Released in 1945, The Stilwell Road, narrated by Ronald Reagan while he was a Captain in the Army Air Corps, tells the story of the forgotten theater of the War, the China-Burma-India theater where the Allies, fighting over some of the most rugged terrain on Earth, wrested victory from the Japanese. The Stilwell Road refers to a section of the Burma Road by which Nationalist China was supplied by the United States and Great Britain during the War.
The unit known as Merrill’s Marauders is mentioned in the film. Officially designated by the uninspiring title of 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), the press tagged them as Merrill’s Marauders and thus they have come down through history. 3000 volunteers, most of them veterans of the fighting in the Pacific, including some veterans who volunteered from military stockades and who were known as The Dead End Kids, the Marauders were organized to fight behind Japanese lines. Led by Brigadier General Frank Merrill, the Marauders were trained in the deep penetration tactics supported by air drops pioneered by British General Orde Wingate, with Merrill throwing in some American touches, for example the importance of marksmanship, as old as Roger’s Rangers, wilderness fighters of the French and Indian War, famed for their long distance raids.
The Marauders went into action in northern Burma in February 1944. Between February and May they marched 750 miles over some of the most rugged, and disease infested, terrain on Earth. Always outnumbered, they were never defeated and always inflicted many more casualties on the Japanese than they sustained. They engaged in combat with the Japanese on thirty two separate occasions including five major engagements. At the end they took Myitkyina airfield, a military objective that in retrospect still looks impossible for them to have taken. The unit was disbanded in August 1944 with only 130 men and officers still on their feet. As a tribute to their heroism, the Marauders had the unprecedented honor of every man in their ranks awarded a Bronze Star, along with a Presidential Unit Citation for the Marauders as a whole. The Marauders are looked upon as an ancestral unit by American Ranger, Special Ops and LERP (Long Range Reconnaissance and Patrol) units. Colonel George A. McGee (1992), who took over command of the Marauders after Frank Merrill had to be evacuated on March 29, 1944 due to a heart attack, and three Nisei interpreters, Roy H. Matsumoto (1993), Henry Gosho (1997), and Grant Hirabayashi, are inductees into the Ranger Hall of Fame.