Maj. Gen. Merritt Austin Edson (USMC)

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Merritt Austin Edson

Also Known As: "Merrit Austin Edison"
Birthdate: (58)
Birthplace: Rutland, Rutland County, Vermont, United States
Death: August 14, 1955 (58)
In his car at home, Washington, D.C., United States (Suicide - carbon monoxide poisoning)
Place of Burial: Arlington, Arlington, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Erwin Azro Edson and Lelia Davis
Husband of Ethel Violet Edson
Father of Merritt Austin Edson, Jr. and Herbert Robbins Edson

Occupation: Marine Corps Major General
Managed by: Steven Bryan Edson
Last Updated:

About Maj. Gen. Merritt Austin Edson (USMC)

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 his many decorations he was awarded 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 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 but on August 14, 1955 he committed suicide and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


   * 1 Early years
   * 2 Early career
   * 3 Central America and China
   * 4 World War II
         o 4.1 Raider Battalion
         o 4.2 Guadalcanal
         o 4.3 Higher commands & more battles
   * 5 Retirement
   * 6 Awards
         o 6.1 Medal of Honor citation
         o 6.2 First Navy Cross citation
         o 6.3 Second Navy Cross citation
   * 7 Other honors
         o 7.1 Edson Range
         o 7.2 USS Edson (DD-946)
         o 7.3 Edson Hall
   * 8 See also
   * 9 References

Early years

Edson was born in Rutland, Vermont but grew up in Chester, Vermont and after graduating high school he attended the University of Vermont for two years. On June 27, 1916 Private Edson 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, 2LT 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 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 in 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 were 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, 1st Lt 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 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 her service in Central American waters, Capt Edson's 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, 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 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 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 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.

Black and white photo of eleven Marines in their combat uniforms sitting on some stairs

Lieutenant Colonel Edson (front row, second from left) poses for a group photo with other Marine officers on Tulagi shortly after the battle in August, 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. Col Edson 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 Col Edson's 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 became 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 Col Edson 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, Edson 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—October 9, 1942. Edson 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.

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 (December 1, 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 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. 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 August 1, 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, D.C. 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.

Major General Edson died, on August 14, 1955, in Washington, D.C., by his own hand, having committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage next to his Washington, D.C. home, while 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.

He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery and his grave can be found in section 2, lot 4960-2.

Awards: MajGen Edson's decorations included:

  • Naval Aviator Badge.jpg
  • Medal of Honor ribbon.svg
  • Gold award star
  • Navy Cross ribbon.svg
  • Silver Star ribbon.svg
  • Gold award star
  • Legion of Merit ribbon.svg
  • Bronze service star
  • Bronze service star
  • Mexican Service Medal ribbon.svg
  • World War I Victory Medal ribbon.svg
  • Nicaraguan Campaign ribbon 1933.svg
  • Bronze service star
  • China Service Medal ribbon.svg
  • Bronze service star
  • American Defense Service ribbon.svg
  • American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg
  • Bronze service star
  • Bronze service star
  • Bronze service star
  • Bronze service star
  • Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon.svg
  • World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg
  • Dso-ribbon.png
  • Nicaraguan Medal of Military Merit.png
  • Naval Aviator Badge
  • Medal of Honor citation

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to

COLONEL MERRITT A. EDSON, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS, for service as set forth in the following 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 1314 September 1942. After the airfield on Guadalcanal had been seized from the enemy on August 8, 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.

/S/Franklin D. Roosevelt

First Navy Cross citation


The Navy Cross is presented to Merritt Austin Edson, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism on August 7, 1928, while in command of a Marine patrol on the Coco River, en route to Poteca. Captain Edson upon encountering a force of bandits entrenched upon both sides of the river, personally led his advance guard against the enemy, engaging in hand-to-hand conflict with them, and by his exhibition of coolness, intrepidity, and dash, so inspired his men that the superior force of bandits were driven from their prepared position, and severe losses inflicted upon them.

Second Navy Cross citation


The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Cross to Merritt Austin Edson (0-257), Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving as Commanding Officer of the Tulagi Combat Group during the landing assault and seizure of enemy Japanese-held Tulagi Island, British Solomon Islands, 7 to August 9, 1942. In personal command of the FIRST Marine Raider Battalion during the initial operation, Colonel Edson advanced the attack of his Battalion and its supporting units with such skill, courage and aggressiveness that he was an inspiration to the entire Combat Group and was directly responsible for the capture of Tulagi Island. His gallant conduct throughout this hazardous action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Other honors

In addition to the Medal of Honor and his other military awards, Edson also received several marksmanship awards including the Distinguished Rifleman Badge in 1927.

Edson Range

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. The range is used for teaching marksmanship training from recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. On October 28, 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.

USS Edson (DD-946)

The USS Edson (DD-946) was a Forrest Sherman-class destroyer of the United States Navy. The Edson was laid down December 3, 1956 by Bath Iron Works Corporation, Bath, Maine and launched January 4, 1958. The ship was sponsored by Mrs. M. A. Edson, widow of General Edson. It was commissioned November 7, 1958, with Commander Thomas J. Moriarty in command.

Edson Hall

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.

Investors' Business Daily published the following story on Major General Edson on 13 November 2014:

When the Battle of Guadalcanal called in 1942, Merritt Edson answered. The colonel came through with Marines who thwarted the Japanese for an early American triumph in World War II.

The island's name to this day represents the tropical hell that was the Pacific War.

Edson's 840 Marines defended a key coral ridge sticking up from the jungle near the vital U.S. airfield during the nights of Sept. 13-14, 1942, repelling repeated assaults by 3,000 determined Japanese.

"We took 263 casualties," Whitey Groft, co-author of "Bloody Ridge and Beyond: A World War II Marine's Memoir of Edson's Raiders in the Pacific," told IBD. "He was standing erect 20 yards behind me on a hill, bullets piercing his clothing, but not hitting him, like he had a charmed life, while the rest of us hugged the ground. He knew that if the ridge fell, the island could well be lost. He earned the Medal of Honor that night."

The heroic defense enabled the American victory on the island, Imperial Japan's first major defeat on land and the beginning of its end.

From Vermont To Action

Edson (1897-1955) was born in Rutland, Vt. After attending the University of Vermont for two years, he joined the state's National Guard in 1916 and went to the Mexican border to curb bandit-rebel Pancho Villa but saw no action.

Edson then joined the Marines, but after the first lieutenant arrived in Europe in 1918, he saw no combat in World War I and returned to America the next year.

Edson's Keys • Leader of Edson's Raiders, a World War II elite Marine assault unit. • Overcame: Fierce Japanese attacks. • Lesson: Rigorous training can trump superior numbers. • "He knew how to plan an attack as well as command one. Edson's career reminds us that a leader must be skilled in both areas to be truly great," said author Jon Hoffman.

He stayed at his rank for six years because of the postwar force reduction. Still, he made a mark as assistant director of an education program to improve morale and competence at Marine headquarters in Quantico, Va.

In 1920, Edson married Ethel Robbins. They would have two sons who would become Marines.

"In 1921, Edson hoped to earn a coveted slot on the Marine rifle team, a high honor," wrote Jon Hoffman in "Once a Legend: 'Red Mike' Edson and the Marine Raiders." "Soon, he shot his way through to the Marine Corps Matches. The captain and coaches did not rely solely on scores to pick the best. They wanted men who could perform under pressure."

He made the team of 10 that defeated the reigning Army champs, and he went on to coach rifle and pistol teams in the 1920s and '30s that won national trophies.

Meanwhile, in 1922 he got his wish to transfer to an aviation unit in Pensacola, Fla.

Early flight was extremely hazardous, which is why participants were usually unmarried. That year, nine of its 52 pilots died.

Edson pressed on, even after some crash landings and the 1926 discovery that he had defective depth perception.

In 1927, Edson was promoted to captain and transferred to the cruiser Denver as commanding officer of a detachment of Marines.

Their new mission: amphibious assault at crisis points around the world.

Edson saw action during Nicaragua's civil war, earning his first Navy Cross, then returned to America in 1929 to teach tactics and organize ordnance.

In 1936, he graduated from the senior officers' course at Quantico, rose to major and went to Shanghai to observe Japan's invading force from 1937 to 1939.

He returned to Quantico in 1939 to head up target practice. By June 1941, he was a lieutenant colonel commanding what would be designated the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, 5th Regiment, 2nd Division.

It would be an early special operations force deployed in WWII.

With America in the thick of the war by August 1942, Edson — now a full-bird colonel — landed the Raiders on Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. That's where he earned his second Navy Cross for leading from the front.

"Tulagi was the first of three battles they would wage against the Japanese special naval landing forces," wrote retired Marine Col. Joseph Alexander in "Edson's Raiders." "Each would be characterized by vicious, point-blank, bloody fighting, often at night. While killing all but three of the 350 defenders, the Raiders sustained 38 killed and 55 wounded themselves, almost 10% of the command, in the first 24 hours."

Hanging In There

The Raiders then went to nearby Guadalcanal. The first mass Japanese attack against their position on Lunga Ridge came on the night of Sept. 13 and was so fierce, it broke through the defense.

As the attack faltered, Edson reorganized his men farther back for the following night.

"We were all aware this could be our finest hour, that if we failed, all 12,500 Marines on the island might be captured or killed," Groft said. "The Japanese naval bombardment began at 9 p.m., and then a mad rush of screaming soldiers, like a human tidal wave, one attack after another. The training kicked in, and I just kept loading and reloading my Springfield feverishly. It was the longest night of my life."

Edson's Raiders would continue under his command when he was promoted to take over the 5th Regiment, leading it in battles until their last in November 1942.

In August of the next year, Edson became chief of staff of the 2nd Division and prepared its invasion of Tarawa, which is still studied as an effective battle plan.

It earned him the Legion of Merit and promotion to brigadier general in December 1943.

Soon he was assistant commander as the division prepared to take the Mariana Islands.

By June 1944, the Marines had hit Saipan, with Edson providing reports to the command center from the front.

More than 3,400 Americans died and 10,000 were wounded, while they killed 24,000 and took 900 prisoners, with 5,000 of the enemy committing suicide.

On To Peace

In July, Edson participated in the assault on Tinian, where losses were comparatively light. For his action there, he won a Silver Star.

In August he became chief of staff of the Marines' Pacific fleet force in Hawaii and rose to its commanding general in October.

He was unhappy away from the front line but became passionate about logistics. Logistics were crucial, since supplies were used up fast as U.S. forces zeroed in on Japan before the atomic bombs of August 1945 ended the war.

In December, Edson returned to D.C. as an adviser in strategic planning in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The other services pushed for the Marines to merge with all other branches into a new Defense Department.

Edson was alarmed that the plan would eliminate the Marines as a ground combat force, as it had to shrink from 226,000 to 75,000 over the next four years.

Edson lobbied against the plan and preserved the Marines as a separate branch.

In August 1947 he left active duty as a major general. Now out of uniform, Edson returned to Vermont and organized its police force.

In 1951 he became executive director of the National Rifle Association. He believed that improving marksmanship for civilian enthusiasts and the military was the backbone of national defense.

He died four years later at 58.

"Edson had true courage, which is the most important trait a leader needs, and I don't just mean on the battlefield," said Wesley Fox, a fellow Medal of Honor Marine and the author of "Six Essential Elements of Leadership." "Because without it, one may fall short in integrity, miss doing the correct thing because it is difficult, or state an untruth because it is to his advantage. Without it, one will accept the easier task and not stand for the tough or costly issues. Merritt Edson had both courage and integrity, and was a great Marine warrior."

From the 1930 federal census, Merritt A. Edson lived in Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and son. The family at the time consisted of:

  • Head Merritt A Edson, Captain 32
  • Wife Ethel R Edson 31
  • Son Merritt Edson, Jr 7

From the 1940 federal census, Merritt A. Edison lived in Washington, D.C., with his wife and sons. The family at the time consisted of:

  • Head Merritt A Edson 45
  • Wife Ethel Edson 46
  • Son Merritt A Jr Edson 17
  • Son Herbert R Edson 8

view all

Maj. Gen. Merritt Austin Edson (USMC)'s Timeline

April 25, 1897
Rutland, Rutland County, Vermont, United States
Age 25
Florida, United States
Age 34
Pennsylvania, United States
August 14, 1955
Age 58
Washington, D.C., United States
Arlington, Arlington, Virginia, United States