In February of 1944, World War II was raging. That’s when the American jungle fighting unit nicknamed Merrill’s Marauders began its mission. Starting with 3,000 soldiers, the Marauders set out to capture a Japanese-held airfield and open an Allied supply route between India and China. Five months later, the Marauders completed their mission with barely 200 men still in the fight. From February to August of 1944, the often outnumbered Marauders fought Japanese troops in five major engagements plus 30 minor ones. Now Congress officially has recognized the Marauders for their 1,000-mile, grueling foot journey that helped win the war. The group received the highest honor in the nation: the Congressional Gold Medal.
Today is a national holiday called Veterans Day. Veterans Day occurs every November 11 in the United States. It is a day set aside to remember and acknowledge the sacrifices made by military servicepeople past and present. It is a day to give thanks for their dedication to preserving freedom for the nation. Not all veterans see combat, but all serve in ways needed to maintain liberty.
In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt arranged for the campaign in Asia that would take American soldiers deep into the jungles. Seasoned infantrymen and newly enlisted soldiers alike volunteered for the mission, forming Merrill’s Marauders. They were let by Brigadier General Frank Merrill and tasked with cutting off Japanese communications and supply lines.
The plans were so secret that the Marauders weren’t even told where they were going. But as they went, they experienced some of the worst that war has to offer: heat, hard labor, hunger, thirst, and much bloodshed. They gave their faithful service out of deep commitment to the ideals that America holds dear, believing that preserving those ideals was worth even the greatest sacrifice of life itself.
The Congressional Gold Medal represents an appreciation for the Marauders’ achievements and contribution in World War II. It also honors their fight against evil and the harm it brings to our world.
Robert Passanisi at age 96 is among just nine known Marauders still living. He now lives in New York. He says, “After many years, all the sacrifices and the suffering are now finally recognized. It makes you feel like it was all worthwhile.”
A medal honoring the Marauders as a unit will be crafted and displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
(Members of Merrill’s Marauders on August 2, 1944. The unit was less than 75 yards from enemy positions in Burma, now Myanmar. U.S. Army Signal Corps via AP)