Merrill file photo [860]

Frank Merrill

Given NameFrank
Born4 Dec 1903
Died11 Dec 1955
CountryUnited States


ww2dbaseFrank 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, New York, United States, 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.

ww2dbaseWhen 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. Though it was his ability that initially gained Stilwell's trust, his tendency to never challenge Stilwell's decision was the main reason that Stilwell made him his practical deputy. In 1942, Merrill was made Stilwell's operations officer. In Nov 1943, he traveled with Stilwell to attend the Cairo Conference. In early 1944, Stilwell made him 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; the press gave the unit the nickname "Merrill's Marauders". Colonel Charles Hunter was assigned to the 5307th as the senior officer under Merrill, and it was effectively Hunter who ran the unit from the front lines, with Merrill at times being no more than a liaison between Hunter and Stilwell. Hunter described Merrill 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.

ww2dbaseIn Mar 1944, Merrill suffered a heart attack at Hsamshingyang. He refused to board the aircraft sent to evacuate him to India until other wounded or sick soldiers were aboard first, which delayed his departure by a day. Hunter took over his responsibilities on 29 Mar, and later wrote of Merrill's health:

"I had no warning of Merrill's approaching illness. He had not undergone any violent exercise in the last few days to have placed a strain on his heart. I knew he was using some kind of thick purplish medicine taken with water which he told me was for dysentery."

ww2dbaseMerrill returned to service on 17 May and oversaw the advance of American and Chinese troops toward Myitkyina, Burma, which boasted a strategically important airfield. Previously, Stilwell had already promised men of the 5307th rest, but now well beyond the date originally promised, he continued to push the front line soldiers to the point to physical and mental exhaustion, leading to unnecessary deaths and ultimately a total loss of trust by the men; Merrill, being the yes-man that Stilwell expected him to be, chose to implement Stilwell's orders rather than siding with the soldiers. "Merrill's Marauders" marched 750 miles of harsh jungle trails and engaged in 5 battles and 32 skirmishes before reaching Myitkyina, and Merrill took much of the credit for that victory before the press. The soldiers would quietly argue, however, that the glory should have gone to Hunter, who actually fought beside the men and looked after the men. Despite suffering a second heart attack followed by a bout of 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.

ww2dbaseBritish 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", which conflicted with Merrill's actions against the interest of the men during the campaign toward Myitkyina.

ww2dbaseAfter 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
Gavin Mortimer, Merrill's Marauders
Nathan Prefer, Vinegar Joe's War

Last Major Revision: Nov 2005

Frank Merrill Interactive Map


Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell awarding the Purple Heart medal to Lieutenant Colonel Frank Merrill, India, 1942Lieutenant Colonel Frank Dorn (Silver Star), Colonel Robert P. Williams (Purple Heart), and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Merrill (Purple Heart) having just been awarded medals, India, mid-1942Lieutenant Colonel Frank Dorn, Colonel Robert P. Williams, and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Merrill receiving medals, India, mid-1942Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell awarding medals, India, mid-1942
See all 15 photographs of Frank Merrill

Frank Merrill Timeline

4 Dec 1903 Frank Merrill was born.
20 Nov 1943 Joseph Stilwell and Frank Merrill arrived at Cairo, Egypt and checked into the Mena House hotel.
20 Jan 1944 Journalists visited US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) at Camp Deogarh, Central Provinces, India. The unit's commanding officer Frank Merrill was also present. During this visit, James Shepley of Life Magazine came up with the Merrill's Marauders nickname for the unit. Dave Richardson of Yank Magazine, who actually remained to report alongside the unit, preferred Dead End Kids as the nickname as he observed the soldiers not as a group of elite marauders but rather a high-spirited ragtag band of volunteers and cast-offs.
22 Feb 1944 The 3rd Battalion of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) arrived at Ningbyen, Burma. Joseph Stilwell met with Frank Merrill and ordered him to reach Walawbum, 15 miles south of Maingkwan on the Kamaing Road, by 3 Mar, which was when the Chinese 22nd and 38th Divisions and the Chinese 1st Provisional Tank Group was supposed to attack Walawbum from the opposite direction.
23 Feb 1944 Frank Merrill met with the battalion commanders, combat team commanders, and reconnaissance platoon commanders of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) in Ningbyen, Burma as the troops prepared to embark on a long range penetration operation into northern Burma.
10 Mar 1944 Frank Merrill met with Joseph Stilwell at Stilwell's headquarters at Maingkwan, Burma, and then returned to his own field headquarters at Shikau Ga.
11 Mar 1944 Frank Merrill gave his US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) officers at Shikau Ga, Burma a briefing on their next objective, which was Jambu Bum in the Mogaung Valley about 20 miles south of their current position. The Americans were to move behind the Japanese to cut lines of supply and communication, while Chinese 22nd Division was to be the main attack force, with Chinese 65th Regiment covering the right flank in the west. Two Chinese regiments from 38th Division was to provide support for the Americans as necessary. The 1st Battalion was to lead the advance for the Americans to create a roadblock on the Kamaing Road near Shaduzup, which was 10 miles south of Jambu Gam, supported by Chinese 113th Regiment. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions were to establish secondary roadblocks 10 miles further south at Inkangahawng.
21 Mar 1944 Troops of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) received an air drop at the village of Auche, Burma. Colonel Charles Hunter gave the villagers the parachutes as compensation for their assistance. Meanwhile, Chinese troops captured Jambu Bum ahead of schedule, thus Frank Merrill ordered Hunter to establish a roadblock on Kamaing Road 36 hours earlier than originally planned. Merrill also ordered the Orange Combat Team of 3rd Battalion to depart Janpan and form a block near Auche.
25 Mar 1944 Lieutenant Colonel William Osborne of 1st Battalion of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) sent a platoon to attack the Japanese along the Kamaing Road as a diversion for another group of his troops to advance down the trail toward the main objective, Shaduzup, Burma. Meanwhile, Men of Lieutenant Colonel George McGee, Jr.'s 2nd Battalion departed the village of Ngagahtwang at 0500 hours, many wounded in tow. Colonel Charles Hunter, whose radio is broken, surveyed the field in an L-4 aircraft and spotted McGee's column. Realizing the many wounded after landing and speaking to McGee, he ordered the aircraft to return without him, and to quickly return with litters to help evacuate the wounded. Hunter scolded McGee for foolish field decisions, but McGee told him that some of the tactical decisions were made by Frank Merrill directly, thus deepening the chasm between McGee/Merrill and Hunter. Finally, on 3rd Battalion's front, Japanese troops attacked in force, destroying the radio set carried by Lieutenant Logan Weston of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, thus rendering him without communications; he made contact with Lieutenant Warren Smith also of 3rd Battalion, who assisted with Weston's retreat.
26 Mar 1944 In Burma, Lieutenant Colonel George McGee, Jr. and the troops of his 2nd Battalion of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) departed camp at 1000 hours, and Colonel Charles Hunter followed after all wounded were evacuated by air. McGee arrived at Manpin at 1200 hours, where Hunter ordered McGee to clear a field for a resupply by air. At 1700 hours, McGee departed camp toward Auche while Hunter remained at Manpin, where he was joined with Lieutenant Colonel Charles Beach of the 3rd Battalion to plan on an attack on Kamaing. The attack was overruled by Frank Merrill, who ordered Hunter to withdraw instead.
27 Mar 1944 Lieutenant Colonel George McGee, Jr. and the troops of his 2nd Battalion of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) arrived at Auche, Burma at 1000 hours. The remainder of the 3rd Battalion arrived in afternoon. Frank Merrill ordered 2nd Battalion to withdraw to Nhpum Ga and 3rd Battalion even further north to the clearing named Hsamshingyang to prepare an airfield.
28 Mar 1944 1st Battalion of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) eliminated a Japanese position near the Mogaung River north of Shaduzup, Burma at 0430 hours. After sun rise, Japanese 70-millimeter howitzer and 77-millimeter mountain guns fired on American positions to clear the road to Shaduzup as Shaduzup was now under attack by Chinese 22nd Division. Meanwhile, Japanese troops counterattacked Chinese troops near Jambu Bum ridge. Elsewhere in Burma, The 2nd Battalion departed Auche at 0600 hours, Japanese troops in pursuit. The first units of the 2nd Battalion began arriving at Nhpum Ga at 1000 hours. Frank Merrill left the defense of Nhpum Ga to the 2nd Battalion and moved his headquarters to the clearing of Hsamshingyang. Merrill was visibly pale and unwell en route to H. The doctors believed he had suffered a minor heart attack and arranged Merrill to be evacuated by air.
17 May 1944 At Myitkyina, Burma, Colonel Charles Hunter ordered Chinese 150th Regiment to attack the airstrip west of the city, and ordered 1st Battalion of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) under Lieutenant Colonel William Osborne to capture the ferry terminal at Pamati one mile southwest of the airstrip on the Irriwady River. The Chinese attack began at 1030 hours and the airstrip was captured at 1200 hours, with most Japanese troops falling back into the city aboard trucks. 1st Battalion Red Combat Team remained at the ferry terminal and White Combat Team moved to the airstrip to reinforce the Chinese. At 1530 hours, Joseph Stilwell learned of the success, and gleefully noted in his diary that this capture would embarrass the British. When informed of the capture, Louis Mountbatten was angered by Stilwell's decision to hide this offensive from him. Nevertheless, Mountbatten gracefully sent a message to Stilwell to praise his leadership and to congratulate the success. Stilwell, however, did not think of sending any messages to the commanders in the field to thank them. Colonel Charles Hunter, the tactical commander, was surprised that his superior Frank Merrill failed to show in the first group of aircraft to land at Myitkyina Airfield; instead, Merrill sent a team of engineers to repair an airstrip even though Hunter had already reported that the airfield was captured in tact. Merrill also failed to send any badly needed food and ammunition. Shortly after capturing the airfield, Hunter ordered K Force of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) to move toward the airfield with speed. On the Japanese side, troops were quickly gathered at Tingkrukawng to the northeast and would arrive at Myitkyina within 24 hours.
19 May 1944 Frank Merrill finally arrived at Myitkyina Airfield in Burma, but would suffer another minor heart attack; rather than appointing Charles Hunter, who had spearheaded the recent successes for US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), to take Merrill's place, Stilwell chose Colonel John McCammon; McCammon had a history of going along with Stilwell's orders without any questions. Meanwhile, M Force (Lieutenant Colonel George McGee, Jr.) of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) arrived at Namkwi, four miles northwest of Myitkyina, Burma; 25 men were ordered to be sent to Myitkyina Airfield for evacuation by air due to sickness.
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.
1 Aug 1944 Joseph Stilwell was promoted to full general; his trusted deputy Frank Merrill pinned the fourth star on his superior's uniform. On the same day, Stilwell met with Louis Mountbatten at Kandy, Ceylon to discuss Stilwell's temporary command over Mountbatten's theater while Mountbatten planned for a trip to Britain.
4 Aug 1944 Joseph Stilwell named Frank Merrill, who he considered as a yes man, as the new commanding officer of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), relieving Charles Hunter. Hunter was returned to the United States by ship. Morale among the US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), most of whom were recovering from their ordeal in hospital beds, collapsed completely as a consequence, and soon after the entire force was despicably disbanded. Back in the United States, the obnoxious Joseph Stilwell's treatment of Hunter's "Marauders" had become a public scandal eventually leading to a full inquiry.
11 Dec 1955 Frank Merrill passed away.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. rob crawford says:
11 Feb 2007 01:14:36 PM

Would not many of us be a hero given the same opportunities and time frame in history?
2. Kerry Johnson says:
1 May 2007 06:55:06 PM

Frank Merrill is related to my mothers family who where Merrills from Hopkinton, MA. He bears a striking resembalance to my grandmothers brothers. I would love to know more about the surviving members of his family. I understand that he had two sons. There is a memorial to the Marauders in Charlotte, NC which was dedicated with the presence of some surviving members. I spoke with one of them who was known as the Fighting Preacher. I think his last name was Weston or something like that. Each member is a total hero and true patriot in my eyes. God Bless all of them forever!
3. John Cressy says:
26 Jun 2009 06:51:47 PM

Frank Merrill was my grandmothers first cousin. He was born in Hopkinton, Ma. and moved with his father Charles to Amesbury Ma. Where he lived on the Merrill Homestead located on route 110. He graduated from Amesbury High School. He is listed on at least one census living in Amesbury.
4. John Paul-Hilliard says:
6 Nov 2011 06:45:53 AM

My father J. Stanton Hilliard, also a WWII veteran, was the driver for General Merrill during his tenure as Commissioner of the NH Department of Public Works and Highways. He always spoke highly of him and his commanding presence. Gold Bless You Sir.
5. ford says:
22 Apr 2012 06:37:40 AM

I didnt know Frank Merrill.. but I chumbed with his son Obie Merrill when they lived in Amesbury Mass.. Obie died very young.
6. Anonymous says:
23 Mar 2015 06:45:16 AM

My great grandpa was in wwII and he would write letters to his cousin, Frank Merrill.
7. Bruce Lewis says:
3 Jan 2020 09:25:16 PM

What this world really needs is more Frank Merrill’s. He ranks the highest in military bravery. Job well done Frank Merrill!!!!

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More on Frank Merrill
Event(s) Participated:
» Cairo Conference
» Battle of Myitkyina
» Okinawa Campaign

Related Books:
» Merrill's Marauders
» Merrill's Marauders
» The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45
» Vinegar Joe's War

Frank Merrill Photo Gallery
Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell awarding the Purple Heart medal to Lieutenant Colonel Frank Merrill, India, 1942
See all 15 photographs of Frank Merrill

Famous WW2 Quote
"Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue."

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945

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