Military Actions: Wapak man joined Merrill's Marauders in WWII
WAPAKONETA, Dec 17, 2012 (The Lima News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Ed Kohler has enough memories during his time with the Army National Guard to fill a book.
Kohler, 92, said he served for four years, 11 months and 27 days during World War II. During that time, he traveled through Fiji Islands, Guadalcanal, New Georgia and then India. He joined Merrill's Marauders, a special-operations unit that went behind Japanese lines fighting against the Japanese Imperial Marines in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations.
"They ordered 3,000 men. We went to Burma, fought the Japanese behind the lines for about eight months," he said from the dining room table of his Wapakoneta home.
His wife, Beth, chimed in from the living room, sitting on a recliner.
"When they had put you in Burma, they had no plans for getting you out," she said.
"Yeah, they had no plans to get us out of Burma at all," he said. "They figured 98 percent casualities. ... We would hit it and go. We never stayed in one place more than 24 hours."
One night in India he even had the opportunity to meet and speak with Mahatma Gandhi.
"We talked to him. He was a regular guy, really nice. He was a smart man," he said.
There were about 30 minor battles and five major battles in India, Kohler said. A platoon sergeant, he and the men he was with often lived off the land, eating anything from snakes, monkeys, lizards, fish and cabbage palm. Other supplies were brought to them by parachute. They were often exhausted when they traveled, walking up switchback trails like zombies.
There were several instances when he feared for his life.
The Japanese, at one point, "They trapped us for two weeks on top of a hill in Burma. We had nothing to eat, no water to drink, but we were fighting every day for two weeks. And we broke out on Easter Sunday 1944, they finally got us broke off the hill," he said.
On one occasion, he carried his battalion commander for five miles after he became wounded in both knees. Kohler was sick with malaria and had a 104 degree fever that day.
Kohler's interpreter also saved the group.
"If it weren't for him, we probably wouldn't be here today," Kohler said. "We found a wire that he could tap into and he found out what the Japanese were planning on doing.
"They were going to squeeze and move in on us. We blocked the trail of what we did. They were trying to get our communication and supply line busted. They found out where we were, so they were going to come from both sides and hit us, but instead, we pulled out the flank. They got to fighting one another. One of the guys went back in later and said Japs were laying every place around there. They just killed one another. They thought they were killing us."
He said he witnessed some of the torture tactics the Japanese did to some of his men, describing the acts as unspeakable.
Of course, living that way certainly wore on him after awhile.
He pulled up his pant leg to show the darkened patches of skin he called jungle rot.
"They get dark and then they break out again in an open sore," he said, which can still happen to this day. "It's from being wet. You were wet all the time."
Once he was finished, he also had malaria, dysentery and a swollen liver.
"Besides that, I was a nervous wreck after being on the front lines after so long," he said.
It took him at least a month to recover from all his physical ailments. Most men who were part of Merrill's Marauders were evacuated before the end of the mission for those kinds of illnesses.
At home, Kohler has a display case with more than a dozen honors and awards, including two bronze stars.
After returning to the United States, he married his wife, Beth, and they've been married for 63 years. He was born and raised in St. Marys. He still goes to Merrill's Marauders reunions, including one that was in Louisville, Ky., this past Labor Day weekend.
His wife, also 92, now has cancer and he cares for her at their Wapakoneta home. They raised four children together.
___ (c)2012 The Lima News (Lima, Ohio) Visit The Lima News (Lima, Ohio) at
www.limaohio.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ Back To TMCnet.com's Homepage ]