Merrill's Marauders Bill Clears Congress

Merrill's Marauders Bill Clears Congress

Photo by: U.S. Army Signal Corps

The Army’s Merrill’s Marauders are one step closer to receiving the Congressional Gold Medal after the House of Representatives passed legislation in support of the famed World War II soldiers.

Supported by the Association of the U.S. Army, the bill recognizes members of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), who became known as Merrill’s Marauders after their commander, Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill.

The legislation passed the U.S. Senate late last year and was cleared by the House on Sept. 22. It now goes to the White House for the president’s signature.

Merrill’s Marauders displayed “extraordinary efforts and sacrifices during World War II,” retired Gen. Carter Ham, AUSA president and CEO wrote in a December letter to the co-chairmen of the House Army Caucus. “The volunteers were considered expendable and not expected to survive their mission in the China-Burma-India Theater, today called the ‘forgotten theater’ of World War II.” 

Surviving Marauders were excited to hear the latest news.

“I feel like I’m floating on air. I’m thrilled beyond words,” former Staff Sgt. Robert Passanisi, 96, said from his home in Lindenhurst, New York, shortly after the legislation passed.

Passanisi, the Marauders’ historian, is one of only eight still living out of almost 3,000 infantrymen who volunteered for an unknown “dangerous and hazardous” mission in 1943.

That mission was to disrupt Japanese supply lines and communications in Burma, now known as Myanmar, and capture the Japanese-held airfield in Myitkyina. 

Carrying only what they could pack on their backs and mules, they defeated the much larger and better equipped Japanese 18th division in five major battles and 30 minor engagements.

They walked farther than any WWII fighting force—almost 1,000 miles—to complete their mission of seizing the Myitkyina airstrip. 

After battling not only the enemy but malaria, mite typhus, dysentery, monsoons and isolation, only about 200 “walking skeletons” were capable of combat when they reached the airfield.

“We came together with one single mindset—to accomplish the impossible,” Passanisi said. “My one regret is that only eight of us are alive to enjoy this historic honor.” 

Retired Master Sgt. Gilbert Howland, 96, and Passanisi visited Capitol Hill multiple times to gain support from lawmakers.

“It is a great honor for me and our unit,” Howland said. “I fought in WWII, in Korea in the Pork Chop Hill sector and did two combat tours in Vietnam. But the worse fighting I experienced was in Burma with Merrill’s Marauders.”