Merritt Austin Edson
Engagements: • Banana Wars (1898 - 1934)• World War I (1914 - 1918)• World War II (1941 - 1945)
Merritt Austin 'Red Mike' Edson
Major General Merritt Austin 'Red Mike' Edson was an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is best known by Marines for the defense of Lunga Ridge during the Guadalcanal Campaign in World War II. For his heroic actions in that defense, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Merritt Austin Edson was born on 25 April 1897 in Rutland, VT, but he grew up in Chester, VT. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Vermont for two years. On 27 June 1916, he left college as a member of the First Vermont National Guard Regiment and was sent to Eagle Pass, TX, for duty on the Mexican border. He returned to the University in September 1916, but joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve on 26 June 1917.
Early Military Career
He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 9 October 1917 and, in September of the following year he sailed for France with the 11th Marines. This regiment saw no combat, but during the last six months of his European tour, he 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 U.S. to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, this mission, however, was never carried out.
Following the end of World War I, he was assigned to several positions that would qualify him for the high commands he was to hold in later years. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on 4 June 1920 and spent two years at Marine Barracks, Quantico, VA, as the Adjutant-Registrar of the Marine Corps Institute, after which he was sent on a short tour in Louisiana guarding the mail. His interest in military aviation prompted him to apply for flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, FL, and he earned his gold wings as a Naval Aviator in 1922. Soon after, he was ordered to the Marine Air Station at Guam where he had his introduction to the semitropical islands of the Marianas with which his name was later to become so closely linked.
Upon returning to the United States in 1925, he first took an extensive course in Advanced Aviation Tactics at Kelly Field, TX, and then attended the Company Officers' Course at Quantico, VA. He graduated with the highest grades ever attained by any student up to that time. For physical reasons, however, he had to give up his flying status in 1927 and continue his career as a ground officer. He was then assigned to duty as Ordnance Officer at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Central America and China
Late in the same year, he was ordered to sea duty as Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment on the USS Denver (CL-16) and was promoted to Captain on 21 December 1927. During service in Central American waters, his detachment was ashore in Nicaragua during the period February 1928-29. In command of 160 handpicked, 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, he was also awarded the Nicaraguan Medal of Merit with Silver Star.
In September 1929, he returned to the U.S. 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 him since he had been 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, OH. 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 Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, DC, he was enrolled in the Senior Officers' Course at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, VA 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 him to closely observe Japanese military operations.
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.
World War II
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 with Navy high speed transports (APDs) that he conducted in the succeeding months, 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. On 21 May 1942 he was promoted to Colonel.
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, his Raiders, together with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, landed on Tulagi, British Solomon Islands. Two days of severe fighting secured this strategic island in the Battle of Tulagi. After his battalion relocated to Guadalcanal, they conducted raids on Savo Island and at Tasimboko, on Guadalcanal. He was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross for his successful conduct of the Tulagi operation.
The battle he is best known for was the defense of Lunga Ridge on Guadalcanal on 13-14 September 1942. His Raider Battalion, with two companies of the 1st Parachute Battalion attached, was sent to a ridge line a short distance south of Henderson Field. Here, they were supposed to get a short rest but Japanese forces unexpectedly attacked the position on the first evening, penetrating the left center of his line of resistance and forcing a withdrawal to a reserve position.
Approximately 800 Marines withstood the repeated assaults of more than 2,500 Japanese on the "Bloody Ridge," as it came to be called. 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," originated from his red beard worn in Nicaragua days; it was also his code name during this battle. From then on he was known by all as "Red Mike." It was for this action-the Battle of Edson's Ridge-that he received the Medal of Honor.
Medal of Honor
Rank and organization: Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps.
Citation: For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, with Parachute Battalion attached, during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands on the night of 13-14 September 1942. After the airfield on Guadalcanal had been seized from the enemy on 8 August, Col. Edson, with a force of 800 men, was assigned to the occupation and defense of a ridge dominating the jungle on either side of the airport. Facing a formidable Japanese attack which, augmented by infiltration, had crashed through our front lines, he, by skillful handling of his troops, successfully withdrew his forward units to a reserve line with minimum casualties. When the enemy, in a subsequent series of violent assaults, engaged our force in desperate hand-to-hand combat with bayonets, rifles, pistols, grenades, and knives, Col. Edson, although continuously exposed to hostile fire throughout the night, personally directed defense of the reserve position against a fanatical foe of greatly superior numbers. By his astute leadership and gallant devotion to duty, he enabled his men, despite severe losses, to cling tenaciously to their position on the vital ridge, thereby retaining command not only of the Guadalcanal airfield, but also of the 1st Division's entire offensive installations in the surrounding area.
After Edson's Ridge, he was placed in command of the 5th Marine Regiment. In this capacity, he was one of the primary leaders in the Matanikau actions from 23 September to 9 October 1942. He also commanded the 5th Marines during the Battle for Henderson Field until the regiment was withdrawn from Guadalcanal, along with the rest of the 1st Marine Division, in November 1942. Shortly after, another officer stated 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 but when his personal runner of several months' service was killed at the Matanikau River on Guadalcanal, witnesses said he "cried like a baby," and later stated that the man could never be replaced.
Higher Commands & More Battles
In August 1943 he was named Chief of Staff of the 2nd Marine Division, which was then preparing for the invasion of 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 on 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 Medal was awarded him for these operations.
Brigadier General Edson became Chief of Staff, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific and in October 1944 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 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. His 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 retirement from the Marine Corps he became the first Commissioner of the Vermont State Police, organizing the force partially from an older organization of motor vehicle officers. He established the organization on a semi-military basis which has since been adopted by other states.
In July 1951, after returning to Washington, DC, he became Executive Director of the National Rifle Association where his major efforts in that post were 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.
He died on 14 August 1955, by his own hand in Washington, DC. He committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage next to his Washington, DC home, while he was serving in the NRA post. 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 recommended the standards of conduct for American prisoners of war that were later adopted and issued as the Code of Conduct for all American servicemen.
In addition to his other military awards, Edson received several marksmanship awards including the Distinguished Rifleman Badge in 1927.
Medals and Awards
Medal of Honor
Naval Aviator Badge
A part of Camp Pendleton's Stuart Mesa area was named Edson Range in his honor in 1964. Edson Range was built to replace the one at Camp Matthews in La Jolla, CA. The range is used for teaching marksmanship training from recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. On 28 October 2008 more than 200 volunteers unveiled a monument in honor of Major General Edson during a ceremony at Edson Range. The volunteers used rocks and recycled [ammunition] clips and brass shells from throughout Edson Range in the cement when making the monument.
The USS Edson (DD-946) was a Forrest Sherman-class destroyer of the United States Navy. The Edson was laid down 3 December 1956 by Bath Iron Works Corporation, Bath, ME, and launched 4 January 1958. The ship was sponsored by Ethel Robbins Edson, widow of General Edson. It was commissioned 7 November 1958, with Commander Thomas J. Moriarty in command.
Edson Hall, the location of the Communications School at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, is dedicated to Edson as a result of his role as a vocal proponent of the criticality of communications in combat.
Death and Burial
Major General Merritt Austin 'Red Mike' Edson died by his own hand on 14 August 1955. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, and his grave can be found in Section 2, Lot 4960-2.
|Origin of Nickname/Handle:|
His nickname, "Red Mike," originated from his red beard worn in Nicaragua days; it was also his code name during this battle. From then on he was known by all as "Red Mike."
|Honoree ID: 94||Created by: MHOH|