Camp Frank D. Merrill
(As told to Mitchell McElliott by 1st Sargent Ronald McElliott)
By Mitchell McElliott
When we arrived at the airfield we were meet by a drill instructor. He began introducing himself and then he gave a brief history of the camp. Camp Frank D. Merrill was was named after Major General Frank Merrill from “Merrill’s Marauders,” a special forces operation that took place behind enemy lines during World War II. Frank Merrill and his men spent three years behind enemy lines attacking Japanese supply lines in Burma. He came back ill and wounded. He had been wounded four times during the operation. Over 80% of his men died in action in one of the longest, deadliest operations of the war. Frank Merrill and Merrill’s Marauders had been unreachable by Allied troops or any kind of aid for three years while being heavily outnumbered behind enemy lines. He had shown that special forces were vital to the success in warfare. The camp was named in his honor in 1971. After World War II when the Rangers were being created the army needed a place to train rangers for all different conditions they might face in combat. The camp was founded here in 1952 and located here because of the high mountains surrounding the relatively lowly populated town were perfect for Rangers to train outside the camp in the wilderness. An airfield was added to allow for helicopters to land at the camp. The mountain training was vital for the Vietnam War where Army Rangers often fought in high elevations. During the Vietnam War Camp Frank D. Merrill was used as a final place of training before they entered combat, unlike today where Rangers will attend training at Fort Rudder, Florida after leaving camp Frank D. Merrill. In the 80s and 90s the camp grew adding more buildings and replacing the old outdated ones. The camp is still a vital place for Rangers to train for the mountainous conditions they often face in combat.
On our first day of training we woke up early for rappelling, an important skill for operations in mountainous areas. We ate at the mess hall and went on to patrol the forest service roads up in the mountains learning about reconnaissance along the way. The forest service roads are dirt roads leading deep up into the mountains often less than a foot away from cliffs and high drops. Driving the huge Hummers that take up the whole road so close to a fifty foot drop is a little nerve racking. That night after dinner we went out into the woods for nighttime operations training. Moving through thick brush after dark is a little difficult but as your night vision gets better it gets a little easier. The next few days we rappelled in the morning and then learned about parachuting into wooded areas. We got to jump from Black Hawk Helicopters into the surrounding forest. The first time I got stuck in a tree and became the class joke. The next time jumped all the guys who were mocking me for landing in a tree got stuck in the trees as I landed safely on the ground. We spent the next week rappelling, and learning about small group tactics, ambushes, and raiding enemy patrols in the morning and spending the afternoons learning how to navigate in the mountains. It was day seventeen of our training, our final day. The next day we were going to move on to Fort Rudder, Florida. Then the local police informed the rangers that two hikers had gotten lost up in the woods. The Rangers help with search and rescue operations in the area. Me and two other Ranger students got in a hummer and began searching in the the forested area not far from the camp. A thunderstorm began so they couldn’t launch the helicopters. It became dangerous to drive up on the mountain where we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us. Night time setting in didn’t help either. We knew if we didn’t find the hikers soon the cold November nights combined with the rain could cause hypothermia. We spent all night looking for them. Finally at dawn the rain let up and the helicopters were launched. We continued further up the mountain until at noon we stopped for a quick rest near a cave sticking out of the mountain side. I heard a noise coming from the inside. It could be the hikers I told my fellow students, but then again it could be one of the many wild animals roaming the mountains. I went in nervous, flash light in one hand and a pistol in the other because part of me was sure it was a bear. All of a sudden I heard someone from inside the cave. I had found the hikers. Freezing, hungry and one of them had slipped and fell cutting their leg. We brought them back to the Ranger camp for medical attention and all of a sudden I was the hero. But really it’s all part of the job. I’m not a ranger yet, I still have more training to do in Florida, then I can join the Rangers. But Camp Frank D. Merrill has taught me important skills that will help me live my dream serving the United States as a US Army Ranger.
“I Remember Dahlonega, volume 4” by Anne Amerson. Article: “Local WWII veteran Charles Mansell fought with Merrill’s Marauders” on page 24 Published by Chestatee Publications, Dahlonega, GA. Published in 1997
Retired from Rangers in 1993 and was the last Vietnam Veteran to retire from Camp Frank. D Merrill
Interviewed on January 19th, 2014