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Merrill’s Marauders, Famed WWII Unit, Garners Congressional Gold Medal: Forerunner of Army Rangers Deserve the Recognition

Merrill’s Marauders, Famed WWII Unit, Garners Congressional Gold Medal: Forerunner of Army Rangers Deserve the Recognition

Washington DC—75 years after the fact, the plaudits owed to the courageous and highly effective Merrill's Marauders was delivered on October 17, 2020 when President Trump signed into law the Merrill's Marauders Congressional Gold Medal Act. An elite unit which fought in jungles and mountains of Burma during World War II, the campaign to make this recognition a reality involved years of letter writing, gathered signatures and materials sent to Congressional members. One intimately involved in the four-year process was Linda Cunningham, whose father served with the Marauders and was always proud of his fellow soldiers and their amazing exploits under extremely difficult conditions in Burma.  

Cunningham, author of Early Thursday: A War, A Hurricane, A Miracle!, met many of Merrill's Marauders while attending a number of reunions and this piqued a keen interest in their exploits, especially since her father rarely spoke of the war. Some of the souvenirs her father collected was a famed Gurkha Kukri combat knife and a photo of a Japanese family, the latter apparently picked up in after battle remnants and one he held on to for decades. Cunningham, who is in possession of her father's wartime diaries, is putting together a book based on that and many of the stories heard at unit reunions she attended over the years.

Cunningham wrote about the moment this way: "I cried my eyes out when I read the news on the Merrill's Marauders Proud Descendants site. I was one of many who worked on this project. The 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) is so deserving of this honor! There are only nine Marauders alive now and I am so happy for them. The Gold Medal will be housed in the Smithsonian. My father would be so proud. Today, Monday October 19 is his birthday! He would have been 101 Years old. HAPPY BIRTHDAY DADDY!"

Raised in Louisiana, Linda Cunningham's father was like so many World War II Veterans who never talked about their service, and his reasons went beyond the personal as some of his activities were classified. When Japanese naval and ground forces were rolling forward in 1942, they successfully invaded Burma and this posed a real threat to Britain's sub-continent stronghold, India. U.S. and British forces, supplemented by Indian, Chinese and Nepalese troops, fought in the hills and jungles of Burma to stem the tide and paid a heavy price in the process.  

When looking at the Pacific War (1941-45), Burma is often called the Forgotten Theater as Midway, Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands and New Guinea dominated newspaper headlines and still dominate books, movies and documentaries. However, the threat was palpable for a possible linkup with German forces if they won in Russia and the Middle East.

The Chinese-Burma-India Theater (CBI) formed a vital strategic link as supplies for Chinese forces were being ferried through India and over the Himalayan Mountains. If millions of Japanese troops fighting in China were able to be transferred to Burma, or sent to oppose the U.S. island hopping campaign, the war may have turned out very differently.  

Formed in August 1943, Merrill's Marauders, named for Brigadier General Frank Merrill, were the forerunners of Army Rangers and represented a new breed of Special Forces unit designed to operate behind enemy lines. Essentially a light infantry unit, their officers were trained in many different disciplines and new skills, like airdrops, required for these types of jungle operations.

One of their most famous battles was attacking the strategic airfield at Myitkyina in May 1944. Merrill's Marauders conducted a grueling 62-mile forced march over the Kumon Mountain Range, reaching 6,600 feet, using mules to carry their supplies. The 1,300 remaining Marauders, with Chinese troops, attacked the unsuspecting Japanese at the vital Myitkyina airfield on May 17, 1944. By the time the town was taken, three-months later, only about 200 of the original Marauders were present. Right after Myitkyina fell, in early August, the 5307th was disbanded with a final total of 130 combat-effective officers and men left from the 2,750 who arrived in Burma.

Americans can be proud of Merrill's Marauders and the men who served with Linda Cunningham's father.

About Linda S. Cunningham: Linda S. Cunningham grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where she experienced firsthand accounts of the 1957 Hurricane Audrey that killed nearly 500 people in Cameron, Louisiana. She and her family watched the devastation from their picture window when the hurricane hit. Her father served as Director of Civil defense for Calcasieu Parish and she heard many survival stories and saw the coroner's pictures that lend authenticity to the novel. Ms. Cunningham has a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Houston. She also has a B.S. and M.Ed. in Health and Physical Education from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She has won awards for screenwriting. She currently resides in Kingwood, Texas.

Early Thursday: A War, A Hurricane, A Miracle! ISBN-10: 1098304802, ISBN-13: 978-1098304805, BookBaby, 2020. Paperback $15.99, Kindle, $9.49, 290 pages. Available on Amazon. 

Media Contact: For a review copy of Early Thursday: A War, A Hurricane, A Miracle! or to arrange an interview with Linda S. Cunningham, contact Scott Lorenz of Westwind Communications Book Marketing at scottlorenz@westwindcos.com or by phone at 734-667-2090. Follow Lorenz on twitter @abookpublicist

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