Marine Corps Base Quantico --
They were men who answered the call when our nation was in desperate need and whose tenacity turned the tide in the Pacific,” said Col. David Edson, branch head for Reserve Affairs Policy and grandson of Maj. Gen. Merritt “Red Mike” Edson.
Then-Lt. Col. Merritt Edson took command of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment on June 7, 1941. The unit was redesignated as “1st Marine Raider Battalion” on February 16, 1942. Edson was promoted to colonel en route to the Pacific and led his men in battle on Tulagi and Guadalcanal.
“Nobody says anything about what we did in the Pacific, but if we didn’t do it, those places would be Japanese today,” said Raider veteran Charles Pulford.
Five veterans from the unit — Pulford, Jack Richardson, Jim “Horse Collar” Smith, Theodore Gaskin and Garland Carter — visited Quantico and the National Museum of the Marine Corps last week for their final official reunion. Carter, who retired from the Marine Corps as a gunnery sergeant, was the youngest of the group at 89.
The Marines known as Edson’s Raiders are a humble group. When Richardson’s daughter tried to gather the men together for a photo at the NMMC, telling him people wanted their picture because they were heroes, Richardson responded, “the hell you say!” The men do not view themselves as heroes but public servants.
Pulford, a self-proclaimed farm boy, shared stories of his time in the Corps while he toured the museum. Pulford said he joined the Marine Corps at 17 and had to have his mother sign for him so he could enlist. He ended up spending three years and nine months overseas and was wounded three times.
On his second trip over to the Pacific, Pulford said he was on a troop ship that left from San Diego, and he noticed no one was manning the gun mounts on the ship. He asked the captain of the ship who was manning the guns and was told no one was trained to do it. Pulford asked for ammunition, grabbed some shipmates and trained them to use the guns.
During their visit to the NMMC, the veterans and their families viewed a new memorial sculpture designed by artist Mardie Rees, titled “Soul of the Forward and Faithful.” The sculpture is dedicated to all U.S. Marine Raider veterans of World War II.
After lunch at the museum, the veterans visited Raider Hall at The Basic School. Raider Hall currently houses the Martial Arts Center of Excellence and an extensive exhibit on the four Marine Raider battalions.
Retired Lt. Col Joseph Shusko, director of the MACE, said there are approximately 3,000 to 4,000 artifacts on display in the building and that many people mistake it for a museum, rather than an active training center.
The visit ended with Saturday evening’s banquet and ceremony at The Clubs at Quantico. Playing the National Anthem, Anchors Aweigh and the Marines Hymn was the President’s Own United States Marine Band. According to Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck Jr., the guest of honor for the evening, when the band director heard about the reunion, he volunteered his musicians to play.
During his speech, Glueck read off the names of the 10 veterans from 1st Marine Raider Battalion who died in the last year, and a solemn moment of silence was observed. There were other sobering moments throughout the evening, such as when Smith and Richardson referenced this event, the 69th annual reunion, being the final one.
Being the final reunion, the five Raider veterans, along with Glueck, Col. David Edson, 2nd Lt. Kevin Woodard Jr. and 2nd Lt. Livingston Lukow, drank a bottle of port wine given to Smith by Col. Robert E. Lee at TBS in 1999.
Smith jokingly referred to the second lieutenants as the “lowest of the low” and said it was fitting that they open the bottle and pour for everyone, though he later made it clear that lieutenants were very important during the war.
Toasts were made to the Raiders and their families and to the Corps. Woodard and Lukow, roommates at TBS, were in attendance because a close family friend of Woodard was a Raider.
The Marines of 1st Marine Raider Battalion were the first special operations forces in the United States, and they were highly decorated. Merritt Edson and Maj. Kenneth Bailey earned the Medal of Honor for their actions on Guadalcanal. Smith said that the unit yielded 10 general officers, including one 4-star general, two 3-stars, two 2-stars, and five brigadier generals.
Because of their legacy and that of the three other Raider battalions of World War II, then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, declared in August 2014 that units of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command would be renamed as Raider units. MARSOC Public Affairs Officer Capt. Barry Morris said the school, regiment and battalions will be reflagged as Marine Raider units on June 19, 2015, in a special ceremony that will include Raider veterans from all the battalions.
After the banquet, Edson reflected, “For me personally, the continuity and circumstance of history that allowed me the opportunity to [wish these Marines farewell] at their last reunion will always be special. That I could [wish] this group [well] into the sunset of their lives at their last reunion of Edson’s Raiders, the grandson of “Red Mike” Edson and also a colonel of Marines, was for me and the Edson family a special moment. They have been heroes to be emulated even as they have become close friends.”