Army & Navy - COMMAND,OPERATIONS: The Bitter Tea of General Joe

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Myitkyina had been taken at last, but for General Joseph Stilwell there was taste of bitter tea in the victory. Among the troops taking part were only a token few of Brigadier General Frank Merrill's famed Marauders, organized especially for the north Burma campaign. The cold fact was that Merrill's Marauders had "blown up."

In the long history of warfare good outfits have disintegrated before, but seldom has their commander swallowed his pride enough to tell the whole story. Last week, in an official report, frank, honest "Uncle Joe" Stilwell did just that. He told the world what it was going to find out in the long run, anyhow.

Blandishment. Recruited as a special unit for a "dangerous mission," many of the Marauders were seasoned jungle fighters from the Solomons and New Guinea. Among the recruiting blandishments was an unwise promise: when the Marauders had completed one hard, grueling mission they would be sent home and disbanded.

But Burma, which already had one such unit (Wingate's Raiders), had less than its share of good jungle troops. By this summer, the Marauders had carried the ball for Uncle Joe for three harrowing months of action, were shot through with malaria and other fevers, exhausted, suffering from malnutrition. They were sent to rear-base hospitals and rest camps. But there was no move to send them home. The virus of disaffection began to work.

When the situation around Myitkyina grew serious late in May, General Stilwell in desperation ordered that all able-bodied men be sent to the front. Medical officers interpreted the order too strictly, sent back to action many a Marauder who was really ill but not actually bedridden.

Realization. Said the official report: "The resultant feeling on the part of individuals was that they were being double-crossed, and the feeling gradually grew up, abetted by certain officers, that the unit was an orphan, serving under an unsympathetic high command." That rang familiarly in Army ears: too often had the orphan complex been the fate of "special units."

When "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell discovered how his orders had been misconstrued, he wept. But it was too late. The Marauders were through as a combat unit. Now that the story was out, Army men wondered what would be done. The answer was: very little. General Merrill, ill for months, had already been replaced by Brigadier General Theodore F. Wessels who (with a few original Marauders) was leading a Chinese outfit at Myitkyina. For most of the original Marauders there were only the Army's red bathrobes, gloomy hospital talk, rear-base doldrums. Only official action taken was, in a way, a fulfilment of the recruiting promise: the Marauders were recommended for favored positions on the Army's headed-for-home lists.