MARIETTA, Ga. – One of the last surviving members of the famed World War II guerrilla force known as "Merrill's Marauders," 88-year-old Stanley M. Sasine of Vinings, was presented with the Bronze Star, a Combat Infantry Badge and a Ranger Tab on Monday, decades after he was authorized to receive it.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who presented the honors, said Sasine was authorized, but never received the Bronze Star Medal.
Sasine earned the decorations, Chambliss said, "during a campaign in 1944, very deep behind Japanese enemy lines, and he was a member of a very select group called Merrill's Marauders that made a huge difference in the campaign in Burma, China and India."
The guerrilla force took its name from its commander, Brig. Gen Frank Merrill. Their mission was to infiltrate Japanese-occupied Burma and cut off Japanese communications and supply lines. The hope was for the force to prepare the way for Gen. Joseph Stillwell's Chinese-American Force to reopen the Burma Road, which was closed in April 1942 by the Japanese in-vaders, and once again allow supplies and war material into China through this route, according to History.com.
The unit consisted of about 3,000 soldiers officially called 5307th Composite Unit, codenamed "Galahad."
Sasine said there are only 18 Merrill's Marauders alive.
A native of Brooklyn, Sasine and his wife, Renee, have four children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, several of whom attended Monday's ceremony at Chambliss' Cumberland office.
Sasine said he would have received the award earlier were it not for a fire that burned some of the records detailing his service.
"I've been trying to get this Bronze Star for many, many years, and it was always `no record of your name being a Marauder,"' Sasine said. "Finally we put it together, piece by piece. I'm very happy. I'm very mellow now. Finally, I got my due."
Among those in attendance were LTC Bob O'Brien, 5th Ranger Training Battalion Commander, and his command sergeant major, Frank James, who came from Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega to honor Sasine.
"We hold a special place of honor for those of you that served in the 5307th Composite in our hearts because our unit, although it's formally known as the 5th Ranger Training Battalion, is affectionately nicknamed the Merrill's Marauders, so we're the legacy of men like this," O'Brien said. "So we came down to honor you and honor your legacy."
Sasine said he was enrolled at Cornell University for a mere two weeks before he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942.
Blocked from flying because he was color-blind, he was trained in intelligence recognizance and learned how to shoot mortars. Originally, he was bound for Europe until he signed up for new clothing.
"And that gave them the right to put me in jungle warfare," Sasine said. "And that's how I became a Marauder. You don't read all this little nonsense that you're signing all the time."
He joined the Marauders in 1943 and remained with them until he was wounded in June of 1944.
Being colorblind turned out to be an asset in the jungle because he could spot camouflaged Japanese snipers, he said.
"When you're in the jungle, you're in a maze of woods and swamp and every kind of bad condition in the world," he said. "You're looking for them. They don't know you're there. And it's a question of hit and run, hit and run, hit and run. And we did that for month after month until this last particular need to capture this airport, to stop the Japanese from being able to receive their ammunition, their food or whatever it was, and to hold that airport because the war was just about over."
The airfield in question was the Myitkyina Airfield in northern Burma.
"A dear friend of mine, a medic and I, he was right beside me, and we were crawling our way forward to get to the airport and a sniper from a tree I didn't see (shot him)," Sasine said.
"You don't stand up or get up on your knees, but I happened to see the Japanese sniper in the tree that shot my friend, took his head off. And the only way I could get on him was to get up a little bit, stand up. And with that as I shot him out of the tree that bullet hit me in the left shoulder. He meant to hit me in the face. Took out my whole wing bone. I was told I'd never be able to move my arm higher than this, and it took many, many years of work and pain and pain and pain, but I play golf. I play at the game. But that's another story."
Sasine said he crawled through the jungle until he was helped into an oxcart and taken to a field hospital.
His fellow Marauders were ultimately successful in seizing the airfield, he said.
For decades Sasine said he had a recurring dream that bothered him, which was the story of his "first kill."
"Crawling through the jungle, (they) were all around us," he said. "We were in their territory, and I was moving north and this young Japanese soldier was moving right, and we met each other at a great big tree. He couldn't see me, and I couldn't see him. And as we sort of just got together, passed each other, we both stood up in fright. My hand and finger was on a Thompson submachine gun . And that bullet just cut him in half. And that memory was with me for 40 years until I told this story."
The reoccurring dream stopped once he talked about the event with his grandson, he said.
"My finger just happened to be on the trigger first," he said. "All of us veterans I don't think ever talked about what we went through and what happened in World War II. We loved it. To us it was a game. We were only 18 years old. And when we came to realize how horrible were the things we did, we never talked about it."
At the same time, it was a matter of kill or be killed, he said, describing the Japanese soldiers as "animals."
"I experienced it amongst themselves some of the things they were doing," he said. "Horrible. They would kill their own wounded because they would slow them down from where they needed to go. They're looking for us, for all of these months, and (Brigadier Gen. Frank Merrill) was brilliant. We all had our exact orders. We would move in a direction north, northeast, south, we all had proper tools to tell us where we were going, for exactly seven minutes and stop and break off a quarter of a mile or a mile away. Thirteen hundred miles of jungle fighting."
After being shot, Sasine was moved to India where he spent nine months in recovery before returning to the U.S.
History.com reports that all surviving Merrill's Marauders had to be evacuated to hospitals to be treated for everything from exhaustion and various tropical diseases to malnutrition or A.O.E. ("Accumulation of Everything"). They were awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation in July 1944, which was re-designated the Presidential Unit Citation in 1966. Every member of the commando force also received the Bronze Star.
Sasine married his high school sweetheart, Renee, and pursued a career as a Wall Street broker, and as the owner of a truck equipment company. His luck continued in the 1990s when he won $1 million in a Reader's Digest contest.
But returning home at first was not easy.
"It was difficult," he said. "I always had that want to kill. I recall just days before I was out I was called in with a colonel, went through all my records, and he said, `Stan, I want you to do me a favor. Buy yourself a gun, a rifle. Hunt as much as you can, as often as you can. Shoot birds, shoot anything you can.' And over time my desire to use a weapon went away."