By Matt Olson
On Monday, May 20, Robert Lippman spoke to a crowded audience in the Nott Memorial about his experiences in “Merrill’s Marauders” during World War II.
Professor Stephen Berk gave the introduction for Lippman and said, “Robert Lippman is not only one of Union’s best … He is one of America’s best.”
The official name for Merrill’s Marauders was the 5307th Composite Unit, which served in Southeast Asia. Lippman was not an official member of the Marauders; he was assigned to their squad during part of the war.
Lippman spoke about not only his war experiences, but also the atmosphere of America prior to the war, which was plagued by the Great Depression. He said, “A four-bedroom house cost you about $3,000, a gallon of gas cost 20 cents and a date cost about one dollar.”
Lippman said he remembers the weekend of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, very well. He said, “Pearl Harbor to us was a million miles away … suddenly, the whole world changed.”
He was quick to join the armed forces because he said that everyone in his town of Rome, N.Y. wanted to join the military.
Many items in the military were sparse, as Lippman described. He said, “If your uniform was too small, you were going to lose weight. If it was too big, you were going to gain weight.”
There was, however, one article of clothing that the military ensured was perfect: shoes. As Lippman said, they made sure the shoes were “just right.”
Lippman transferred out of his first unit in the military and described the events leading to it as life-changing. He said, “I got back from my duty at 3:20 a.m., and all that was in the mess hall was cold beans, cold hot dogs and cold coffee … I was pissed off.” Following a confrontation with one of his commanding officers, Lippman left that unit.
Lippman’s deployment to Southeast Asia took 64 days. A majority of his days in Southeast Asia involved walking through jungles, sometimes with up to 2,500 men in each squad. During these marches, Lippman said that the men were instructed to lighten loads as much as possible. He said, “By the end of the marches, your bag dropped from about 100 pounds to about 15 pounds. All the clothing you had was on your back.”
When describing his first moment in combat, Lippman said he was overcome with emotions of panic and terror. He said, “During my first battle, I don’t think I fired a shot. But, I learned that if I didn’t fire any shots, I wouldn’t live very long.”
During the war, Lippman and his fellow troops called the Japanese soldiers “Nips.” On one occasion, the men in the 5307th and Lippman ambushed Japanese soldiers by digging themselves into foxholes. He said, “We only used grenades to attack the Nips. That way, we would not give away our position. We killed a lot of Nips that night, but we didn’t lose a single man.”
The experiences in Southeast Asia during the war included a battle with dysentery for Lippman. Afterwards, he was no longer assigned with the Marauders, mostly because the 5307th was disbanding.
Lippman said he had fond memories at Union, and that many of the students during that time were GI men. Although they rarely talked about their experiences, Lippman said they all shared a bond through the war.
In reference to the war, Lippman said, “I learned a lot in the war, and I’m very proud of my service. But, I would never want to go through it again.”