94-year-old Merrill's Marauder receives seven awards - WRBL

94-year-old Merrill's Marauder receives seven awards

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FORT BENNING, Ga. -

Seven decades after being a part of the famed World War II guerilla force known as "Merrill's Marauders" a retired army veteran is finally being honored.

Ninety-four-year-old Retired Master Sergeant Vincent Melillo received seven awards Friday at the Ranger School graduation ceremony.

Melillo was born in New Jersey, and spent most of his childhood in a catholic orphanage after his mother died. It was that structured environment and the urge for adventure that made him want to join the army in 1940.

He was just 22-years-old and only had a 7-th grade education when he enlisted in the army during World War II. After a three year tour abroad he was approached to volunteer for a secret and dangerous mission.

"We were sitting down there two years as the war was going on. We wasn't [weren't] doing anything, we wanted to get in on the action," Melillo said. He became one of nearly 3,000 soldiers in the 5307 unit, later dubbed "Merrill's Marauders" after its commander, Brigadier General Frank Merrill.

They didn't know they were signing up for essentially a suicide mission in Burma. The goal was to secure the only all-weather airstrip, opening up supply lines into Asia. There was a plan to get them in, but not out. Melillo was there when the first marauder was gunned down by the Japanese during a village patrol.

"You talk about somebody who was scared that was me. I was sitting right back there by myself," he remembered.

But the Marauders went on to make history, becoming the first American troops to fight the Japanese on land in Asia and marching an estimated 1-thousand miles; farther than any other American force during the war.

Melillo went on to fight in the Korean War after facing malaria and a 50 percent disability after an accident during an ammunition exercise.

Seventy years later, he was finally being recognized for his bravery.

"My parents tried for 20 years to get an updated list of dad's medals," his daughter, Jonnie Clasen said. It was a proud day for her. "I didn't cry but I thought I might cry."

Melillo received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Defense Service Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation and the Ranger Tab.

"It's the most proudest [proud] moment is to be receiving... after all these years to be receiving... to receive these awards," he said.

Melillo retired from the military in 1965. He will be inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame this summer.

There are only 18 living Merrill's Marauders. They continue to be honored today. U.S. Army Rangers wear the marauder patch as their crest.

Sydney Cameron

Sydney joined the WRBL news team in December 2011 after working as a freelance reporter in Washington, D.C. More>>

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