Russell Hamler, thought to be the last of WWII Merrill’s Marauders jungle-fighting unit, dies at 99

Dec 27, 2023, 2:11 PM | Updated: 3:40 pm

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The reputed last member of the famed American jungle fighting unit in World War II nicknamed the Merrill’s Marauders has died.

Russell Hamler, 99, died on Tuesday, his son Jeffrey said. He did not give a cause of death.

Hamler was the last living Marauder, according to a biography published by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in January.

Hamler had been living in the Pittsburgh area, where he was born in 1924, and enlisted in the Army at 18, according to the department’s biography.

In 2022, the Marauders received the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest honor. The Marauders inspired a 1962 movie called “Merrill’s Marauders,” and dozens of Marauders were awarded individual decorations after the war, from the Distinguished Service Cross to the Silver Star. The Army also awarded the Bronze Star to every soldier in the unit.

The soldiers spent months behind enemy lines, marching hundreds of miles through the tangled jungles and steep mountains of Burma to capture a Japanese-held airfield and open an Allied supply route between India and China.

They battled hunger and disease between firefights with Japanese forces during their secret mission, a grueling journey of roughly 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers) on foot that killed almost all of them.

In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to have the Army assemble a ground unit, the 5307th Composite Unit Provisional, for a long-range mission behind enemy lines into Japanese-occupied Burma, now Myanmar. Seasoned infantrymen and newly enlisted soldiers alike volunteered for the mission, deemed so secret they weren’t told where they were going.

Merrill’s Marauders — nicknamed for the unit’s commander, Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill — were tasked with cutting off Japanese communications and supply lines along their long march to the airfield at the occupied town of Myitkyina. Often outnumbered, they successfully fought Japanese troops in five major engagements, plus 30 minor ones, between February and August 1944, according to the department.

Starting with 3,000 soldiers, the Marauders completed their mission five months later with barely 200 men still in the fight.

Hamler was wounded in the hip by a mortar fragment during the battle known as Nhpum Ga, the department’s biography said. The injury immobilized Hamler in his foxhole for more than 10 days until rescuers arrived and evacuated him to a hospital in India.

Marauders spent most days cutting their way through dense jungle, with only mules to help carry equipment and provisions. They slept on the ground and rarely changed clothes. Supplies dropped from planes were their only means of replenishing rations and ammunition. Malnutrition and the wet climate left the soldiers vulnerable to malaria, dysentery and other diseases.

The Marauders eventually captured the Myitkyina airfield, the only all-weather strip in northern Burma, their key objective, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History. The unit was disbanded afterward.

Hamler was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He became an aircraft mechanic for Trans World Airlines and retired from it in 1985, the department said.

United States News

Associated Press

Missing teen with autism found in New Mexico, about 200 miles away from his Arizona home

DEMING, N.M. (AP) — A missing teen with autism has been found in New Mexico — about 200 miles away from his home in southern Arizona, according to New Mexico State Police. The 13-year-old turned up at a Walmart in Deming on Tuesday after going missing the night before from his family’s home in Tucson. […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

UN appeals for $674 million as gang violence in Haiti escalates with killings and sexual violence

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Indiscriminate violence in Haiti is escalating — especially in the capital and surrounding region — with armed gangs carrying out killings and acts of sexual violence, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in the conflict-wracked Caribbean nation said Wednesday. Ulrika Richardson told U.N. reporters in a virtual press conference from the Haitian […]

3 hours ago

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul holds up a phone that displays a map of illegal cannabis stores as entre...

Associated Press

Struggling to stop illegal cannabis stores, New York governor asks online sites to hide them

NEW YORK (AP) — After failing to wipe illegal cannabis dispensaries off the map, New York is asking online sites to hide them. Since the state legalized marijuana in 2021, unlicensed pot shops have proliferated across New York City, with limited pushback from authorities. On Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul called on online map and social […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Honolulu bribery trial won’t be postponed despite an investigation into a threat against a US judge

HONOLULU (AP) — An upcoming bribery trial against Honolulu’s former top prosecutor won’t be delayed despite an ongoing investigation that one of the defendants in the case allegedly threatened the safety of the judge who had been presiding over the case, which prompted his unexpected recusal last month. The new judge ruled Wednesday there will […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Anheuser-Busch, Teamsters reach labor agreement that avoids US strike

Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch has reached a contract agreement with the Teamsters union that avoids a strike at its U.S. plants. The union had threatened a strike at the brewer’s 12 U.S. plants if an agreement on a new five-year contract wasn’t reached by 11:59 p.m. EST Thursday. The Teamsters union represents 5,000 Anheuser-Busch workers who […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Legislation allowing recreational marijuana sales in Virginia heads to GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia lawmakers passed legislation Wednesday that if approved by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin would allow recreational retail sales of marijuana to begin next year. Under the bills, the state would start taking applications on Sept. 1 for cultivating, testing, processing and selling the drug in preparation for the market to open […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.


Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.


Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Russell Hamler, thought to be the last of WWII Merrill’s Marauders jungle-fighting unit, dies at 99