MERRITT AUSTIN EDSON, USMC
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Medal of Honor Citation
Major General Merritt Austin Edson, known as "Red Mike," was born in Rutland, Vermont, on 25 April 1897, and reared in Chester, Vermont. He attended the University of Vermont for two years. Military service interrupted, however, and on 27 June 1916, Pvt Edson of the First Vermont National Guard Regiment, was sent to Eagle Pass, Texas, for duty on the Mexican border. He returned to the University in September 1916, but joined the Marine Corps Reserve on 26 June the following year.
Thus began a career which was to be characterized by its diversity and distinguished even by the high standards of the Marine Corps. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Regular Marine Corps on 9 October 1917. In September of the next year he sailed for France with the 11th Marines. This regiment saw no combat, but during the last six months of his European tour, 2dLt Edson commanded Company D, 15th Separate Marine Battalion, which had been organized for the express purpose of assisting in the holding of a plebiscite in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Owing to the failure of the United States to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, this mission, however, was never carried out.
Following the end of World War I, he began a diversified series of assignments that were to qualify him for the high commands he was to hold in later years. Promoted to first lieutenant on 4 June 1920, he spent the two years at Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, as the Adjutant-Registrar of the fledgling Marine Corps Institute. His efforts greatly contributed to the organization and establishment of this "University for Marines." This was followed by a short tour in Louisiana guarding the mail.
His interest in military aviation then prompted him to apply for flight training in Pensacola, Florida. He earned his gold wings in 1922. Soon after, he was ordered to the Marine Air Station at Guam. Here he had his introduction to the semitropical islands of the Marianas with which his name was later to become so closely linked.
Upon his return to the United States in 1925, 1stLt Edson first took an extensive course in advanced aviation tactics at Kelly Field, Texas, and then attended the Company Officers' Course at Quantico, Virginia. He graduated with the highest grades ever attained by any student up to that time. For physical reasons, however, 1stLt Edson had to give up his flying status in 1927 and revert to ground. He was then assigned to duty as Ordnance Officer at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Late in the same year, he was ordered to sea duty as Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment on the USS Denver and was promoted to captain on 21 December 1927. During her service in Central American waters, Capt Edson's detachment was ashore in Nicaragua during the period February 1928 to 1929. In command of 160 picked and specially trained Marines, he fought twelve separate engagements with the Sandino-led bandits and denied them the use of the Poteca and Coco River valleys. Here he received his first Navy Cross for actions in which "his exhibition of coolness, intrepidity, and dash so inspired his men that superior forces of bandits were driven from their prepared positions and severe losses inflicted upon them." From a grateful Nicaraguan government, Capt Edson was also awarded the Nicaraguan Medal of Merit with Silver Star.
In September 1929, Capt Edson returned to the United States and was assigned as tactics instructor to fledgling Marine lieutenants at the Basic School in Philadelphia. Upon detachment from that duty he became Ordnance and War Plans Officer at the Philadelphia Depot of Supplies for the next four years.
This ordnance duty was not new to Capt Edson who was closely associated with the development of small arms marksmanship within the Marine Corps. In 1921, he had been a firing member of the winning Marine Corps Team at the national matches at Camp Perry, Ohio. In 1927, 1930, and 1931, he served with the rifle and pistol teams as assistant coach. During the regional matches of 1932 and 1933, he acted as team coach and captain, respectively. Upon the resumption of the national matches in 1935, he was captain of the Marine Corps national rifle and pistol teams of 1935 and 1936, winning the national trophies in both years.
After short tours at Parris Island and Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C., he was enrolled in the Senior Officers' Course at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, in 1936. He was promoted to major on 9 February 1936. Foreign duty as operations officer with the 4th Marines in Shanghai, China, from 1937 to 1939, enabled Maj Edson to observe closely Japanese military operations. The knowledge thus gained stood him in good stead during the Pacific war.
His second tour of duty at Marine Corps Headquarters began in May 1939 when, as Inspector of Target Practice, he was in a position to stress the importance of every Marine being highly skilled with his own individual arm. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 1 April 1940.
In June 1941, he was again transferred to Quantico, to command the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, which was redesignated the 1st Separate Battalion in January 1942. The training exercises which he conducted in the succeeding months with Navy high speed transports (APD's) led to the organization of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion in early 1942. This unit was the prototype of every Marine Raider Battalion formed throughout the war. He was promoted to colonel on 21 May 1942.
Colonel Edson's introduction to the Pacific theater of operations began with the overseas training of his raider command in American Samoa. On 7 August 1942, the Free World was thrilled by the news that his raiders, together with the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, had landed on Tulagi, British Solomon Islands. Two days of severe fighting secured this strategic island. This action was followed by raids on Savo Island and at Tasimboko, on Guadalcanal. Col Edson was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross for his successful conduct of the Tulagi operation.
His crowning glory and the battle for which he will be long remembered by Marines and a grateful American people was the defense of Lunga Ridge on Guadalcanal on the night of 13-14 September 1942. His Raider Battalion, with two companies of the 1st Parachute Battalion attached, had been sent to a ridge line a short distance south of Henderson Field. Here they were supposed to get a short rest. When the Japanese forces unexpectedly and viciously attacked the position on the first evening, they penetrated the left center of Col Edson's line of resistance, thus forcing a withdrawal to a reserve position.
Here approximately 800 Marines withstood the repeated assaults of more than 2,500 Japanese on the "Bloody Ridge," as it became known to the world. To the men of the 1st Raider Battalion, however, who sustained 256 casualties, it became "Edson's Ridge," in high honor of the officer who "was all over the place, encouraging, cajoling, and correcting as he continually exposed himself to enemy fire." His nickname, "Red Mike," originating from his red beard worn in Nicaragua days, was also his code name during this battle. From then on Col Edson was known by all as "Red Mike." It was for this action that he received the Medal of Honor.
A brother officer said of him shortly thereafter that officers and men would willingly follow him anywhere -- the only problem was to keep up with him. A combat correspondent testified that "he is not a fierce Marine. In fact he appears almost shy. Yet Colonel Edson is probably among the five finest combat commanders in all the United States armed forces."
It was also said that he was not readily given to a show of emotion. Nevertheless, when his personal runner of several months service was killed at the second battle of the Matanikau River on Guadalcanal, witnesses said he "cried like a baby," and later stated that the man could never be replaced.
In August 1943, he was named Chief of Staff of the 2d Marine Division, which was then preparing for Tarawa. He prepared an estimate of the situation for this operation which proved to be surprisingly accurate and has since become a classic in Marine Corps military literature. For this action he received the Legion of Merit and was promoted to brigadier general (1 December 1943). Later, he was appointed Assistant Division Commander of the 2d Marine Division and participated in this capacity in the capture of Saipan and Tinian. The Silver Star was awarded him for these operations.
Brigadier General Edson became Chief of Staff, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, in October 1944, and for his services during the ensuing year was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Legion of Merit. Duty as Commanding General, Service Command, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, rounded out 44 months of continuous service in the war zone. When a young officer once asked him when he might expect to be rotated back to the United States, BGen Edson replied, "When the war's over; when the job's done."
In December 1945, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and, in February 1947, to Marine Corps Headquarters. Retirement from active duty came at the age of 50 years and after more than 30 years in the military service of his country. He was promoted to major general at the time of his retirement on 1 August 1947.
Following his retirement, MajGen Edson's civilian service was equally distinguished. He became the first Commissioner of the Vermont State Police, organizing the force partially from an older organization of motor vehicle officers. He set up an efficient organization on a semi-military basis, a system which has since been adopted by other states.
Returning to Washington, D.C., in July 1951, MajGen Edson became Executive Director of the National Rifle Association. His major efforts in that post were directed in stimulating the interest of Americans in rifle marksmanship. Concurrently, he campaigned vigorously for a Marine Corps adequate both in size and strength for its many commitments.
Major General Edson died on 14 August 1955 in Washington, D.C. At the time of his death, in addition to his duties at the Rifle Association, he was the Navy representative on the Defense Advisory Committee on Prisoner of War Problems. This group formulated recommended standards of conduct for American prisoners of war. These were later adopted and promulgated as the Code of Conduct for all American servicemen.
To those who knew him personally, MajGen Edson would be best remembered for his keen professionalism, his magnificent personal leadership in battle, and his sympathetic understanding of the soul of a Marine.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, two Navy Crosses, a Silver Star and two Legions of Merit, MajGen Edson's numerous decorations included the Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze stars; the Mexican Service Medal; World War I Victory Medal with Maltese Cross; Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal; China Service Medal with bronze star; American Defense Service Medal with bronze star; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with six bronze stars; the World War II Victory Medal; the Distinguished Service Order (British Empire) and the Nicaraguan Medal of Merit.
World War II 1941-1945 Medal of Honor