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Last WWII ‘Merrill Marauders’ vet dies at 99

Flowers on a casket. (Unsplash)
December 29, 2023

A United States veteran who was the final member of the famous World War II “Merrill Marauders” died on Tuesday at the age of 99.

According to The Associated Press, 99-year-old World War II veteran Russell Hamler died on Tuesday. Russell Hamler’s son, Jeffrey Hamler, confirmed his death; however, he did not disclose the cause of the World War II veteran’s death.

According to Russell Hamler’s biography, which was published in January by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Hamler was the last surviving member of the Merrill Marauders.

Hamler was born in June of 1924 and raised in Pennsylvania before enlisting in the U.S. Army when he was 18, according to the VA’s online biography. After he completed basic training in Fort Riley, Kansas, Hamler was sent to Puerto Rico as part of the 27th Calvary Troop.

In September of 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt called for 3,000 volunteers to take part in an important mission behind enemy lines in the Pacific. Hamler volunteered for the mission, which was commanded by Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill under the 5307th Composite Unit Provisional, which was nicknamed Merrill’s Marauders.

According to The Associated Press, the mission of the Marauders was to cut off Japanese supply lines and communications as they completed an almost 1,000-mile march to the Myitkyina Airfield, which was intended to be used as a supply route for the Allies between China and India. Between February and August of 1944, the unit fought in five major engagements against Japanese forces, as well as 40 minor engagements, according to the VA.

While the Marauders started with a force of 3,000 soldiers, only about 200 soldiers survived the completion of the mission. Many of the soldiers were killed in the numerous fights against Japanese troops, while others died from malaria and malnutrition.

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Despite the grueling nature of the mission, the Marauders eventually succeeded in capturing Myitkyina Airfield, which was the only all-weather airstrip located in northern Burma. The unit disbanded after the objective was completed.

Each of the Marauders was awarded the Bronze Star for their heroic service to the United States during World War II. Congress also awarded the Marauders in 2022 with the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest honor Congress can bestow.

According to the VA, Hamler was wounded in the hip during the battle of Nhpum Ga by a mortar fragment, which caused Hamler to be immobilized in a foxhole for over 10 days before he was rescued and transported to a hospital in India.

For his service during World War II, Hamler received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Following his military service, Hamler worked as an aircraft mechanic with Trans World Airlines until his retirement in 1985.