This publish was written by Vaneesa Cook dinner, historic analysis fellow for UW–Madison’s Missing in Action Recovery and Identification Project.
Within the winter of 1944, whereas many People had been tracing the progress of Allied island hopping all through the Pacific, a particular unit of U.S. troopers set out on foot throughout a whole bunch of miles of mountains and thick jungle on a mission that commanders estimated would lead to no less than eighty-five % casualties.
They had been proper. By the tip of the summer season, the almost 3,000 soldiers of the “Merrill’s Marauders,” the Military’s 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), had been decreased to about 200 survivors. And but, their story — throughout Burma (now often called Myanmar), behind enemy Japanese strains, and into the hard-fought, pricey Battle of Myitkyina — stays largely unknown, even amongst many historical past buffs.
A kind of survivors is 96-year-old Robert E. Passinisi of Lindenhurst, New York, who has spent his life preserving the historical past and legacy of Merrill’s Marauders. As he instructed the UW-Madison Lacking in Motion Restoration and Identification Mission (UW-Madison MIA-RIP) in June, he believes the character of the unit and its distinctive project has obscured its place of significance within the Allied victory in World Conflict II.
“There have been 15 million males in arms,” he mentioned of the full deployment to Europe and the Pacific through the battle, “[so] how necessary would a 3,000-man secret mission be?”
It was, certainly, extraordinarily necessary for the long-term success of the battle. For the reason that Japanese had seized Burma from the British in 1942, Allies had struggled to maintain communication and provide strains open between India and China. The recapture of Burma, together with its strategic airfields within the northern metropolis of Myitkyina was thought-about essential for establishing air provide within the effort to encircle and defeat Japan.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Common George Marshall put out the decision for volunteers to serve in a provisional unit of excessive worth and excessive danger, they acquired the dedication of virtually 3,000 volunteers, some who had been preventing on the islands of the South Pacific. Passinisi volunteered, although he knew nothing of the placement or objective of the mission. So did no less than three troopers who hailed from Wisconsin. They’d finally change into the unit nicknamed “Merrill’s Marauders” after their authentic commander Brigadier Common Frank Merrill.
Pvt. Richard H. Gunderson of Marshall, who labored for Oscar Mayer in Madison earlier than enlisting, and Employees Sgt. Vilas D. Parker of Fond du Lac each signed up for the mission name and assembled for coaching in India.
Parker initially served with the thirty second Division within the Pacific, the place he probably realized the difficulties of jungle fight. Regardless of their earlier coaching and expertise, nonetheless, the Marauders had been supposed to participate in operations that didn’t resemble typical fight engagements. As a lightweight infantry unit, they needed to transfer shortly, on foot and with gentle weapons and provides, by way of tough terrain and behind enemy strains.
In early 1944, the Marauders, together with Gunderson, Parker, and Passinisi, started their trek, guided by native Kachin scouts, throughout a whole bunch of miles of excessive mountains in northern Burma. A sequence of battles awaited them on the opposite aspect. In villages that almost all People had by no means heard of — Walawbum, Shaduzup, Inkangahtawng, Nhpum Ga — the Marauders engaged the Japanese in fight, incomes success every time, and slowly reopening provide routes throughout the area.
Their culminating mission, to retake the all-weather airstrip on the outskirts of Myitkyina, was necessary for creating extra direct and safer air provide routes throughout “the Hump” of the Himalayan mountains, a barrier vary on the border of China that had value the lives of numerous U.S. pilots, together with over a dozen from Wisconsin. A kind of air casualties was Employees Sergeant Vilas Parker, whose C-47 crash website was found within the late Eighties by Kachin Burmese natives. It’s unclear whether or not American investigators had been allowed entry to the realm to seek for the troopers. Dozens of crash websites and the stays of their pilots are nonetheless hidden within the mountains and jungles in Asia.
The exhausted males of the Marauders had been anticipating much-needed relaxation and restoration after the seize of the airstrip west of town of Myitkyina, which was closely defended by well-trained Japanese troopers. On Might 17, the Marauders, aided by a Chinese language regiment, seized the airstrip in a shock assault that caught the Japanese off guard. However the Marauders’ mission didn’t finish there. As an alternative of evacuating to India for restoration as promised, they had been ordered by Gen. Joseph Stilwell, commander of the China-Burma-India theater, to advance into town of Myitkyina, all of the whereas defending the airstrip for Allied use.
The Marauders fought valiantly, although they suffered from low rations, little sleep and ongoing bouts of dysentery and malaria. As casualties elevated all through Might, commanders realized that the Marauders had been in determined want of reinforcements. They despatched out a brand new name for volunteers throughout all theaters and deployed reinforcements from engineer battalions working to restore roads and bridges in Burma. Wisconsinites John N. Brown of Rhinelander, Maurice E. Strutz, and Raymond P. Merchlevich discovered themselves preventing in Myitkyina by early June.
Sgt. Strutz and Pfc. Merchlevich possible knew one another, since they each served in the identical battalion of the 209th Fight Engineers. Although that they had little motive to fireplace their M-1 rifles since fundamental coaching, they had been thrust all of the sudden right into a chaotic and important fight state of affairs, ordered to advance into Japanese-controlled areas of Myitkyina. Caught behind enemy strains for five days throughout an operation in mid-June, Strutz and Merchlevich misplaced their lives inside days of one another, June 13 and June 15, respectively. They had been posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Coronary heart.
Second Lt. John N. Brown had enlisted to serve within the US Military in February 1942, forsaking a spouse, a baby, and a profession as a state patrol visitors officer. After receiving officer’s coaching stateside, he answered the decision for volunteers to strengthen the decimated Marauders within the spring of 1944. Assigned to a headquarters firm, Brown was killed in motion on June 28, circumstances unknown. He’s additionally a recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Coronary heart, and his identify is inscribed on the Tablets of the Lacking within the Philippines.
All through June and July, the bolstered battalions continued to advance on town of Myitkyina, usually yards at a time. On August 3, 1944, the Battle of Myitkyina ended with the collapse of organized Japanese protection. Clearance actions of remaining pockets of Japanese resistance continued till August 5, 1944. The seize of Myitkyina helped improve deliveries of provides to China and meant that as quickly because the gasoline pipeline and Ledo Street reached the city, the Allies would have a serious provide base squarely on the highway and rail internet of Burma, and inside straightforward distance of China itself.
This achievement, nonetheless, was pricey. Solely about 2 hundred of the unique 5307th Marauders troopers survived the Burmese marketing campaign.
The troopers who died through the Battle of Myitkyina had been buried in short-term cemeteries outdoors of town. Nevertheless, after the battle, Myitkyina turned a centralized location for receiving the stays of Allies from all through the area. Years of decay and hasty documentation efforts within the midst of battle made it troublesome to maintain correct information. It’s possible that’s how Wisconsinites Strutz, Mechlevich, and Brown acquired their Lacking in Motion (MIA) standing.
Although their stays could have been recovered and reburied on the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Honolulu, HI) with their fallen comrades, the investigation into their whereabouts is ongoing. Since 2013, the UW–Madison MIA Mission has labored to research and recover U.S. soldiers, principally Wisconsin enlistees who served throughout World Conflict II. The boys who marched with the Marauders are included in that effort, in addition to the engineers and airmen who misplaced their lives in Burma.
The MIA Mission additionally strives to gather the tales of those that served, like these of veteran Marauder Robert Passinisi. When requested how the Marauders had been in a position to obtain their legendary standing, he mentioned: “by the tip we knew that we did the inconceivable.”
For his or her braveness, endurance, and sacrifices, the members of the Marauders acquired the Bronze Star, and plenty of had been additionally awarded Purple Hearts. Passinisi is lobbying Congress to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal upon the 5307th Marauders unit.
“Should you had been to go looking all of the unit’s army historical past from the start of time,” he mentioned, “you received’t discover one other unit that fought behind enemy strains for therefore lengthy below such opposed circumstances and proved profitable. If this isn’t deserving of the CGM award, then nothing is.”
The Congressional Gold Medal could carry extra consideration to the Marauders and this “forgotten” theater of the battle. However the Marauders legacy lives on within the reminiscence of survivors like Passinisi, of their re-designated unit (the seventy fifth Rangers), and within the hearts of members of the family who await solutions about what occurred to their misplaced family members.