ATLANTA — U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., recognized World War II’s “Merrill’s Marauders” recently prior to the 75th anniversary of the disbanding of the top-secret commando force in Burma on Aug. 10, 1944. The historic, all-volunteer unit, which today includes 11 surviving members, defeated the much larger, elite Japanese 18th Division in five major battles and 30 minor engagements despite being poorly supplied and underfed. The unit’s successful mission freed airspace over Burma so a critical Allied pathway could be forged into China.
Today, the mountain phase of Army Ranger School is taught in Dahlonega at Camp Frank D. Merrill, which is named for the unit’s commander. Additionally, the 75th Ranger Regiment, headquartered at Fort Benning, traces its history to this unit and honors the Marauder legacy by wearing its patch as their crest.
Earlier this year, Isakson reintroduced the bipartisan Merrill’s Marauders Congressional Gold Medal Act, S.743, to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) in recognition of the heroic unit’s extraordinary efforts and sacrifices during World War II.
“The bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers who volunteered to be a part of this elite group of warriors should be honored and remembered,” said Isakson, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “I’m proud that the legacy of Merrill’s Marauders lives on today at Fort Benning with the 75th Ranger Regiment, and I’m proud to continue advocating for this legislation to honor Merrill’s Marauders with the Congressional Gold Medal.”
At the 1943 Quebec Conference, the world’s top two Allied leaders, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, created the plan for the secret, all-volunteer American long-range penetration force, which became known as Merrill’s Marauders. Nearly 3,000 soldiers from the Caribbean, South Pacific and stateside answered Roosevelt’s call for a “dangerous and hazardous” mission. The volunteers were considered expendable and not expected to survive their mission in the China-Burma-India Theater, today called the “forgotten theater” of World War II.
Operating under the code name Galahad, the volunteers were trained in India on long-range reconnaissance tactics by British Major General Orde Wingate’s famous Chindits. With only what they could carry on their backs or pack on mules, Merrill’s Marauders hacked their way through almost 1,000 miles of dense jungle and trudged up the Himalayan Mountains to seize their objective of northern Burma’s all-weather Myitkyina airfield.
When the unit disbanded 75 years ago, only about 100 Merrill’s Marauders remained in Burma. Only two had not been seriously injured or stricken with malaria, dysentery, typhus or other jungle diseases during the campaign.
The unit received the Presidential Unit Citation, and every member of Merrill’s Marauders received the Bronze Star. To date, 29 members of the unit have been inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame. Marauder Russell G. Wellman, a Distinguished Service Cross recipient, was posthumously inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame at Fort Benning in July.
The 75th Ranger Regiment headquartered at Fort Benning is a special operations force, specializing in direct action, airfield seizure and special reconnaissance operations. The regiment falls under the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. The 1st Ranger Battalion is stationed at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia; the 2nd Ranger Battalion is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Washington, and the 3rd Ranger Battalion is stationed at Fort Benning. The 5th Ranger Training Battalion, which conducts Fort Benning’s Airborne Ranger Training Brigade’s mountain phase of Ranger School, is located at Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega.