Merritt Austin Edson was born in Rutland, Vermont on April 25, 1897 and grew up in nearby Chester, Vermont. He received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in October of 1917. He went to France with the 11th Marine Regiment in September 1918, but arrived too late to see any action in World War I.
In between the World Wars, Edson served with distinction in Nicaragua during 1928-29 when, as a Captain, he was awarded his first of two Navy Crosses for valor in the face of the enemy. At the beginning of World War II, now Lieutenant Colonel Edson was commanding the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. This infantry unit was redesignated in 1942 and became the prototype unit for the Marine Raiders.
After receiving a promotion to Colonel in May 1942, his 1st Marine Raider Battalion spearheaded the assault on Tulagi on August 7, 1942. Edson’s valor in command on Tulagi earned him his second Navy Cross. Just a week later after Edson’s Raiders had been repositioned to defend a key ridge line protecting the Guadalcanal beachhead, his stalwart and indefatigable courage and leadership in leading the defense against Japanese attackers this time saw him decorated with our Nation’s highest: the Medal of Honor. This became known as the Battle of Edson’s Ridge.
EDSON, MERRITT AUSTIN
Rank and organization: Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps. Born: 25 April 1897, Rutland, Vt. Appointed from: Vermont. Other Navy awards: Navy Cross with Gold Star, Silver Star Medal, Legion of Merit with Gold Star. 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.
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Captain Merritt Austin Edson (MCSN: 0-257), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism on 7 August 1928, while in command of a Marine patrol on the Coco River, Nicaragua, 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.
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Cross to Colonel Merritt Austin Edson (MCSN: 0-257), United States 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 9 August 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 suck 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.
He went on to command the 5th Marine Regiment and was both the Chief of Staff (Tarawa) and Assistant Division Commander (Saipan, Tinian) of the 2nd Marine Division. His last two wartime positions were as the Chief of Staff for Fleet Marine Force, Pacific (FMFPAC) and then as the Commander of the FMFPAC’s Service Command.
Edson attained the rank of Brigadier General during the war. At his retirement on August 1, 1947 after 30 years of service, he was promoted to Major General. Tragically, General Edson took his own life on August 14, 1955. He rests in peace at Arlington National Cemetery.