Legendary WW II Merrill’s Marauders hold 69th annual reunion in Dallas/Ft. Worth
by Jonnie Melillo Clasen
An older and smaller group of WW II Merrill’s Marauders, legendary Infantry jungle fighters who volunteered for a secret mission expecting 85 percent casualties, will gather with other China, Burma, India Theater (CBI) veterans for their 69th annual reunion Sept. 3 to 5, 2015, in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
“We are expecting 15 CBI veterans plus their families and friends at this year‘s reunion,” said Bob Passanisi, 91, Merrill’s Marauder spokesperson, historian and former long-time editor of “The Burman News.“ The reunion will be at the Marriott Solana in Westlake.
“There are less than 50 original Merrill’s Marauders still living in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of WW II,” added Passanisi. “They are part of almost 3,000 volunteers who answered President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1943 call for a secret ‘dangerous and hazardous’ mission, not knowing their destination or objective.”
Officially designated Jan. 1, 1944, as the 5307th Composite Unit Provisional, code-named “Galahad,” the unit was later “nicknamed” Merrill’s Marauders by the press after their commander, Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill.
Modern-day Army Rangers, the 75th Ranger Regiment, honor their legacy by wearing the Marauder patch as their crest. Camp Frank D. Merrill, where the rigorous mountain phase of Ranger training is conducted in north Georgia, is named in honor of the unit’s commander.
Retired Ranger Karl Monger, founder and chief executive officer of the non-profit GallantFew, Inc., will be the keynote speaker at the reunion’s Saturday night banquet. Along with producing and hosting a weekly internet talk show, “The New American Veteran,” the Dallas resident created The Darby Project (U.S. Army Rangers,) The Raider Project (Marine Corps Special Operations and Infantry combat veterans) and Wings Level (US Air Force.)
The Marauders, with only what they could carry on their backs or pack on mules, made military history during the short eight months of their existence by marching farther -- with estimates up to 1,000 miles -- than any other American fighting force in WW II. They were supplied by airdrops from C-47 transport planes.
The Marauders were considered “expendable,” since a plan existed to get them into Burma but no plan existed to get them out, according to Marauder, lecturer and retired Lt. Gen. Samuel V. Wilson, 90. His many accomplishments range from serving as president of Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College to helping create Delta Force, the U.S. Army’s premier counterterrorism unit.
According to Passanisi, "No other unit in the annals of military history, before or since has ever fought continuously under such adverse conditions, for more than four months; well beyond the known level of human jungle endurance."
They trudged behind enemy lines up the foothills of the Himalayas and into the jungles of northern Burma to capture the only all-weather airstrip May 17, 1944, at Myitkyina, crushing Japan’s control of the sky and enabling the Allies to safely fly supplies into Burma for connecting the Ledo and Burma roads and opening up a crucial pathway into China.
Jungle diseases, including malaria, dysentery and mite-typhus alongwith malnutrition and exhaustion, had ravaged their numbers so only about 300 of the remaining original Marauders were still considered fit for combat. After the Marauders reached the airstrip, a second wave of men, replacements without combat experience, began flying in. They became part of the 5307th CUP before it was disbanded several months later on Aug. 10, 1944.
Last year on the 70th anniversary of the unit’s disbanding, governors of every state in the nation, except California, issued proclamations or similar documents declaring August 10, 2014 as National WW II Merrill’s Marauder Day.
The massive grassroots effort to have the special day designated was organized by Merrill’s Marauders Proud Descendants (MMPD,) a nonprofit organization comprised of sons and daughters of Marauders, along with their grandchildren and other relatives.
The MMPD also plans the annual reunions and is currently trying to gather support to have the U.S. Congress issue the Congressional Gold Medal to Merrill’s Marauders.
For their accomplishments, Merrill’s Marauders were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and have the extremely rare distinction of every member receiving the Bronze Star Medal. There were six Distinguished Service Crosses, four Legions of Merit and 44 Silver Star Medals awarded. Twenty-five Merrill’s Marauders have been inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
Three of the five confirmed Army Rangers who have lived to 100 years of age or older are Merrill’s Marauders. They include the late Everett W. Stanke, who died at 101 on Aug. 12, 2015, at home in Edgerton, WI. He would have turned 102 in November.
Merrill's Marauder and Nisei warrior Roy Matsumoto died the evening of Easter Sunday 2014 about two weeks away from his 101st birthday at his home in Friday Harbor, WA. It was the 70th Easter Sunday anniversary of the 2nd Battalion being rescued by the 1st and 3rd Battalions after being surrounded for almost two weeks by the Japanese at the battle of Nphum ga. Matsumoto played a key role in that rescue.
The oldest Merrill’s Marauder is John M. Jones, publisher of the "Greeneville Sun" in Tennessee. He turns 101 this December. He and his wife "Arne," also 100 years old, celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary this year. Jones kept a journal during the Burma campaign, which has been published as "The War Diary of the 5307th Composite Unit Provisional," and collaborated with the late Dr. E.T. Hopkins on the comprehensive Marauder history, "Spearhead."