Colonel Logan E. Weston: The Fightin’ Preacher and Merrill’s Marauders in WWII
Colonel Logan E. Weston (nicknamed The Fightin’ Preacher) served in WWII in the famous special ops force, called Merrill’s Marauders. The Marauders fought primarily in the jungles of Burma, executing deep-penetration missions behind enemy lines. The 1962 film Merrill’s Marauders is based on their experiences.
I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. In partnership with the Honor Project, we’ve brought this podcast back at a time when our nation needs these stories more than ever.
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Today, we’ll hear from Colonel Logan E. Weston, the Fightin’ Preacher. Col. Weston was part of Merrill’s Marauders, an all-volunteer force that served in Burma in World War Two. The Marauders fought primarily in the jungles of Burma, executing deep-penetration missions behind enemy lines. The 1962 film Merrill’s Marauders is based on their experiences.
Col Logan E. Weston:
I'm Colonel E. Logan, U.S. Army, leader of the Intelligence Reconnaissance Platoon of the 3rd Battalion of Merrill's Marauders.
At that time, it was not the U.S. Army, it was the War Department and they sent out a request for volunteers for a dangerous and a hazardous mission to be taken from units that had seen combat in the South Pacific. I had been on Guadalcanal and New Georgia Island and I volunteered in answer of that call for volunteers expecting to go to the Philippines to liberate the Philippines. And we ended up going through the Tasmanian Straits around Australia, landed at Bombay, India and then crossed India by train into Burma.
At that time, we had been in the Pacific for over two years, most of the time in combat, and we just thought we'd offer our services in any way possible to shorten the length of the war.
After we secured the island of New Georgia, that was in September of '43. We got on the ship expecting to go to the next island to the north and on the ship, found out that we were headed south and that's the first we had any idea that we were on a different type of a mission.
Our battalion was composed of combat-experienced jungle fighters from various units of the South Pacific, the 37th division, Americal Division and other smaller units. We were the only battalion, the only unit in the Marauders that had prior combat experience. When we got to India, we found out for the first time, that we were only a small part of a larger unit, and that's where the regiment was formed. The regiment was composed of our battalion, the 3rd Battalion of Combat Vets, and the 2nd Battalion that had come from Panama and Trinidad, and the 1st Battalion that had come over directly from the States. All three battalions met there in India and the regiment was there organized and formed as a regiment.
Stilwell was the overall commander and Hunter was the regimental commander of the Marauder unit. At that time.
See, Stilwell was the overall commander and he was involved in a lot of politics between Shanki Shek on the China side and Mountbatten on the British side or on the India side. We seldom saw Stilwell, but Marauder was really designated as our commander.
Colonel Hunter was more of a commander to our unit because Merrill was sick part of the time. He was dealing with Stilwell at a higher echelon than I had known at that time and we just never saw Merrill. We relied more on Hunter as our combat leader.
Wingate had trained and moved to Burma and fought in Burma, a long range penetration unit, we were patterned after his unit. One of the interesting sidelights of that training during that three months that we trained in India, we maneuvered against the British forces that had come back out of Burma earlier. My I&R Platoon, one day, found out where their field kitchen was located, so as a matter of our practice of long range penetration and establishing ambushes, we ambushed their kitchen trucks only to find out later that that was their Christmas rum that we had hijacked and the British took a dim view of that. As a result of that, tempers got so heated up that they stopped the maneuvers a week early.
Well, while we were under the stages of organization, the fellows would go AWOL from camp and they wanted to see more of India. As I have already said, most of us had been in the South Pacific over two years, seeing nothing but coconut on khaki and the sites of India were very interesting to us and we wanted to see some of the country. It was a wonderful feeling to feel that there was a big chunk of ground under our feet.
As a commander of the Intelligence Reconnaissance Platoon of the Battalion, I was independent of all others and didn't have much of a chance to visit with any of them. One of the battalions, the I&R Platoon that served with the 1st Battalion of the Marauders, said that they had gathered up a lot of misfits from combat experience. My platoon was gathered from people that had a religious inclination, Christian, and most of them that had harrowing experiences in combat. I was given the choice or the chance of searching the entire battalion for people to be assigned to my platoon and I selected that type of a soldier, people that had been in difficult positions and had trusted the Lord for deliverance. That's how I happened to get the nickname of being The Fightin' Preacher.
A lot of the commanders of smaller units within the South Pacific area got rid of some of the misfits. So we had several misfits in the unit, initially, but we had them three months to weld them into an element of a combat team and that worked very successfully.
The climate and the terrain in Burma was so different than any other place that we had served. But in Burma, my I&R Platoon patrolled in excess of 1,350 miles of jungle trail by foot. We had 55 men in my platoon and that included some attached communications people and three mules that carried our radios, our generators, some of our heavy equipment and we kept that right with the platoon. Normally, my platoon worked between 12 and 24 hours in advance of the progress of the following battalion and our mission was to scout out the trails that the battalion could move over, locate enemy positions and, of course, in case of running into the enemy, if it was a small unit, we would destroy them. If it was a larger unit, we would retain them or contain them in combat until the battalion caught up and was able to finish them off.
To start with, the Chinese were engaged in trench warfare against the Japanese, across the north end of the Hukawng Valley. Our regiment patrolled to the Eastern flank of those trenches and penetrated the enemy lines and then circled around behind them. The first mission at the Walawbum mission was to establish a roadblock to prevent the Japanese supplies from moving further north to support the Japanese units engaged against the Chinese.
At that time, the I&R Platoon was the advanced element of the entire regiment and my mission was to patrol the trails through the town of Laganga into the town of Walawbum. After we contacted the enemy at Laganga, we start driving them back. Then, about 12 hours later, the battalion caught up with us and when they did, they took over the mission of driving the enemy back that was on the east side of the river. My platoon was ordered to cross the river, ford the river, and protect the flank of the battalion as it moved forward. Being across the river, I was isolated by the river and we spent our first night in a swamp and it was real foggy. At daylight the next morning, we noticed some higher ground about 300 yards forward of our position and I moved to that high ground, established in my platoon all around the fence and from that position could look down the river into the town of Walawbum or up the river to prevent any enemy patrols hitting the flank of the battalion. It was in that position that I remained in defense until the battalion got into its roadblock position and then my platoon was withdrawn to join the battalion across the river.
When my platoon established its defensive position on the west side of the river, I established all around defense. Shortly after that, the enemy patrol coming up from Walawbum hit my patrol, bounced off and within the next three hours, my platoon was completely surrounded on the far side of the river. The battalion during that time, had moved into its block position across the river and after they got in position, I received orders to withdraw across the river and join the battalion.
During the time that we were in that encircled position, I had one man hit by rifle fire in the abdomen and a sergeant and myself went out into no man's land where he had been gathering camouflage and dragged him back into the perimeter to events for his safety. Another man was hit by a fragment from a mortar tree burst and it lodged behind his skull and his neck and knocked him unconscious. A third man was hit in the arm with flying shrapnel from a knee mortar shell and it cut an artery in his arm. So I had three casualties among my platoon of 55 men and I had to put two of them, one was walking wounded, but the other two had to be litter carried across the river. So we organized litters from bamboo poles and field jackets, organized litter teams, got the wounded across the river to the battalion and I stayed on that side of the river with the holding element, that of my platoon, that was holding the enemy back. I was the last man to cross the river after I got all my men to safety.
Our regiment went into the jungles, actually, in three different groups, a total in excess of 2,500 men. We were opposing Japanese General Tanaka's 18th Division and I think there were about 25,000 men in that division that had been reinforced. So we were outnumbered 20 or 25 to one in most instances.
We were successful for a number of reasons. One of the first reasons was that we were supplied every five to seven days by supply airdrop and we had plenty of supplies available on call coming in from India. Another thing, we would hit and run, hit and before the enemy had a chance to retaliate in strength, we would disappear in the jungles. That contributed to our massive success.
The knee mortar of the Japanese Army was more like a grenade, but it was fired from a tube, a mortar type tube that was held alongside of the soldier's leg for guiding the missile, but it didn't expand over a great area. The 81 millimeter mortar that we had was very much more effective and we had different types of shells, HE, high explosive shells, against personnel. As a matter of interest, when my platoon joined the rest of the battalion after we had completely succeeded in our mission, the mortars fired at the Japanese on both flanks of my platoon position. They had fired over 181 millimeter shells and they only had three shells left when I made my escape.
Walawbum was one battle where we were jeopardizing our safety, but after the battalion caught up to us, we were able to establish all-around protection and defense and get more mortars. We brought more mortar shells in with our mule trains and resupplied from Laganga to Walawbum with mortar shells and that was a lifesaver. That was one time that we were in jeopardy. Another time, after we left Walawbum and went south, After being resupplied following the battle of Walawbum, my platoon was resupplied and given an order to move by forced march, approximately 35 miles to the south and check out the trails, determine what trails were best for the mule trains to travel over. It got down to the town of Nhpum Ga just about dark.
The battalion was at least 12 hours behind us, marching time. They didn't get down there until late in the afternoon or the next day. But at that time, I was given the mission of securing the south and east flank of the battalion escape route. The rest of our battalion and the 2nd Battalion had been given the mission of establishing a roadblock on the enemy main supply route running north toward Walawbum and they were supposed to hold that block for 24 hours. My platoon was ordered to establish security to the south. Eight miles south in Kangiten where that block was established, was the city of Kaming. The enemy were known to have a supply base and reinforcing troops there from the 18th Division.
My platoon arrived at its destination at dark that night and at daylight the next morning, I decided that the trail that we had come over that day would be the only escape route for the two battalions to evacuate over after they accomplished their blocking mission. I recommended, by radio, to the battalion that he move me to the town of Man Pin, four miles to the south. From that position, I could block any enemy coming up from the south and keep the escape route for the two battalions open for the evacuation. At [inaudible], where I established my block four miles to the south, I was hit by the enemy that had come up from Kaming. For the next three days and four nights, I kept withdrawing up the mountain, grudgingly giving up space just to keep from getting surrounded.
The enemy at that time outnumbered me, initially, by a battalion in size to my platoon. When they threatened to encircle my platoon, I would withdraw to the next terrain feature up the mountain and I established eight different blocking positions all the way to the town of [inaudible] and the enemy followed me, tried to encircle and cut me off. When I would withdraw, on several occasions, they would, by Banzai attack, attack the position that we had just vacated, but I suckered them up that south trail and that action kept the north trail open for the battalion to evacuate over. It was during that three days and four nights that I had to keep withdrawing to avoid being encircled or cut off. That was a harrowing experience and a constantly changing situation.
The first major roadblock on the Japanese supply base supply route was at Walawbum and the second roadblock was in Inkangahtawng.
When the two battalions completed their block in Inkangahtawng, they withdrew behind my screen to the town of Nhpum Ga. There, the 2nd Battalion dug in its defenses at the Nhpum Ga on higher ground and the Japanese units that I had been delaying, surrounded the entire battalion within 12 hours. So we, then, found out that I had not been opposing a battalion, I had been opposing a regiment. That regiment encircled the 2nd Battalion, which dug into the town of Nhpum Ga and had them surrounded for 12 days. We moved the 3rd Battalion, my unit, through the 2nd Battalion, further north four miles to the town of Hsāmshingyāng, and the enemy that had encircled the 2nd Battalion at Nhpum Ga patrolled the trail all the way to Shenhe Shenyang. We had to fight through four miles of resistance to break through, to relieve the trapped battalion. The relief came at daylight on Easter Sunday morning.
My I&R Platoon had been given the mission of screening and securing the flank of the two battalions that had established a roadblock on the main supply route at the town of Inkangahtawng. My three-day and four-night direct contact with the enemy forced me to withdraw a distance of about eight miles in three days time. But that action maintained the escape route for the two battalions to escape to the town of the Nhpum Ga further north.
During the time that we were behind enemy lines in Burma over the period, extending from the first of February until September, we were supplied normally every five to seven days by emergency airdrop . Sometimes, that was delayed two or three days because of monsoon rains. But during that time, we were wet from the monsoon rains, practically, all the time and that caused foot problems and jungle ulcers from the skin not being able to dry out. Then, we were affected during the last part of the crossing of the Kumon Mountain Range by swarms of leeches. We called them elephant leeches and they were bloodsuckers, usually about two or two-and-a-half inches long and they'd hold a lot of blood and then drop off.
As you walked down the jungle trail, the leeches were hiding underneath the banana leaves or the large leaves along the trail and when you brushed against that, they'd attach themselves to any place on the body that they could get a hold of. For example, they would attach themselves in the eyelets of your shoes. On occasion, there were so many leeches on your lower legs and in the eyelets of your shoes that had sucked the blood, that it would put pressure like a compress, and your feet would go to sleep while you were walking. The blood circulation was limited. Also, there were problems with typhus. Typhus that we had never faced before was normally found carried by rats in the villages that we passed through. In that part of Burma, the villages are 10 to 12 miles apart.
Most of them had been evacuated by the villagers because of the Japanese occupation, but the houses were still there and occasionally, the fellows would find a dry place to sleep in one of the houses or [inaudible] and that's where they, apparently, contacted the typhus. We lost several men, killed by the typhus ger. The typhus attack was very similar to the malaria attack. The only difference was that in the attack by a malaria, and of course, we all had malaria, the temperature of the patient would rise, level off and then rise again in steps. But the typhus fever would just continually rise on a gradual incline until the patient was overcome.
My personal experience was that about every 90 days, the malaria would flare up and we tried to keep it suppressed by the use of Atabrine. Quinine was the best suppressive, but it was limited in quantity and so we suppressed it with Atabrine taken daily. We took so much Atabrine, it was a yellow pill, and we took so much Atabrine that our eyes and skin turned yellow.
The confusing part was, for our medics, that the early symptoms were identical and it was hard to determine whether a patient was breaking down with typhus or with malaria. It wasn't until the latter part of the campaign that they detected the difference. All through the campaign when a soldier raised a high fever- see we all carried 60 to 65-pound backpacks in addition to our weaponry. When a soldier was unable to keep up with the column, we loaded his pack on a mule and let him walk beside it. When he got so incapacitated with high fever that he couldn't even walk, we'd throw him out of mule and let him ride along with us to keep the unit together and that applied with patients of both malaria and typhus, in addition to battle casualties.
I can speak from the experience on that and tell you that when I went into Burma, I weighed 183. When I came out of Burma, I weighed 119 and that was probably about the average weight loss during the eight-month campaign, As a result of improper nourishment, you suffered the results of malnutrition. For example, my teeth became loose and I thought I was going to lose all my teeth, but because of the gums shrinking, the high fever effect, and all the time you were back there, you were in a daze because of lack of proper sleep and malnutrition in the diet.
I think in Burma, the longest time that I went, and the men in my platoon went on five days' rations was a period of nine days. We had to split the ration up to make them stretch out because we didn't know when more were coming in. We would, occasionally, come into a vacated village and find the storage of rice that the natives had left there. I had one Indian in my platoon that I used as a sharpshooter. He was a crack shot. He was an Indian from South Dakota and he would go into these villages. If we were in the vicinity of the village, we would March 50 minutes and then rest 10.
If we were in a location of a village for that 10-minute break, we would see Chief Janus running around trying to catch one of these wild chickens that were in the village clearing. He would catch the chicken and butcher it over an open bamboo fire and normally, we wouldn't stay there long enough to completely cook it, but it was not uncommon to see Janus walking down the trail after he left the village chewing on a half-cooked raw chicken drumstick.
So we had heavy losses at Nphum Ga before we crossed the Kumon Mountain Range and dropped down into the Irrawaddy River Valley. Then the Chinese joined us on the attack at our final objective of Myitkyina. At that time, we were in pretty bad physical shape and disease took its toll. A lot of our people, in fact, most of our people in the early stages of the Battle of Myitkyina had been flown out to convalescence in India.
Our original units were so depleted that we had to consolidate and then the Chinese joined us to beef our numbers up before the attack on the airstrip at Myitkyina, our final objective.
At Walawbum and particularly at Nhpum Ga, my Japanese Nisei would crawl out and hear the Japanese officers giving orders to their men. They would say, "Well, now we're going to launch a Banzai attack in this place," and the Nisei would come back to me and tell me where they were going to attack, whether the order ordered them to attack and that give me an opportunity to move my automatic weapons in that dangerous place to eliminate a possibility of a penetration to my unit. See, my platoon engaged the enemy on 23 different occasions. The battalion following us only engaged them on about six occasions, because most of my contacts with the enemy were smaller units and I was able to decimate them before the battalion arrived.
To the best of my knowledge, all the Japanese that were involved in the Burma activity were schooled and trained in America and they were true-blooded Americans. There was no distinction between them and other true-blooded Americans in the unit. They would go over backward to prove their loyalty to America. The problem there was that we had to be careful not to let them get exposed too much because it would be disastrous if the Japanese should have captured any of them. Their life was really on the line at all times and we had to protect them as a result.
The problem, as I see it there, resulted from the weather conditions. There were times when the planes couldn't get over as planned and scheduled because of the weather conditions. There were other times when enemy interference affected the supply drops. There were times when we dropped or had ordered fake drops. Actually, food drops dropped in an area where the enemy thought that we were going to come and pick it up and we would march past that place, maybe 50 to 75 miles and receive the actual drop 50 or 75 miles further deep into enemy territory. This was a deceptive measure. There were a lot of deceptive measures throughout the campaign. My platoon, for example, going down a jungle trail, would come to a crossing of a mountain stream. It was approaching darkness at night and we would send a half squad or maybe a full squad down the trail, half-a-mile to a mile, and then have them walk backwards to that mountain stream.
The rest of the platoon would come to the mountain stream, go on the rocky bottom of the stream and go downstream several hundred yards and establish a bivouac. When the Japanese found our footprints on that trail, they were confused because they would come to where our footprints stopped and they would thrash around in the jungle trying to find out where we had gone to when we left the trail and we would be half-a-mile or so away. That happened several times. When we moved the platoon out of the mountain stream using the mountain stream, because there you're not leaving footprints, and when we moved out of the mountain stream, we'd go up on the bank to a dry place and establish a four or five-men outpost where we left the stream and the rest of the platoon could get a fair night's sleep and get an opportunity to pick the leeches from their lodging place.
It was one day we crossed 20, I forget, either 23 or 26 different mountain streams by fording as the monsoon rain started. We'd ford the streams and our shoes and our feet would never dry out. That caused a lot of blisters from tender, wet shoes and wet feet. Before we went into Burma, while we were still in India, we had a platoon packets up. My platoon had three packets containing a change of jungle fatigues and shoes. We broke the shoes in while we were maneuvering in India and when a person's shoes would wear out, we would air drop the entire packet. Not all of the men would have the same requirement, but everybody was provided a new pair of shoes within the platoon and those packets were earmarked for a certain unit.
Another thing on the air evac of the wounded and sick, we didn't have air fields. We had rice patties that had been leveled off with entrenching tools and they were found in a jungle clearing surrounded by jungle. The plane was just, it would come in without any trouble land without any difficulty, but when we put the wounded soldier on the plane, that extra weight was more than the plane could lift and we had several planes that cracked up as they were trying to clear the juggle at the end of the airstrip. But we eventually got everybody that was alive safely evacuated by hit and miss methods.
The word that we received was that if we were able to take Walawbum that would terminate our mission and the British that were positioned on the Arakan front between India and Burma would take over and move south from there. We were successful at Walawbum and immediately received orders to pursue a second mission, which would take us several miles further south to the Nhpum Ga and establish a roadblock at Inkangahtawng adjacent to Nhpum Ga. We were told that we would be relieved after that area was secured.
After we secured an area, the Chinese that had been friendly, under Shanki Shek, that had been opposing the Japanese at the north end and moved on Mugen Valley, they would follow us down and establish their lines further south, driving the remaining Japanese before them. After we secured Walawbum, and later Nhpum Ga, that action secured the Hukawng Valley. The Chinese established their front lines at the south of the Nhpum Ga battle area. Then we crossed to the east over the Kumon Mountain Range down the Irrawaddy Valley and, essentially, did the same thing until we got to our final objective of Myitkyina. At the fall of Myitkyina, we were so decimated that the Marauders that were still active were sent to the Chinese units to act as advisors to the Chinese, and that's how the campaign ended.
At the time, we thought that Stilwell didn't have a heart. He kept pushing us forward, but we didn't fully realize the position that he was in. It was only after the end of the war that we realized that he was in an impossible position, opposing ideas of the British on the west and ideas of Chiang Kai-shek on the east. He was fighting a political war along with our military action.
In retrospect, we now realize that Stilwell was doing the only thing that he could do, considering the political implications.
We envisioned after the fact that the reason that we weren't given all this support and the medical supplies and equipment that other units in the area were getting was because of Stilwell having to appease the Chinese and the British forces on either flank of our unit.
I have, let's see, five, six, seven Purple Hearts. Only three of them were from Burma. The rest of them from ‘Nam or Korea. But in jungle fighting, that really is similar to Indian-type warfare. It's individual against individual rather than large unit against a large unit with heavy equipment. As a result of that, when one of your, the men that you were responsible for, as an officer, when one of my men got hit, whether it was killed or wounded, it was a very personal thing. I continually kept asking what I might have been able to do to have avoided that tragedy, but it wasn't a whole wholesome locked slaughter, like we are familiar with these days, but it was more of an individual thing. Of course, friendships developed very strongly under those conditions.
In my platoon, and again, I want to emphasize that my platoon operated almost exclusively independent of the larger unit. My platoon kept going because they all had experienced God's deliverance in seemingly impossible situations and they had a strong trust in the Lord. I received the nickname of being The Fightin' Preacher because in addition to commanding my troops, I had been drafted, initially, out of a seminary and had a little Bible experience studying the word of God. Whenever possible, whenever we were not in contact with the enemy or during a quiet lull, I would call the men together. We'd have a prayer session and we would study the word of God. I'd give them a little encouragement from the word of God and I think it was that spiritual motivation that eliminated a lot of fear, or at least enabled them to put the fear aside and overcome it and go on from there, and that was my personal experience also.
That was Col. Logan E. Weston
Next time on Warriors in their Own words, we’ll hear from Army Vet Kris Goldsmith. Goldsmith served in Iraq as a forward observer and an on-the-ground intelligence reporter, documenting the atrocities of war, and the toll on those who served.
Warriors In Their Own Words is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, in partnership with The Honor Project.
Our producer is Declan Rohrs. Brigid Coyne is our production director, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer.
Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.
I’m Ken Harbaugh, and this is Warriors In Their Own Words.