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December 4, 1942: Long Patrol Ends

In one of the most stunningly successful small scale operations in the history of the US Marines,  from November 6, 1942, to December 4, 1942, the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, about 700 Marines, under Colonel Evans Carlson, in 29 separate engagements, killed 488 Japanese soldiers while pursuing a force of approximately 2500 Japanese troops under the command of  Colonel Toshinari Shōji on Guadalcanal, while suffering 16 killed.  Carlson was a double mustang.  He rose from the ranks while serving in the Army during World War I, ending up as a Captain of Field Artillery.  In 1922 he enlisted in the Marine Corps as a private and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1923.  While serving in China in the 1930’s he studied, and was greatly impressed by, the tactics used by the Chinese Communists.  Carlson’s political beliefs were always left wing, although David Shoup, a future Commandant of the Corps and who earned a Medal of Honor, noted at the time of Carlson, “He’s a red but he is not yellow.”

In 1942 he was placed in command of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion which he trained along the lines of the Communist guerillas in China.  If this strikes the reader as unusual, it was.  The high command of the Marine Corps was not happy, but President Roosevelt was a fan, as was his son, Captain James Roosevelt, who served in the Raiders.  (Roosevelt would rise to the rank of Colonel during the War and earn a Navy Cross and a Silver Star for his courage.  A liberal Democrat, he turned conservative in later life, crossing party lines to back both Nixon and Reagan.)

The 2nd Raiders made headlines with their raid on Makin Island in August of 1942 and for their service on Guadalcanal, and were known popularly as Carlson’s Raiders.  Worn out with malaria and other illnesses, Carlson was relieved of command in March of 1943.  He served as technical advisor for the film Gung Ho, starring Randolph Scott, a World War I combat veteran, as Evans Carlson, which told the story, with the usual Hollywood indifference to history, of the Makin Raid.  Returning to active duty, he served at Tarawa and Saipan, where he was wounded while attempting to rescue a radio man.  That wound caused his retirement in 1946 with a terminal promotion to Brigadier General.  He died of coronary disease in 1947, age 51.

Here is the text of his Navy Cross, one of three he earned during his career, citation for the Long Patrol:

The Navy Cross is presented to Evans Fordyce Carlson, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and courage as leader of the Second Marine Raider Battalion in action against enemy forces in the British Solomon Islands during the period from 4 November to 4 December 1942. In the face of most difficult conditions of tropical weather and heavy growth, Lieutenant Colonel Carlson led his men in a determined and aggressive search for threatening hostile forces, overcoming all opposition and completing their mission with small losses to our men while taking heavy toll of the enemy. His personal valor and inspiring fortitude reflect great credit upon Lieutenant Colonel Carlson, his command and the United States Naval Service.