April 12, 1923 - May 19, 2022
RETIRED RANGER MSGT GILBERT HARTWELL HOWLAND
Retired MSGT Gilbert H. Howland, passed away peacefully on Thursday, May 19, 2022 at Robert Wood Johnson University Hamilton. He was 99 years of age.
He was born in Waltham, MA on April 12, 1923 to Irving and Marjorie Howland. In 1931 at age 7 he was sent to the Hillside School for Boys in Marlborough, MA with his younger brother Vernon. They were sponsored by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). He graduated from Hillside in 1939 at the age of 15. On April 21, 1941 he enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after his 18th birthday.
Howland was sent to the Panama Canal for basic training, joining the 33rd Infantry Regiment where he advanced to Heavy Weapons NCO. In Sept. 1943 Howland volunteered, along with 125 other members of his unit for a secret, dangerous and hazardous mission with high casualties expected.
In October 1943 the 3,000 volunteers arrived in Bombay, India aboard the SS Lurline. In January 1944 this unit became the 5307th Composite Unit Provisional (later known as Merrill’s Marauders). Howland was assigned to the 2nd Battalion Green Combat Team. On Feb 24, 1944 their mission began. Fighting behind enemy lines, they set up ambushes and blocking actions to cut the supply lines and communications of the Japanese 18th Division in Northern Burma.
From March 29 to April 9, 1944 the 2nd Battalion was surrounded at the battle of Nhpum Ga. For thirteen days they endured relentless artillery and mortar barrages as well as coordinated Japanese attacks on their positions. Howland was in charge of 16 men and two machine guns guarding two vital trails leading into Nhpum Ga.
Midway through this action Howland was hit by artillery fire while moving from one machine gun position to another. The 2nd Battalion suffered heavy casualties during this siege. The siege was lifted on April 9th, Easter Sunday. Howland was evacuated to the 20th General Hospital.
In May 1944 he returned to action along with 200 other Merrill’s Marauders (walking wounded) to defend the all-weather airfield at Myitkyina. During this defense Howland was struck down with malaria and had to be evacuated. The unit was dissolved on August 10, 1944 with only 130 men fit for duty out of the original 3,000 volunteers. The Merrill’s Marauders are the legacy unit for the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment located at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
Howland was awarded the Purple Heart; Distinguished Unit Badge (Presidential Unit Citation); and the Combat Infantry Badge for the India Burma Campaign. Howland, together with every soldier in Merrill’s Marauders received the Bronze Star for their mission. Their unit had more continuous uninterrupted action behind enemy lines than any other infantry unit in the Pacific Theater during WWII. In recognition of their extraordinary actions in Burma, the unit was recently awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by Congress in 2020. Howland was presented his medal on his 99th birthday, April 12, 2022.
After WWII Gilbert Howland was honorably discharged but reenlisted in June 1946. He was assigned to the Morgan Line near Trieste, Italy. In 1948 while stationed in Italy he married Andreina Dobrigna. The couple had three children and were married for 25 years. In 1974 he married Jean Anderson. They were married for 41 years.
During his active military service Howland earned two more Combat Infantry Badges. One for combat service in Korea in the Pork Chop Hill Sector (1953-1954), and the other for two combat tours in Vietnam (1966-1967) and (1968-1969). He was awarded three additional Bronze Stars and a Ranger Tab. He retired on Dec 31, 1971 after 30 years of service in the U.S. Army.
On May 4, 1984 he was honored at the National Infantry Museum located at Ft. Benning, Georgia as one of only 325 soldiers to have earned three Combat Infantryman Badges for having fought in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. In 2017 he was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
Having graduated from the Hillside School for Boys 1939, he was its oldest living alumni. For many years he has maintained a Christmas tradition of sending boxes of candy to each boy at Hillside. He was an avid golfer playing into his 98th year, with two holes in one, loved watching golf on TV and enjoyed traveling the world.
He was preceded in death by his first wife of 25 years, Andreina Howland; his second wife of 41 years, Jean Howland; Jean’s daughter, Linda Trimble Zadnik; his brother and sister-in-law, Vernon and Patricia Howland, his sisters and brothers-in-law, Dorothy and Ed Hall, and Priscilla and Ken Bunker.
He is survived by a son and daughter-in-law, Robert H. and Mary Ann Howland; daughters, Linda Howland and Mary Wolf; grandchildren, Robert A. Howland, Marcy (Doug) Brown, Michele (Randy) Gravatt, and Michael (Monica) Wolf; and his Birman, feline companion, Evette. He is also survived by Linda’s husband, Bill Zadnik; Linda’s sons, Earl (Renee) Trimble, and Eric Trimble; and Linda’s daughter, Laurie (Dr. Andrew) Ruppersberger. He was also blessed many times over with numerous great grandchildren, many nieces, nephews, other relatives, and dear friends.
Visitation for family and friends will be held on Thursday, June 2, 2022 from
9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. at the Buklad-Merlino Yardville Memorial Home, 30 Yardville-Allentown Road, Yardville, NJ 08620.
A prayer service will begin at 11:00 a.m. with local clergy officiating.
Burial with honors will follow in Newtown Cemetery, Washington Avenue & Elm Street, Newtown PA, 18940.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made in Gilbert’s name to the Hillside School, ATTN: Rich Meyer, 404 Robin Hill St. Marlborough, MA 01752.
In memory of Gilbert Howland, Class of 1939.
Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Merrill's Marauders
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