Frank Dow Merrill was born on December 4, 1903 to Charles W. and Katherine (Donavan) Merrill in Hopkinton, MA. He is best remembered for his command of Merrill’s Marauders, officially the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional), in the Burma Campaign of World War II. Merrill’s Marauders came under General Joseph Stilwell’s Northern Combat Area Command. It was a special forces unit modeled on the Chindits’ (British India Special Forces) long range penetration groups trained to operate from bases deep behind Japanese lines.
Merrill lived with his family in Amesbury, Massachusetts and graduated from Amesbury High School. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1922 and earned the rank of sergeant before attending West Point where he graduated in 1929. Merrill also earned a B.S. in military engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1932. In 1938, Merrill became the Military Attaché in Tokyo where he studied the Japanese language. He joined General Douglas MacArthur’s staff in the Philippines in 1941 as a military intelligence officer. Merrill was on a mission in Rangoon, Burma at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack and remained in Burma after the Japanese invasion. In 1942, Col. Merrill was promoted to Brigadier General.
In 1943, General Merrill was appointed to command a new volunteer U.S. Army special forces unit patterned after the Long Range Jungle Penetration groups formed by the British to harass Japanese forces in Burma (the Chindits). The U.S. Army’s official name for the unit was the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional). (The title provisional means the unit is formed for a special mission or operation and will be disbanded afterwards). Visiting war correspondents, after viewing the 5307th’s performance on the firing ranges, promptly dubbed the unit Merrill’s Marauders. General Merrill oversaw the training and deployment of the three battalions of the 5307th into Burma in February 1944. In slightly more than five months of combat behind Japanese lines in Burma, the Marauders, who supported the X Force, advanced 750 miles through some of the harshest jungle terrain in the world, fought in 5 major engagements (Walawbum, Shaduzup, Inkangahtawng, Nhpum Ga, and Myitkyina) and engaged in combat with the Japanese Army on thirty-two separate occasions. Battling Japanese soldiers, hunger, and disease, they had traversed more jungle on their long-range patrols than any other U.S. Army unit of the war. On March 29, Merrill suffered his first heart attack and command returned to then executive officer, Colonel Charles N. Hunter. In their final mission against the Japanese base at Myitkyina, the Marauders suffered 272 killed, 955 wounded, and 980 evacuated for illness and disease. By the time the town of Myitkyina was taken, only about 200 surviving members of the original Marauders were present. On August 10, 1944, a week after the town’s fall to U.S. and Chinese forces, the 5307th was disbanded with a final total of only 130 combat-effective officers and men (out of the original 2,997).
General Merrill’s awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, and Combat Infantryman Badge. After World War II and service in the post war Philippines, Merrill became the New Hampshire Commissioner of Highways. He was elected President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials but died two days later on December 11, 1955 in Fernandina Beach, Florida. The Everett Turnpike bridge over New Hampshire’s Souhegan River was a favorite of Merrill’s, and is dedicated to Merrill’s Marauders. Camp Frank D. Merrill, near Dahlonega, Georgia, is home to the U.S. Mountain Rangers 5th Battalion and is a three-week mountain training phase of the United States Army Ranger School. In 1962 Merrill’s Marauders, a film was produced and released abou this unique group of warriors.