The Dearly Departed Players, known for their annual tour at Dunmore Cemetery, are busy with a different project, one with a national profile.
According to Julie Esty, the members are campaigning across Lackawanna County to gather signatures on a petition asking the U.S. Congress to pass a Congressional Gold Medal Act for Merrill’s Marauders. The bill was introduced in the House in January, 2019.
One of the Marauders, Robert Nicholson, a native of West Scranton, has significant ties to Dunmore — he and his wife, a native Dunmorean, lived here, and Robert is buried in Dunmore Cemetery.
Assisting Mrs. Esty on the road with the campaign is Retired Colonel James W. Patterson, also a former Dunmorean. Another Dunmorean, James Mack, a Korean War veteran, helped out by printing 3,000 letters and postcards for the Dearly Departed Players to use during their project. Carlucci Golden DeSantis Funeral Home joined the effort by providing the pens used to sign the petitions.
They explain that President Franklin Roosevelt issued a nationwide call in 1943 for volunteers for an extremely dangerous mission in Burma, then occupied by the Japanese. Nearly 3,000 soldiers answered that call for help, and after cutting off Japanese communication and supply lines, they captured the city of Myitkyina. Just over 100 soldiers survived the mission.
“Sometimes these soldiers went days without food or supplies,” Julie explains. “They had to transport their wounded and they lost a lot of men to disease. We want Congress to recognize their extraordinary bravery and service.”
The Dearly Departed Players first stop on their quest for signatures was at St. Stanislaus Polish National Catholic Church, Scranton, home parish of Michael Sevensky, a member of the Merrill’s Marauders who is buried at St. Stanislaus Cemetery.
The first signature on the petition was that of Prime Bishop Anthony Kikovsky of St. Stanislaus Parish.
He was quoted by WNEP-TV saying, “Even giving of their lives, even those who weren’t killed in wartime, offered that up as a possibility. They went and served, regardless of the danger, regardless of the sacrifice.”
The bishop admitted he was surprised to learn that his parishioner was a member of Merrill’s Marauders, though he realizes that’s the way many of the World War II veterans were. “They went about things quietly,” he points out.
The soldiers knew from the beginning the risks of the mission, and that we considered expendable. There was no game plan to get them out of Burma.
Julie Esty, an avid history buff, notes, “All of these men, all of our veterans, are threads in the tapestry of this Valley. It’s important to remember what they accomplished.”
She says there are many local men who did extraordinary things, such as Walter Grantz, age 95, of South Scranton, a World War II combat medic who helped rescue prisons from a Nazi concentration camp.
Robert Nicholson was one of five soldiers from West Side and another from the Lackawanna Valley who were inducted into service for World War II and then volunteered for the dangerous mission in the China/Burma/India theater. In addition to Nicholson and Sevensky, they were Ivor Morgan, Robert Evans, Joseph Magnotta and Arthur Richards Jr. When their mission was complete, all members of the Merrill’s Marauders received a Bronze Star.
After the war, five of the group returned to the Lackawanna Valley, where they are laid to rest. On a national level, 12 surviving Marauders, now is advanced years, are seeking a Congressional Gold Medal for the group.
The Dearly Departed Players are seeking 3,000 signatures initially in support of H.R. 906 and S.743.
Julie Esty marvels at this project, which she finds very much in the community spirit of the war years in the 1940s.
“Somehow, in the great vastness of the history archives, it landed in my lap,” she says. “With the Dearly Departed Players, we are on a really amazing mission, and if people help us, something really good will come of it.”