|Born||4 Dec 1903|
|Died||11 Dec 1955|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Frank Dow Merrill was born in Woodville, Massachusetts, United States, descendent of British settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s. In his teenage years, he worked for United Fruit Company on a freighter as a radio operator, and then enlisted in the US Army while still underage. He held every enlisted rank as well as the officer rank of lieutenant and had experience in Haiti and Panama before gaining entrance into the United States Military Academy at West Point, but until he took the academy entrance exam six times before he was able to convince the faculty that his willpower would overcome his astigmatism. He graduated from West Point in 1929 and was assigned to serve in Vermont and Virginia before being commissioned a cavalry officer. In 1931 he received a bachelor's degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then went on to attend the Cavalry School at Fort Riley, Kansas, United States. He also spent time instructing a course in small arms and then spent three years in Tokyo as a Japanese-language officer. Originally assigned to serve in Japan for four years, he only remained there for three years due to the tension between Japan and the United States.
When the United States was attacked by Japan and entered the war, Merrill was a staff officer under Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines. He was quickly transferred to Burma as a liaison officer with the British forces, and reported to Joseph Stilwell. He later became Stilwell's operations officer in 1942, and traveled to Cairo with him for the Cairo Conference of Nov 1943.
Early 1944, Merrill became the head of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), a unit modeled after British General Orde Wingate's expeditionary force Chindits which penetrated deep into Japanese lines to disrupt communications. Merrill's unit would later gain the name Merrill's Marauders. Colonel Charles Hunter was assigned to the 5307th as the senior officer under Merrill; Hunter described his commanding officer as "rather tall, he was by no means a rugged individual, being narrow of chest and rather thin. His features were sharp but his nature ebullient, affable and confident." The first Marauder campaign took place in late Feb 1944 as they attacked the Japanese 18th Division at Walawbum, allowing Stilwell's regular units to take control of the Hakawing Valley.
In Mar 1944, Merrill suffered a heart attack at Hsamshingyang and was evacuated to India. Expected of him, he refused to board the plane for evacuation until all wounded boarded before him, delaying his departure by one day. Hunter took over his responsibilities on 29 Mar, and later wrote of Merrill's health:
Merrill returned to service on 17 May and commanded Marauders near the town of Myitkyina which housed air fields important for local air superiority as well as for the supply lines into China. At Myitkyina his Marauders marched for 750 miles and engaged in 5 battles and 32 skirmishes; the casualty rates were high due to fatigue, diseases, and battle injuries and deaths. Merrill was counted among the casualties from a second heart attack followed by malaria. On 5 Sep 1944 Merrill was promoted to the rank of major general, and in 1945 became the second-in-command of all American forces in Burma. When the war ended, he was serving with the American 10th Army at Okinawa.
British soldier Jack Girsham noted Merrill as a "cool, clever, and tough fighting man, the type who would never lose his temper or his nerve." Girsham added that "he cared for his men."
After the war Merrill served as Chief of Staff of the Western Defense Command, Commander of the 6th Army, and Deputy Chief of the American Military Advisory Mission to the Philippines. He retired from the Army in 1948 and became Commissioner of Public Works in New Hampshire, United States. He passed away in 1955. His awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, and Combat Infantryman's Badge.
Frank McLynn, The Burma Campaign
Nathan Prefer, Vinegar Joe's War
Frank Merrill Timeline
|4 Dec 1903||Frank Merrill was born.|
|19 May 1944||Frank Merrill suffered another heart attack.|
|22 Jun 1944||Frank Merrill radioed Joseph Stilwell to warn him that Louis Mountbatten was intriguing to replace Stilwell with another American commander who was more likely to be subject to Mountbatten's authority.|
|11 Dec 1955||Frank Merrill passed away.|
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Winston Churchill, 1935