Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum – Home of the USS Edson DD-946

Major General Merritt Austin Edson
Submitted by Major Herbert Robbins Edson, USMC (Ret.)

Merritt Austin Edson
Merritt Austin Edson

Merritt Austin Edson was born 25 April 1897 in Rutland, Vermont., enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve at the outbreak of World War I and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the regular Marine Corps Reserve 9 October 1917. He served in France from September 1918 to December 1919. Edson was promoted to First Lieutenant in 1921 and then served as a Naval Aviator from 1922 to 1927. Promoted to Captain in 1928, he commanded the Cold River Patrol in the jungles of Nicaragua for one year, during which time he was rewarded the Navy Cross for his “display of extraordinary heroism on 7 August 1928.” An expert marksman, Edson served as ring member, coach and captain of winning rifle and pistol teams. Promoted to Major in 1936, Edson subsequently served with the Fourth Marine Regiment in Shanghai, China from 1937 to 1939.

Edson was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1940 and assigned as Commanding Officer, Fifth Marine Regiment, in June 1941. During the remainder of that year he directed experimental operations which included training with high-speed transports. These led to the First Battalion’s re-designation as the First Marine Raider Battalion one month after the United States entered World War II. This battalion was the prototype for Marine Raider and Army Ranger Battalions formed later in the war.

Edson led the Tulagi Combat Group (consisting of First Marine Raider Battalion, Second Battalion, Fifth Marines and First Parachute Battalion) during which fierce Japanese resistance was encountered. Due to his skill, courage and aggressiveness during the assault, Edson was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross. On 8 September 1942, Edson and his Raiders, reinforced by two companies of the First Parachute Battalion, executed a daring amphibious raid against the coastal village of Tasimboho. Fortune smiled as several thousand Japanese troops fled into the jungle, leaving packs, food and weapons, including artillery and precious intelligence documents. Based on these documents, Edson determined how the enemy planned to attack and capture Henderson Field, the Marine invincible aircraft base.

He requested, and was then assigned to defend the ridge on Guadalcanal which dominated Henderson Field. For his superb and heroic leadership on the nights of 13 and 14 September when his men, and those of the attached First Parachute Battalions, stood off a fanatic attack by a much larger Japanese force, Colonel Edson was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Order by the British Commonwealth.

As Chief of Staff of the Second Marine Division, Edson participated in the capture of Tarawa in 1943; for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” he was awarded the Legion of Merit with Combat “V.” Promoted to Brigadier General and assignment as Assistant Commander of the Second Marine Division, Edson participated ashore during the capture of Saipan and Tinian, Marianas Islands in 1944; for “brilliant leadership at great personal risk,” he was awarded the Silver Star Medal.

Edson Medal of Honor

Edson then served as Deputy Chief of Staff and then as Chief of Staff for the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific from 26 August 1944 to 30 June 1945; for “exceptionally meritorious conduct and leadership” he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Legion of Merit. From 2 July to 13 December 1945, Edson served as Commanding General, Service Command, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.

After duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and Marine Corps Headquarters, Major General Edson retired 1 August 1947. From 1947 to 1951 General Edson served as the first Commissioner of Public Safety for the State of Vermont, during which time he established the Vermont State Police. From 1951 until his death on 14 August 1955, General Edson served as Executive Director of the National Rifle Association of America. Both General and Mrs. Edson are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.