amateur paramedic, I think. The "Dr" title was entirely a cover story. It might also have been thought that the manufactured title might help prevent pilferage, and there was indeed a need for medications that would be very welcome by the guerilllas.

BAAG reported him at the time as a lieutenant, but noted that his army uniform bore no markings whatever of unit or rank. That is how as BAAG put it, he soon "departed into the blue". The lieutenant rank was a courtesy rank, often used by agents, as were other ranks, for those of them not in the armed forces prior to OSS enlistment. In China the OSS was subordinate to the Army and thus courtesy ranks more likely. Robert Lynn with more OSS service was one step up - captain. He in fact recruited Dad to the OSS, knowing he would be perfectly suited to the mission if he would accept it. Dad was lieterate and fluent in Chinese with more than one Cantonese dialect, and even knew much of Kwangtung from having repeatedly walked it!

Dad was actually in WWI. He went in as a buck private, out of college, then in France in the Field Artillery advanced very rapidly, ending up as First Lieutenant in his short war - a "mustang" officer. The OSS was in general oblivious to this history. Dr. Lynn probably knew it, as they had both been missionaries in Yeung Kong (now Yangjiang) where Dad was the number one. I knew Lynn slightly and was interned in Stanley with his wife and daughter as well as my father and mother and another couple - 7 to a room in our case.

Citations Dad got from Wild Bill Donovan and also from a Lt. Colonel Hepner referred to him as a civilian. They either did not know his WWI history or were covering it up (unlikely). I suppose that all the military lore that he quickly learned under fire served him really well with the guerillas. A help in judging what intel to look for, and a knowledge of very similar technology, etc. A help in writing pertinent reports. A help in advising his wartime comrades and their scouts. Hepner I believe was tasked to hand out all the China theater OSS citations.

Regards, Don Ady

Merrill Steele Ady born 15 December Omaha Nebraska

Married Martha Lucile Meloy 3 August 1923 Cook County Illinois

Died 2 November 1982 Duarte LA California

Buried Forest Lawn Cemetery Omaha Nebraska close to wife and family

Records of Detained Passengers 25 August 1942 arrived on Gripsholm

Merrill S Ady

Martha L Ady

Donald W Ady

Shows life events of Merrill S Ady

Amongst the 1,451 passengers aboard the "Gripsholm" were Mr. & Mrs. Merrill Ady and their son, Donald. Mr. Ady had been a missionary in China for the past 20 years. The full text of the articles of their return to the U. S.  and time in Stanley Internment Camp can be read below in the links provided.


Morgan County Democrat newspaper, McConnelsville, Ohio on 27 August and 17 September 1942: