Horace Middleton

Coronavirus or not, my hope is that you take time on Monday to remember the sacrifice of those who lost their lives in defense of this nation.

While there will be no parades, few speeches and none of the typical community gatherings normally associated with Memorial Day activities, there’s no reason you can’t pause, for one day, to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the nation.

There are so many to remember, and over the years I’ve touched on some of the more heart-wrenching stories from people featured in this newspaper or in one of my books.

Today, with the impact of COVID-19 present in nearly every aspect of our lives, I thought it appropriate to look at a local man killed in action in the Pacific during World War II. Amazingly he, too, has been impacted by the coronavirus.

This man’s remains had been scheduled to return home in April. That was before COVID-19. On this weekend, we need to remember his story, and sacrifice.

Horace Middleton was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), a unit better known as Merrill’s Marauders.

Originally from Milton, Middleton was a Northumberland High School graduate when he enlisted in February 1943 — on his 19th birthday. Following basic training, he was assigned to field artillery before being reassigned to an infantry unit.

Merrill’s Marauders were the first American ground combat troops to meet Japanese forces on the Asian continent during the war. A unique force, the men were trained specifically to trek through the tough, treacherous jungle and mountainous terrain of Burma. They trained — not with tanks or half-tracks — but with horses and mules, further illustrating the challenge of the terrain.

The men were tasked with taking the airport at Myitkyina, crucial in the American effort to launch further attacks on the Japanese.

Merrill’s Marauders was a regiment-sized unit, and famously sustained an 80% casualty rate over its lone year of existence. Middleton was among a wave of replacements, and had been in Burma only a month when he was killed in action in May 1944.

His remains were not identified until Oct. 31, 2019. It was then that plans were made for Middleton to finally come home. COVID-19 changed that.

Middleton’s remains were scheduled to return to Central Pennsylvania in April, and plans were made for a service, procession through Northumberland and Milton, and interment with family in Harmony Cemetery, but those plans were put on hold due to the coronavirus.

There are still plans to host a ceremony for Middleton, though those plans are not yet set.

It is men like Middleton we need to remember this Memorial Day — especially this Memorial Day.

Middleton’s unit garnered the Presidential Unit Citation, the equivalent to the Medal of Honor for a military unit.

His story should remind us all of the sacrifice — the real sacrifice — of those who picked up rifles, boarded ships and flew missions over hostile grounds during time of war.

Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal and can be reached at chris@standard-journal.com.

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