The year was 1943 and the United States was in the middle of World War II. A call went out to men across the nation asking for volunteers for a “very dangerous and hazardous mission”. They were told nothing else - not where they were going or what their mission would be. They were only told that it was “top secret” and to expect 90% casualties.
Three thousand men answered this call. They became known as the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) and were later nicknamed “Merrill’s Marauders” after their commander Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill. Of the 3000 men that volunteered, only about 200 members of the original Marauders were left standing after the final battle. One of those members was former Redfield resident Doyt Willis.
Doyt is the father of current Redfield resident Dave Willis. Doyt passed away in 1986 and at that time his family had no idea that he had been part of this unit, as Willis never talked about his war experience. It wasn’t until 2002, when Dave’s mother passed, that they found Doyt’s discharge summary from the service and started piecing together the puzzle.
“My wife, Diane, really got the ball rolling and started researching everything,” said Willis. “She had the help of the internet, Dave Durfee of the local Veterans Service office and Robert Passanisi the historian of the Merrill’s Marauders organization. She was even able to get all my dad’s medals reissued.”
Seventy nine years later the Merrill’s Marauders, who undertook one of the most dangerous and pivotal missions of World War II, were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. It is the highest civilian award given in the United States. In a virtual ceremony held on May 25th, 2022, Congress honored the Marauders, who fought their way deep behind enemy lines through the jungles of Burma to capture a Japanese-held airfield and open an Allied supply route between India and China.
The nearly 1,000-mile journey – on foot, with pack mules to carry armaments and other equipment – was treacherous, and when the soldiers weren’t fighting Japanese forces, they battled monsoons, heat, starvation, malaria, and dysentery. In the campaign, the badly outnumbered Marauders survived 35 battles, including five major engagements. In addition to the Congressional Gold Medal, each Marauder has also been awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and a Bronze Star.