Most Americans, I have no doubt, remember the overwhelming feeling of unbelief that filled them as they watched the planes fly into the twin towers and the surreal wave of emotion that washed over them as they watched them fall. I know I still feel that feeling today when I see it replayed, or even think about what I saw. Evelyn Standley recalls the same feeling when she heard the United States was at war in 1941.
Evelyn said, “I was cleaning cabins for Tom Ferdell at his fish camp here in Smith Point and at lunch time I would always go to the Van-ta-un store where Mr. Ferdell’s wife had a lunch counter and she made lunch every day for the fishermen. He named the store after the Vingt-et-un Islands, but he didn’t know how to spell it, it has been referred to as Van-ta-un (pronounced van-toon) ever since.” Evelyn said she was sitting there eating a hamburger when a special announcement came over the radio. “Roosevelt announced that we were at war,” Evelyn said, “The hair stood up on my arms when I heard the news, and it still stands up to this day when I think about it.”
Evelyn said her husband, Morris Standley, was not a volunteer, he was drafted and trained as a horseshoer in El Reno, Oklahoma then sent overseas. While he was in training, they allowed Morris to go home to see Evelyn, who was pregnant with their son. He was not allowed to return home for the birth of his son, so when his son, Ronnie was 6 weeks old Evelyn, accompanied by one of her brothers, caught a train in Beaumont and rode to Houston. They changed trains and went to Dallas, then got on the Rock Island Lines into El Reno, Oklahoma. Morris had rented them a little apartment and he was allowed to go home at night and returned to the fort the next morning. When Ronnie was 4 months old Evelyn returned to Houston on the train while Morris boarded a train in the opposite direction. He went to Camp Shenango Replacement Center in Pennsylvania and from there was sent by ship to India. Evelyn and Ronnie did not see Morris again for 2 years.
Evelyn Stephenson Standley's husband was assigned to the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) better known as Merrill’s “marauders,” but when he was shipped overseas Evelyn had no idea where he was serving and with which unit. She saw this photo as well as others I will post here, in a magazine and was strangely drawn to them, enough so that she cut them out and saved them. She was unaware that these were photos of her husband’s unit, “the Heart Knows!” It was not until she was finally able to be in contact with Morris that she discovered the photos portrayed his life on the front lines. She has lovingly kept these photos folded and tucked away in a book along with Morris’ other military mementos.
Merrill's Marauders was a 3,000-man volunteer unit that fought some of the toughest close-quarter battles of the war, many of them behind the Japanese lines where they revolutionized jungle fighting. The unit informally included a little of everything—all of it tough.
The Marauders, fighting for five months early in 1944, played an important role in reopening the Burma Road, former lifeline of Nationalists China to Burmese ports and railroads. The specially trained fighters engaged in five major and 30 minor engagements, winning them all. By the middle of 1944, the unit was considered “expended” and was disbanded. It had suffered 2,394 casualties but 1,970 of these were due to the disease toll of Burma’s steamy climate.
MARAUDER PATROL WALKING DOWN JUNGLE TRAIL TO PROTECT MAIN COLUMN OF TROOPS.
The horseshoers were an important part of the military. The horses and mules needed to be shod in order to survive the long treks in the jungles and mountainous terrain of Burma and India.
One day, while still in training, a commanding officer told Morris how he wanted him to shoe the horse he was working on, instructing him to drive a nail in the horse’s foot the wrong way, which Morris knew would cripple the horse. He refused to follow the officer’s order, which infuriated the commanding officer who thought he knew more than Morris. The officer told him if he didn’t follow his instructions, he would have him court martialed and sent to the front lines. Morris stood his ground and said he was not going to injure the horse, period! The officer followed through with his threat and Morris was sent to the front lines with the 5307th Composite Unit Provisional, better known as Merrill’s Marauders.
(Photo Source, Merrill's Marauders by Edward Young, Illustrated by Adam Hook.)
Morris and his comrades lived through some tough times during those days. They had to wait on airdrops to get food and make sure there were no Japanese troops nearby when they retrieved them. They knew if there were a sniper would be quick to pick them off.
(Although wearing a saddle, the horse is being used as a pack animal. On much of march soil was so perniciously wet that men sank into mud up to their shoe-tops. Even on 3,000-foot hills the mud sapped the strength of walking troops. Source, unnamed magazine article saved by Evelyn.)
They stole a cow one time just to eat, they had to be careful, as the folks in Burma considered cows precious and worshipped them. Sickness was a real issue as they had to deal with many ailments, two of the main ones being dysentery and ticks. Traveling over the mountains was hard and exhausting, they would take one step forward and slide two steps back.
(Photo of the vital airfield at Myitkyina later in the battle. A C-47 takes off over P-40N's of the 88th Fighter Squadron. During the siege of Myitkyina the fighter pilots would fly as many as six missions a day. Photo from unnamed magazine article.)
Evelyn said, “After conquering the Myitkyina Airfield, Morris had enough points to come home, but the few seasoned Merrill’s Marauder men that were left did not get to go home. The military formed the “Mars Task Force” to help train the new recruits and fight more Japs. They sent him into China in a two-engine plane with one engine out, over the Eastern Himalayan Mountains, or “The Hump,” as the Allied pilots of the Second World War called it. He was an MP while in China.
The weapon Morris and the other infantrymen carried was the BAR, Browning Automatic Rifle. I never knew what it was until I went to a military museum, and they had a whole wall of them. Morris told me the feeling he had after killing the first Japanese enemy was the most awful feeling he ever felt in his life, but he said he thought to himself, “It was either me or him and it’s not gonna be me.”
Morris, who earned 5 battle stars but was only credited with 3, never talked about the war when he returned home unless someone asked him about it. Evelyn said she was glad when he did talk about it because it helped him get the feelings out and not internalize them. Many who did not share their experiences often times ended their pain by committing suicide.