Merrill’s Marauders: We Few, We Happy Few

| September 25, 2020

Merrill's Marauders. (U.S. Army)

US Army photo

Eight surviving members of Merrill’s Marauders will get a Congressional Gold Medal. It took some work and time, and it has paid off.

The photo is from one of those jungle treks. Note the soldier on the bamboo bridge, leading the horse: the man is so skinny that you wonder how short their rations were and how much they just sweated off. There’s no date on the photo, but it isn’t necessary: it was during that campaign in Burma during World War II.

From the article:  After being run out of the Burmese jungle by the Japanese in May of 1942, Stillwell had, according to one war correspondent, appeared “like the wrath of God and cursing like a fallen angel.”

The general didn’t mince his words either, telling reporters that the joint expedition between a small contingent of American, British, and Chinese troops “got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back, and retake it.”

The following year a determined Stillwell took a major step toward getting his wish, as allied leaders, many who sought to rectify the previous campaign’s novice display of jungle fighting, mapped out a plan for a ground unit trained and equipped to engage in “long-range penetration” missions.

In what was to be the forerunner for today’s special forces units, 3,000 American men volunteered for the newly formed 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) — code name: Galahad.

Dubbed Merrill’s Marauders after their commander, the men were tasked with a “dangerous and hazardous mission” behind Japanese lines in Burma, where the fall of the country’s capital of Rangoon had severely threatened the Allied supply line to China. – article

They were the foundation of what is called “Special Forces” today.  BZ to the eight still remaining.

Category: Army, Blue Skies, Bravo Zulu, Historical, War Stories

Comments (12)

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  1. Roh-Dog says:

    God bless each one of those tough-as-nails men!
    Rangers truly do lead the way.

  2. 2banana says:

    General Stilwell (note correct spelling) never really had good relationships with the Chindits and Merrill’s Marauders and thought them to be overall too demanding and not really worth all the resources and efforts.

    • ninja says:

      Vinegar Joe.

      Durn it.

      Now I’m gonna get in trouble for calling a GO a condiment.


    • Combat Historian says:

      Stilwell wanted to command a corps in the ETO, but got stuck with the CBI tarbaby because of his previous tours and postings in China. Stilwell continuously pleaded with Marshall for a three-division U.S. corps to kick off his counter-offensive in northern Burma in early 1944, but was only able to secure the 5307th, and that through a stroke of good fortune, as the 5307th was originally not even slated to be deployed under Stilwell’s Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC), but under Lord Mountbatten’s British-dominated South East Asia Command (SEAC). Only through a lot of arm-twisting was Stilwell able to transfer the Marauders into his command, which was otherwise made up of Nationalist Chinese combat troops supported by American air and service units…

      • Combat Historian says:

        To finish my thought on this, Stilwell was a frustrated man who wanted to command American troops in combat, but was stuck with a Chinese Army who he nominally commanded but was in reality stovepiped to a separate Chinese chain of command reaching all the way back to Chungking. The only American ground combat force under him was the 5307th, so he began to command this force almost in person, to micro-manage this unit in its daily movements and maneuvers, and knowing there was no foreseeable American combat unit replacement or reinforcement for them, Stilwell then kept this unit in action at Myitkyina well past its combat effectiveness date, until the Marauders were a useless spent shell. This engendered a lot of bitterness and bad feelings on the part of the surviving Marauders toward Stilwell, but Stilwell was a very frustrated commander who had no other ground combat unit he could completely trust and lead, so he used the 5307th to gain his most critical objective (Myitkyina), until the unit was no more…

        • ninja says:

          Thank You, CH…you ARE living up to your Handle!

          Lots of interesting aspects about Vinegar Joe’s time as a GO.

          Great information. Appreciate the time you took to share this information with us.

          • Combat Historian says:

            GEN Stilwell was a somewhat tragic figure of WWII. He was the American CG of the CBI Theater with virtually no U.S. combat troops to command and was in constant friction with his subordinate air commander (Chennault). He was technically the Chief of Staff of the Nationalist Chinese Army, which in reality took its orders from the Generalissimo and his KMT minions. And Stilwell was subordinate to and supposed to coordinate with Mountbatten, Wavell, and the British, who had completely different strategic goals and priorities for the region, and who constantly undercut, went around, and overrode him in the struggle for critical resources and assets from the Combined Chiefs of Staff for their almost separate wars in the common operational theater. In the end, Stilwell was removed from his position because of his strong bureaucratic, philosophical, and personality clashes with Chiang Kai Shek, but history was to prove him right about his deep misgivings and fears about the operational effectiveness and long-term viability of the Nationalist Chinese Army and overall government…

        • timactual says:

          The Chindits had a similar fate. An excellent book about the Chindits is “The Road Past Mandalay” by John Masters. It is interesting to me that the Chindits were formed by detailing regular infantry battalions, not volunteers. They also developed some of the tactics and techniques used by Merrill’s Marauders and the US in Vietnam.

  3. ninja says:

    From the article Ex posted:

    “We did it because our country needed us.”

    It is about time.


    Thank You for sharing, Ex!

  4. 26Limabeans says:

    The guy in the photo leading and pointing the way is Signal.
    You can tell by the wooden antenna sticking out of the radio.

  5. KoB says:

    BZ to these heros. Nearly forgotten or indicated as a foot note to history. Read up on them way back yonder. We had a semi connection locally with the Nationalist Chinese in that Madame Chek attended the All Girl College that is here.

    Tanks Ex, for the article post, and Tanks to CH for adding his input.

  6. rgr769 says:

    I just received the latest issue of the 75th Ranger Regiment Assn. magazine, “Patrolling.” On the cover is a recent photo of Merril’s Marauder Lester Hollenback. Lester was the ninth surviving member of the Marauders. He passed away on 16 July 2020 at the tender age of 95.

    For those who have served in one of the 75th Regiment affiliated units at any time, the Association is offering a free one year membership. This includes subscription to the magazine “Patrolling” for that year. The info and forms are available at