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~ The Old Sachem ~ Merrill’s Marauders

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By Bill Stewart


Recently, Russell Hamler – the last surviving member with the title of Merrill’s Marauders – died at the age of 99. He was born on June 24, 1924, in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and attended Mt. Lebanon High School. He left to join the Army on his birthday in June at 18 years old. He was sent to Puerto Rico for training in the Pacific, and when the word was out, he like many others, became a volunteer for a group to be identified as Merrill’s Marauders under the command of General Frank Merrill to a unit of 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) later to be called Merrill’s Marauders.

The Japanese forces controlled most of Southeast Asia after securing Pearl Harbor. General Stilwell was in command of the forces in the area after Pearl Harbor and Burma were lost. He assigned General Marshall to command a unit to fight where Winston Churchill called “most forbidding fighting country imaginable.”

The unit would be charged with penetration of the Japanese forces in Burma. The force would only carry weapons and supplies that they could carry on their backs, and additional supplies would be flown in to the troops in the jungle area. The intense tropical heat and the humidity – in the area of dense bamboo, tangled vines and banyan trees that made up the region – not only made travel and fighting difficult, but also sending supplies by air near the Japanese forces was formidable.

The mission was next to impossible – the force had to cover 500 miles of jungle and destroy a solidified Japanese force – 2,000 troops served under Merrill in the invasion, and after the Japanese airfield was taken, 130 able-bodied soldiers remained as the fighting force. The Marauders faced a large number of Japanese forces at the battle in the village of Nhpum Ga in late March of 1944 and battled for 10 days before defeating the Japanese force. In the battle where his unit was surrounded, Russell Hamler was wounded in his hip by mortar fragments and remained in his foxhole for 10 days until the American 3rd Battalion broke through the enemy lines that the Americans named Maggot Hill because of the proliferation of insects. The Marauders lost 57, had 302 wounded and counted over 400 enemy corpses. Merrill suffered a heart attack just before the battle and was evacuated.

Hamler was evacuated in April and was assigned to forces in northern India. He spent five weeks in a hospital. Then he was transferred back home to Pennsylvania and served as a Military Policeman and was discharged in December 1945. He later was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Medal. After the war he became an employee of Trans World Airlines, retiring in 1985.

In 2022 Merrill’s Marauders was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Hamler and the band of brothers who served in the Marauders will always be remembered for their courage and action against a force that surpassed them in numbers, but not in ability or courage.


  (Editor’s Note: Bill Stewart, who is better known to Saugus Advocate readers as “The Old Sachem,” writes a weekly column about sports – and sometimes he opines on current or historical events or famous people.)

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