Merritt Eugene "Gene" Lawlis, 95, of Bloomington, died March 9, 2014.
Born Nov. 22, 1918, in Columbus, he was the only child of Daniel Webber Lawlis and Mabel Irene (Locke) Lawlis. He was a retired professor of English and of comparative literature at Indiana University, where he taught from 1951 to 1983.
He attended elementary school mostly in Indianapolis. For two years, while his mother was dying of tuberculosis, he lived in Columbus with two aunts. After graduating from high school in Indianapolis in 1936, he went to Wabash College, graduating in 1940.
In December 1940 he joined the Army Air Corps, almost a year before Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II. Until late 1944 he taught aerial navigation, then went to combat as an aerial navigator of B-25s in the 345th Bomb Group.
April 3, 1945, the Japanese shot down the plane he was navigating, and they held him prisoner on Hainan Island, China, from April to August 1945. The atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima Aug. 6 and Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945, led directly to his liberation and saved his life. He weighed 120 pounds at the time and would have lived only a month or two longer. He spent two weeks recuperating in a Japanese hospital in Sanya, on Hainan Island, then finally came home to hospitals in Indiana, where he met and fell in love with 2nd Lt. Doris Naomi Abel, one of his nurses there.
In January 1946 he had recovered enough to enter graduate school at Harvard University, on the GI Bill. After one semester he went back home to Indiana and married Naomi. Together they returned to Harvard, where he finished his Ph. D. in June of 1951. He started teaching at I.U. that fall. He taught at Wabash College in 1964-65; otherwise, his teaching was entirely at I.U.
During the last part of his life, he worked on a book about prisoners of war in 10 wars, including WWII, called "Winking at Death" (2008). His own experience is interwoven throughout.
Survivors include his wife, Naomi Lawlis; three daughters, Marcia (husband, Glenn) Gero, of Bloomington and members of New Life Community Church in Nashville, Barbara Rand of Boise, Idaho, and Abigail Kuzma of Indianapolis; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Arrangements for a family memorial are pending. He will be buried at Fountain Park Cemetery in Winchester.
Gene was a kind man, and a true gentleman. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, colleagues and former students.
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