Merritt A. Edson

 World War I Victory Medal ribbon  Naval Aviator Badge  EdsonMikeRed

Note: World War I Victory Medal ribbon // Naval Aviator Badge // EdsonMikeRed



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Merritt A. Edson

Merritt Austin Edson
"Red Mike" Edson
Nickname(s) Red Mike
Born (1897-04-25)April 25, 1897
Chester, Vermont
Died August 14, 1955(1955-08-14) (aged 58)
Washington, D.C.
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps
Years of service


Major General
Unit 4th Marine Regiment
2nd Marine Division
Commands held 1st Marine Raider Battalion
5th Marine Regiment

World War I
Banana Wars
World War II

Awards Medal of Honor
Navy Cross (2)
Silver Star
Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Service Order (United Kingdom)
Other work Commissioner of the Vermont State Police
Executive Director of the National Rifle Association

Major General Merritt Austin Edson (April 25, 1897 – August 14, 1955), known as "Red Mike", was a general in the United States Marine Corps. Among the decorations he received were the Medal of Honor, two Navy Crosses, the Silver Star, and two Legions of Merit. He is best known by Marines for the defense of Lunga Ridge during the Guadalcanal Campaign in World War II.

He received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marines in October 1917, and served in France and Germany in World War I. After the war he held several positions until going to flight school in 1922. After graduating flight school and being designated a Naval Aviator, he performed several assignments in Central America and China. It was in Central America where he received his first Navy Cross and the Nicaraguan Medal of Merit with Silver Star.

When World War II started Edson was sent as the Commanding officer of the Marine Raiders and earned his second Navy Cross on Tulagi. When his unit was sent to fight on Guadalcanal, Edson led his men in fighting for which he would later receive the Medal of Honor.

After World War II Edson held several commands until retiring from the Marine Corps August 1, 1947. After retirement he had several jobs including the Director of the National Rifle Association.

Early years

Edson was born in Rutland, Vermont but grew up in Chester, Vermont and after graduating from high school he attended the University of Vermont for two years. On June 27, 1916 he left college as a member of the First Vermont National Guard Regiment and 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 June 26, the following year.

Early career

He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on October 9, 1917 and 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, 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 United States 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 June 4, 1920 and spent two years at Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, 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 NAS Pensacola, Florida 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 with the U.S. Army Air Service at Kelly Field, Texas, and then attended the Company Officers' Course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. 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 December 21, 1927. During service in Central American waters, his detachment was ashore in Nicaragua during the period February 1928 - 1929. In command of 160 hand 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, he was also awarded the Nicaraguan Medal of Merit with Silver Star.

In September 1929, he 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 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, 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 Marine Corps Recruit Depot 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 February 9, 1936. Foreign duty as operations officer with the 4th Marines in Shanghai, China from 1937 to 1939, enabled him to observe closely 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 April 1, 1940.

World War II

Raider Battalion

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 (APDs) 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 May 21, 1942.

Colonel Edson's introduction to the Pacific theater of operations began with the overseas training of his raider command in American Samoa. On August 7, 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 September 13–14, 1942. His Raider Battalion, with two companies of the 1st Parachute Battalion attached, were 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, 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", originating from his red beard worn in Nicaragua days, 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.

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 September 23 to October 9, 1942. He also commanded the 5th Marines during the Battle for Henderson Field and 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.

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