Senate unanimously votes to award WWII Merrill's Marauders Congress' highest honor

Abbie Bennett
December 09, 2019 - 1:48 pm
MerrillsMarauders

Official photograph U.S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, Newport News, Va./National Archives

In 1943, the world's top Allied leaders, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, created a plan for a secret, all-volunteer American long-range penetration force. 

Roosevelt put out a call for a "dangerous and hazardous" mission and nearly 3,000 soldiers from the U.S., Caribbean and South Pacific answered. 

The top-secret commando force, 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), would become known as Merrill's Marauders. Operating under code-name Galahad, they were trained on long-range reconnaissance in India by British Maj. Gen. Orde Wingate's famous Chindits. 

They weren't expected to survive their mission in what has been referred to as the "forgotten theater" of World War II -- the China-Burma-India Theater. 

With only what they could carry on their backs or load onto pack mules, the Marauders carved their way through nearly 1,000 miles of dense jungle, hiking up the Himalayan Mountains to seize northern Burma's all-weather Myitkyina Airfield. There were three original Marauder Battalions commanded by Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill.

The Marauders defeated the much-larger, elite Japanese 18th Division in five major battles and 30 smaller engagements, though they were more poorly supplied. Their success ensured free airspace over Burma for critical Allies to forge a path into China. 

Today the mountain phase of Army Ranger School is taught in Dahlonega, Ga., at Camp Frank D. Merrill, named for the unit's commander. The75th Ranger Regiment, headquartered at Fort Benning, Ga., traces its lineage to the Marauders, honoring them by wearing their patch as the regiment's crest. 

Aug. 10 marked the unit's 75th disbandment anniversary. Last week, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to award the Marauders Congress' highest honor: The Congressional Gold Medal. 

“On behalf of these World War II heroes and their families, I’m so pleased the Senate has voted to recognize this elite group of volunteer warriors and award them with the Congressional Gold Medal,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said. Isakson 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 hope the U.S. House will soon pass its measure to award them with the Congressional Gold Medal.”

Merrill's Marauders received the Presidential Unit Citation and every member of the unit received a Bronze Star. So far, 29 members have been inducted in the Army Ranger Hall of Fame. As of Dec. 5, there were nine surviving members of the unit. 

Congress can award only one Congressional Gold Medal each year, the "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions" of an individual, institution or event, according to the history of the award.

Already, the Merchant Mariners, WWII Army Rangers, women collectively known as "Rosie the Riveter" and the "Hidden Figures" who helped put American astronauts on the moon have gotten nods from Congress in the form of bills that would award them the medals. 

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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MerrillsMarauders
Official photograph U.S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, Newport News, Va./National Archives.