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Archive for July 3rd, 2012

Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

July 3, 2012

On Merrill’s Marauders, Wars to End Wars and Vietnam

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Kitty Delorey Fleischman, photo courtesy of Sherry Ann Elizabeth Photography

Guest blogger Kitty Delorey Fleischman is publisher and editor of IDAHO magazine. She’ll tell you that one of the advantages of being old is that you’ve had time to do a lot of things. She taught school in Michigan and Alaska for eight years, has worked as a reporter at the Nome Nugget, and the Great Lander in Anchorage. Moving to Idaho in 1981, she worked part-time for United Press International before co-founding the Idaho Business Review in 1984. The IBR was sold to its current owners in 1999, and she started IDAHO magazine in 1999.

Kitty is married to Gerald Fleischman, an engineer working in the renewable energy field, and she has two children, eight grandchildren and seven (at last count) great-grandchildren.

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Now they’re called, “The Greatest Generation,” but when they went to serve, they simply wanted to put a stop to the evil and aggression that were engulfing the world in what was, at that time, called “The Second War to End All Wars.”

Both Lt. Donald Delorey and Lt. Mary Jane Healy were volunteers who went without being called. They were my parents, so from here on, I’ll refer to them simply as “Mom” and “Dad.” Seeing what was happening in the world, Dad signed up for the Army in July 1941. In fact, he was in Panama on Dec. 7, 1941, when news of the Pearl Harbor attack arrived. He and another soldier were immediately sent on horseback to map the coast of Panama, looking particularly for sites where the Japanese might try to land. The Panama Canal would have been a plum prize.

Donald Delorey in the United States Army

In early 1943, when President Roosevelt issued a presidential call for volunteers for “a dangerous and hazardous mission,” the call was answered by some 3,000 American soldiers. The volunteers came from stateside units, from the jungles of Panama and Trinidad. Some had been involved in the campaign in Guadalcanal, New Guinea, and New Georgia. Some were hardened and battle-scarred, some were new to war. Each was different, with one thing in common: they voluntarily answered the call of their nation. Dad was among the first to volunteer, and he went through his Ranger training at Ft. Benning, Ga. The unit was officially designated as the “5307th Composite Unit (Provisional),” Code Name: “Galahad.” Later it earned its more popular name, “Merrill’s Marauders,” in recognition of its leader, Brigadier General Frank Merrill.

After preliminary training, operations began in complete secrecy in the jungles of central India. The Marauders began the long march up the Ledo Road and over the outlying ranges of the Himalayas into Burma. It was men and mules. The Marauders had no Jeeps, no tanks or heavy artillery to support them, as they hacked their way, walking more than 1,000 miles through the foothills of the Himalayas. The path was through extremely dense, nearly impenetrable jungles. They were part of a “throw-away” force sent half-way around the world to delay the Japanese, because everyone was sure the Japanese could not be beaten.

Well, “everyone” didn’t know my parents.

Mom & Dad met on the USS General H.W. Butner, a troop transport on its way to India. Dad was assigned to the 5307th Provisional, and Mom was a member of the 44th Field Hospital. They met shortly after the ship pulled out of Norfolk, Va. Their unknown destination was Bombay. Dad spotted Mom instantly and proposed to her on the second day he knew her. A 26-year old “first louie,” Dad always claimed Mom said “yes” on the third day, something she vehemently denied until just a few months before she died, then adding, “Well, one of us had to keep our heads!”

It was not Mom’s way to stand back and ask others to do a job. Her older brother was serving in France, and Mom knew nurses would be desperately needed to care for the wounded. Mom was 22-years old when she shipped overseas, a registered nurse who didn’t quite meet minimum Army standards requiring that women be five feet tall and weigh a hundred pounds. While Mom and Dad always claimed Mom was five-feet tall, at five-foot-two, I was nearly half a head taller than Mom, who was 4-foot, 10.5-inches tall, and tipped the scales at 95 pounds, fully-clothed. But they weren’t checking nurses too closely in those days. Dad always told us, “Yes, kids, it’s true. Your mother did wear Army boots.” They were size 4 1/2s.

Mary Jane Healy

Their first date was in Cape Town, South Africa, when Dad escorted a group of nurses into town for the day and bought Mom a warm Coca-Cola. They spent their shipboard days planning their lives together with a little white house in the country and a flock of kids. When the ship landed in Bombay and they parted company, Dad promised he’d find her again.

With that, the Marauders were off on their assignment to throw stumbling blocks in front of the Japanese 18th Division, Emperor Hirohito’s elite “Chrysanthemum Troops,” the unit that wrought havoc across China, and Burma. The Marauders faced the Japanese in five major engagements, at Walawbum, Shaduzup, Inkangahtawng, Nhpyum Ga, and Myitkyina, as well as thirty minor engagements.

By always moving to the rear of the main forces of the Japanese, the Marauders continually disrupted the enemy’s supplies and communication lines. The conflict climaxed behind Japanese lines with the capture of the Myitkyina airfield, the only all-weather airfield in northern Burma. It came after four full months of marching and combat in the Burmese jungles.

It is said that no other American force except the First Marine Division, which took and held Guadalcanal for four months, has had as much uninterrupted jungle fighting as Merrill’s Marauders.

There also is solid basis to the claim that no other American forces ever had to march as far, fight as continuously, or display more endurance than the fast-moving, hard-hitting Marauders. Dad often told us about watching airplanes searching the valleys 10,000 feet below them, looking for them to drop supplies to them, while they were high above the planes on trails far up in the foothills. He talked about even the sure-footed mules falling off cliffs in the mountains as they made their way along ancient, treacherous paths, guided by locals.

The mules and muleteers of the Mars Task Force trained for the job in Colorado Springs, Colo., and they earned the full faith and respect of the unit. Some years ago I met with a number of the muleteers at a reunion they held in Boise. I’ve never talked with a Marauder who didn’t tear up at memories of those mules who shared their path in those hard times.

Emmett Payne, an old Marauder who spent his last days at the Idaho State Veterans Home, told me stories that Dad never told his daughter. I don’t know whether he told them to his sons. Emmett told about how the Marauders, all of whom—from Merrill on down to the lowliest private—were suffering horribly from dysentery and malaria. They didn’t have time to be sick, and there was no time for diarrhea, so they kept moving despite malaria, and they cut holes in the seats of their pants to deal with the diarrhea. They kept walking and fighting.

The Marauders carried all of their equipment and supplies on their backs or on the backs of their pack mules. They were often resupplied by airdrops, but also had to make clearings in the thick jungles so the supplies could be dropped to them.

When they took off from Bombay, Dad’s pack weighed 75 lbs., which was half of his body weight. Mom carried 40 lbs., which was 40 percent of her body weight. Dad was wounded three times. One was a flesh wound where a bullet passed through the fleshy part of his thigh. After he was treated, he tore off the tag and went back to his men. The second time, a bullet shattered the base of his thumb so he couldn’t pull a trigger. That put him out of commission for a little longer.

Following a plane crash that killed a number of the nurses from the 69th General Hospital, Mom was transferred from Bhamo to Ledo. There was never a shortage of work for the nurses, and Mom also helped to train nurses for Dr. Gordon Seagraves, “The Burma Surgeon.”

Donald and Mary Jane Delorey in 1946

In the Ranger tradition, every wounded Marauder was evacuated. The third time Dad was shot, he was 15 yards from the Japanese machine guns. His upper right leg was shattered. “It felt like a bag of wet marbles,” he said. He lay there for nearly an hour, applying a tourniquet, picking little tomatoes off a nearby bush, and savoring what he thought were his last moments. While Sgt. John “Tex” Texiera was directing mortar fire from a nearby hill, Capt. Jim Holland, Sgt. Pappy Meyers, Lt. Colonel Ken Harrell, and Capt. Brubaker from the headquarters company came out with a litter to bring Dad back behind the American lines. “What the hell are you doing here,” was Dad’s first question. “You didn’t think we were going to leave you here, did you?” Jim Holland asked. Dad said that, actually, he was pretty sure they would have to leave him, and he believed the only reason he was allowed to live was because the Japanese planned to kill those who they knew would come to rescue him.

Because they were a secret unit, there were very few photos, and only three reels of movie film ever taken of the Marauders. Two of those were destroyed in a plane crash. On the one remaining reel are images of Dad being carried back to the American lines while bullets snap leaves from nearby trees. So Dad began his long trip home on a Piper J-3 Cub.

Mom’s unit remained in Burma, nursing the troops. The Japanese army had been broken, however, so things were quieting after Myitkyina. Eventually her unit was sent to Okinawa, preparing for the invasion of Japan. Mom was assigned to wade ashore with the first wave of troops.

When the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima ended the war, Mom was sent home, but not before Typhoon Louise, classified as a “Perfect Storm,” slammed the island, damaging, sinking or grounding 265 ships and leaving 83 men dead or missing. During the storm, Mom spent three days huddled under a butcher block with two other nurses after everything else they had was blown away.

Mom said the admiral cried when he came ashore and found the nurses with nothing—no food, no dry clothing, not a comb nor a toothbrush—nothing but the wet, filthy clothes on their backs. “American women should never have been treated like this,” was his first reaction, and the next thing they knew, there were naval commanders running all of the supplies they needed.

Shortly after that, the nurses were evacuated and, although the typhoon was still in evidence, Mom, a non-swimmer, refused to ride up in a basket like those who were too afraid to make the climb. Still in the throes of the subsiding storm, Mom said sometimes the scramble net was far away from the ship, sometimes it was slammed against the side, but Mom proudly climbed the 40-foot net up the side of the ship, satisfied with the knowledge that she had done her part in the second “War to End All Wars.” She had helped to make the world safe for democracy. She and Dad had both done their parts to assure a peaceful world for their children.

Twenty years later, almost to the day, my older brother Don, set foot on Okinawa, a young Marine on his way to Vietnam.

You can find out more about Merrill’s Marauders here. You can find out more about the China-Burma-India Theater here