Congressional Gold Medal for Merrill’s Marauders Passes Congress, Awaits Trump’s Signature

September 25, 2020Joshua Skovlund
merrill's marauders

These Marauders, formerly members of the pack artillery in the fighting in New Guinea, were assigned as muleskinners when they volunteered for the Marauders, who at first had no artillery. So when two pack-artillery pieces were air-dropped to help break the Japanese encirclement of another Marauder unit at Nhpum Ga, this crew and one other were whipped together quickly and within two hours of the drop were pounding the Japanese with the howitzers. Photo courtesy of Merrill’s Marauders Website.

A bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), otherwise known as Merrill’s Marauders, was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives Tuesday and is now awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature to pass it into law. 

Former Sen. Johnny Isakson introduced the bill to the US Senate on March 12, 2019, and it was unanimously passed on Dec. 5, 2019. According to the congressional summary on the legislation, the Congressional Gold Medal would be awarded “in recognition of their bravery and outstanding service in the jungles of Burma (Myanmar) during World War II.” 

In August 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and other Allied leaders at the Quebec Conference agreed that they needed an American long-range penetration mission behind enemy lines in Burma, now called Myanmar, to disrupt and destroy the supplies and communication abilities of the veteran Japanese military in that area. 

Roosevelt put out a presidential call to action for “a dangerous and hazardous mission.” That call was answered by an all-volunteer force of approximately 3,000 American troops from all over the globe with Brigadier Gen. Frank D. Merrill as their commander. 

merrill's marauders
“R-19, North Burma, March, April, 1944. S/Sgt. Robert E. Passanisi, 1st Battalion, Radioman from Brooklyn, NY, spent many hours, sharpening and honing, his bayonet. He managed to get it sharp enough to cut hair, but unless you had leather skin, you wouldn’t want to shave with it.” Caption and photo courtesy of Merrills Marauders website.

Merrill’s Marauders, code name “Galahad,” had six combat teams, two for each of the three battalions. Approximately 400 men were assigned to each team, and the teams were color coded red, white, blue, green, orange, and khaki. The volunteers included men from stateside units with no experience in war as well as battle-hardened soldiers from the jungles of Trinidad and Panama. Some of the troops fought through grueling engagements in Guadalcanal, New Georgia, and New Guinea. The remainder were assigned to the HQ and Air Transport Commands.

The Marauders endured the grueling conditions of Burma’s dense and almost impenetrable jungles, constantly facing malnutrition, lack of supplies, disease, and the looming threat of the veteran soldiers of the Japanese 18th Division that conquered Singapore and Malaya. The Japanese force greatly numbered the Marauders.  

The unit had traversed more than 800 miles through the Himalayan Mountains and the dense jungles of Burma while suffering from diseases such as malaria, dysentery, and typhus, in addition to fighting against the Japanese, before their battle to capture the Myitkyina airstrip. Fewer than 300 of the remaining 1,310 Marauders were considered well enough to fight for the airstrip.

merrill's marauders
“R-5, North Burma, February – March, 1944. Same as R-4, Marauder column passes bodies of Japanese killed shortly before in attempted ambush of a preceding I & R Platoon patrol that was advancing along a Burma trail through high elephant grass.” Caption and photo courtesy of the Merrill’s Marauders website.

The Marauders received reinforcements, deemed the “New Galahad,” and they successfully captured Myitkyina Airfield, the only all-weather airfield in northern Burma, a critical factor for the defeat of the Japanese military. According to the Merrill’s Marauders website: “In Five major (WALAWBUM, SHADUZUP, INKANGAHTAWNG, NHPUM GA, & MYITKYINA) and thirty minor engagements, they defeated the veteran soldiers of the Japanese 18th Division.” 

Merrill’s Marauders have been awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, six Distinguished Service Crosses, four Legions of Merit, and 44 Silver Star medals. They also have the rare distinction of every member of the unit having received a Bronze Star, as well as 25 inductees into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame — more than any other Ranger unit. 

According to Merrill’s Marauders Proud Descendants, Merrill’s Marauders are credited as the first American combat troops to fight the Japanese on the ground in Asia and the first American long-range penetration group; and they have the second-most uninterrupted jungle fighting service of any American unit.

The unit was consolidated with the 475th Infantry on Aug. 10, 1944. On June 21, 1954, the 475th was redesignated the 75th Infantry Regiment. The modern-day 75th Ranger Regiment traces its lineage directly to Merrill’s Marauders. The original color coding of the Marauders’ combat teams is now featured on the 75th Ranger Regiment’s distinctive unit insignia, which is most visible on their unique tan beret.

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis that followed the death of George Floyd. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he earned his CrossFit Level 1 certificate and worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. He went on to work in paramedicine for more than five years, much of that time in the North Minneapolis area, before transitioning to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion, where he publishes poetry focused on his life experiences.

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