Merritt Austin “Red Mike” Edson MOH

b. 25/04/1897 Chester, Vermont. d. 14/08/1955 Washington DC.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 13-14/09/1942 Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.

Merritt A “Red Mike” Edson MOH

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.

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.

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. He received his Medal of Honor on 21 May 1943 in Balcombe, Australia from Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift. 

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.

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. He 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.


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 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.


SECTION 2, LOT 4960-2