05 January, 2013

Frank Merrill



Frank Dow Merrill was a United States Army general and is best remembered for his command of Merrill's Marauders, officially the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional), in the Burma Campaign of World War II. Merrill's Marauders came under General Joseph Stilwell's Northern Combat Area Command. It was a Special Forces unit modelled on the Chindits' long range penetration groups trained to operate from bases deep behind Japanese lines.

Merrill lived with his family in Amesbury, Massachusetts and graduated from Amesbury High School. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1922 and earned the rank of staff sergeant in Company A, 11th Engineers.
He received an appointment to West Point in 1925 and he graduated in 1929. Merrill also earned a B.S. in military engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1932. In 1938, Merrill became the Military Attaché in Tokyo where he studied the Japanese language.

He joined General Douglas MacArthur's staff in the Philippines in 1941 as a military intelligence officer. Merrill was on a mission in Rangoon, Burma at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack and remained in Burma after the Japanese invasion.

In 1943, General Merrill was appointed to command a new volunteer U.S. Army special forces unit patterned after the Long Range Jungle Penetration groups formed by the British to harass Japanese forces in Burma. The U.S. Army's official name for the unit was the 5307th Composite Unit “provisional.” Visiting war correspondents, after viewing the 5307th's performance on the firing ranges, promptly dubbed the unit Merrill's Marauders. General Merrill oversaw the training and deployment of the three battalions of the 5307th into Burma in February 1944.

In slightly more than five months of combat behind Japanese lines in Burma, the Marauders, who supported the X Force, advanced 750 miles through some of the harshest jungle terrain in the world, fought in 5 major engagements: Walawbum, Shaduzup, Inkangahtawng, Nhpum Ga, and Myitkyina, and engaged in combat with the Japanese Army on thirty-two separate occasions. Battling Japanese soldiers, hunger, and disease, they had traversed more jungle on their long-range patrols than any other U.S. Army unit of the war.

On March 29, Merrill suffered his first heart attack and command returned to then executive officer, Colonel Charles N. Hunter. In their final mission against the Japanese base at Myitkyina, the Marauders suffered 272 killed, 955 wounded, and 980 evacuated for illness and disease. By the time the town of Myitkyina was taken, only about 200 surviving members of the original Marauders were present.

On August 10, 1944, a week after the town's fall to U.S. and Chinese forces, the 5307th was disbanded with a final total of only 130 combat-effective officers and men (out of the original 2,997).

After the war's end, Merrill served in the Philippines. In early 1946 he was assigned to the headquarters of the 6th Army in San Francisco under General Stilwell. In May of the same year, Merrill and Stilwell led two Marine platoons to suppress a prison uprising at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in what is known as the Battle of Alcatraz.

Due to post war downsizing of the Army, Merrill was reduced in rank to brigadier general on 1 June 1946. He retired from the Army in his permanent rank of colonel on 30 June 1948 and was promoted to brigadier general on the retired list the next day.

After retiring from the Army, Merrill became the New Hampshire Commissioner of Highways. In December 1955 he was elected President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials but died two days later.

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