Merritt was born in Greenville, South Carolina to fundamentalist Christian parents. His father and mother were of Irish, German and Cherokee Indian descent whose families had resided for generations in and around Piedmont, South Carolina, in the foothills region of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At first his family joined a Pentecostal Holiness church, but switched to an independent Baptist Church when Merritt was six. Both denominations are part of Protestant evangelicalism.
Merritt first attended Tabernacle Baptist Church kindergarten before his parents enrolled him at the elementary and secondary schools of Bob Jones University. He graduated from Bob Jones Academy in 1985 as president of the senior class. During his high school summers he worked in various positions at The Wilds, a fundamentalist Christian camp. He attended Bob Jones University for two years and in 1988 transferred to Clemson University. Although BJU was not an accredited institution at that time, Merritt claimed in his memoirs that his BJU credits transferred to Clemson University only because the late Senator Strom Thurmond, a prominent graduate of Clemson College (1923) was also on the board of Bob Jones University.
Rich Merritt is an author, blogger and attorney. Merritt is a speaker at universities, law schools and other civic organizations about topics ranging from issues on gay and lesbian equality to fundamentalism. He has been a controversial figure since he was featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine on June 28, 1998, in an article by Jennifer Egan entitled "Uniforms In The Closet: The Shadow Life Of A Gay Marine". He now resides in Manhattan and his partner since 2006 is Jonathan Wood.
Soon after his eighteenth birthday, Merritt enlisted in the United States Marine Corps (the Marine Forces Reserve) and in January 1986 he shipped off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. After completing boot camp he attended a brief occupational school at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Merritt returned to Greenville where he joined his Marine Corps Reserve unit, a company of ammunition technicians. Merritt attained the rank of sergeant in May 1990 but because he was transitioning to the officer program, he did not deploy to Operation Desert Storm with the reserve unit.
Merritt drilled on weekends with his reserve unit while a student at Clemson. Concurrently with his reserve obligations, Merritt applied for and was accepted to the Marines' officer commissioning program. He attended the Platoon Leaders' Course at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in northern Virginia during the summers and graduated from Officer Candidate School in July 1989. At Clemson, Merritt met Gary Fullerton, a fellow student and Marine officer candidate. Both attended OCS together and remained close friends throughout their military careers and beyond for the next seventeen years.
In December 1990 Merritt was commissioned a second lieutenant and reported to active duty, returning to MCB Quantico for The Basic School. At the end of the six-month course, he was assigned the Military Occupational Specialty of surface-to-air missile officer, specifically commanding Marines in the FIM-92 Stinger missile field. His first position was as a platoon commander with the 1st Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (1st LAAD) at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, on the island of Okinawa, Japan. During his year-long tour in Okinawa Merritt deployed with his Stinger platoons to the Philippines and South Korea for brief stints.
Following his overseas tour Merritt was promoted to first lieutenant and transferred to 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (3rd LAAD) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California near San Diego. He continued assignments with Stinger missiles, planning and executing training missions in the Mojave Desert at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms and in Arizona at the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. In 1994 he became part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (15th MEU), a Marine unit that deploys aboard four-ships known as an Amphibious ready group that was led by the USS Tripoli. Merritt led a section of Air Control Group Marines on a six-month deployment aboard the USS Rushmore. The ARG participated in military and humanitarian assistance operations in Somalia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. In Somalia, the 15th MEU assisted in the withdrawal of Operation United Shield and the United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II) as a result of hostilities by General Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
In October 1994, Saddam Hussein moved 80,000 Iraqi troops to areas near the border with Kuwait, posing an imminent threat of a renewed invasion of or attack against Kuwait. The 15th MEU and the Tripoli ARG, coincidentally training in the Persian Gulf at the time, recharted their course and entered Kuwait Harbor as the first on scene to oppose Saddam's renewed hostilities. After a two-week stalemate, the Iraqi troops stood down and the Marines departed the Gulf, returning to San Diego on schedule. Because of the period of hostilities the Marines and Sailors received combat recognition. Merritt was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his leadership during the six-month deployment.
He returned to Camp Pendleton after the deployment with the 15th MEU and rejoined 3rd LAAD Battaltion in 1995 and 1996. In June 1995 he was promoted to the rank of captain and in October he was selected for retention into the regular officer Corps. The new Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, then-Major General Fred McCorkle, selected Merritt to be his personal aide-de-camp. Despite being a period of peacetime, 1996 and 1997 were turbulent years for the Marine aviation community in Southern California because Marine Corps Air Station El Toro and Marine Corps Air Station Tustin, both in Orange County were closing as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's decision. At the end of the year as aide, General McCorkle awarded Merritt the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.
In 1997 and 1998 Merritt served as the commanding officer of Alpha Battery, a 100-man unit of Stinger missile teams and Avenger vehicle systems at MCB Camp Pendleton. In August 1998 Merritt tendered his resignation from the Marine Corps and was honorably discharged after almost thirteen years of service in the active and reserve Marine forces.
In August 1998 Merritt enrolled at the University of Southern California Law School in Los Angeles and graduated with a Juris Doctorate in May 2001. He was a summer associate at the LA office of the international law firm Jones Day and became an associate after law school. He was admitted to the California Bar Association in December 2001.
In late 2003 Merritt's father was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a fatal disease known more commonly in the US as Lou Gehrig's disease. The diagnosis and the nature of the illness prompted Merritt to give up his San Diego law practice in early 2004 and return to the South to be near his family in this time of crisis. He obtained employment at Powell Goldsten, an Atlanta law firm. His father died in 2005 and a year later Merritt moved to New York where currently he works as an attorney in Manhattan.
Secrets Of A Gay Marine Porn Star by Rich Merritt
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Kensington; First Edition edition (May 31, 2005)
Amazon: Secrets Of A Gay Marine Porn Star
Amazon Kindle: Secrets Of A Gay Marine Porn Star
Yes, It All Really Happened Just Like This... Here's the story of Rich Merritt-the good son, teacher's pet, Southern gentleman, model Christian student at Bob Jones University, Marine officer, and the not-so-anonymous poster boy for a New York Times Magazine article on gays in the military-whose complicated sexual past caused an international scandal when The Advocate "outed" him as "The Marine Who Did Gay Porn," putting his life in a tailspin. It's the compelling, poignant story of how a boy who never listened to pop music, never cursed, and didn't have his first drink until he was eighteen exploded into a life of drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, prostitution, and pornography. And above all, it's a triumphant story of self-forgiveness and identity, of a man who refused to allow himself to be defined by the standards of anyone else-gay or straight. Along the way, Rich Merritt writes with humor, compassion, insight and naked truth about: What it's really like growing up behind the "Fortress of Fundamentalism" and how he ultimately came to despise their views The harsh realities of military life under the "Don't ask, don't tell" Clinton policy A real insider's experience of working in the male porn industry-the good, the bad, and the extremely hot Why he chose not to reveal his porn past to the New York Times journalist What it felt like to be the most notorious marine in the world and what it took to come through the fire By turns harrowing and heartbreaking, angry and affirming, Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star is that rarest of memoirs-a fascinating slice of life that reads like the most absorbing fiction, but is all true. Rich Merritt has written an Op-Ed column for the Navy Times. He has been profiled for The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and The Advocate. Stories about him have appeared in the London Times, The Washington Post and many other publications. He is now an attorney living in Atlanta. Readers can contact Rich via his Web site: www.richmerritt.com.
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