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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Evans Fordyce Carlson (26 February 1896 – 27 May 1947) was a decorated and retired United States Marine Corps general officer who was the legendary leader of "Carlson's Raiders" during World War II. Many credit Carlson with developing the tactics and attitude that would later come to define America's special operations forces. He is renowned for the "Makin Island raid" in 1942, and his raiders' "Long Patrol" (aka Carlson's patrol) behind Japanese lines on Guadalcanal, in which 488 Japanese were killed. Carlson popularised the phrase "gung-ho".[1]

Early years

Evans Carlson was born on 26 February 1896 in Sidney, New York, the son of a Congregationalist minister. He ran away from his home in Vermont in 1910 and two years later disguised his age to enter the United States Army.[2]

U.S. Army service

During his first enlistment in the army, he served in the Philippines and Hawaii. He was discharged in 1916 as a "top" or first sergeant. Less than a year later, he returned to the army and participated in the Mexican punitive expedition.

World War I

During World War I, he saw action in France, and was awarded a Wound Chevron (later exchanged for the Purple Heart Medal) for wounds received in action.[citation needed] He was commissioned a second lieutenant in May 1917, and made captain of field artillery in December 1917. He served in Germany with the Army of Occupation. He was discharged from the army in 1921.

U.S. Marine Corps career

Carlson's career as a Marine started in 1922 when he enlisted as a private. In 1923, he was again commissioned a second lieutenant. After duty at MCB Quantico, Virginia, he sailed for Culebra, Puerto Rico in 1924 and remained there five months before being ordered to the West Coast for duty with the Pacific Fleet. Applying for aviation training in 1925, he went to Naval Aeronautical Station Pensacola, Florida, for instruction, but was subsequently returned to duty with ground units. He served another tour of foreign shore duty from 1927 to 1929 at Shanghai, China.


Carlson was ordered to Nicaragua in 1930 as an officer in the Guardia Nacional. A first lieutenant at the time, he earned his first Navy Cross for leading 12 Marines against 100 bandits in a night attack to break up a threat to his garrison. He was also commended for his actions following the 1931 earthquake at Managua, and for performance of duties as Chief of Police in 1932 and 1933.

Friendship with the Roosevelts

Returning to the United States in 1933, Captain Carlson served as executive officer of the Marine Corps Detachment at President Roosevelt's alternative White House and vacation retreat at Warm Springs, Georgia, where he became closely acquainted with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his son James.

Second and third China tours

After his Warm Springs tour Carlson was posted to the 4th Marines in Shanghai. Shortly afterward he was transferred to the Marine detachment, American Legation, Peiping, China, where he served as adjutant and studied the Chinese language. In 1936, he returned to the United States via Japan. At home he served at Quantico while attending Marine Corps Schools, and studying International Law and Politics at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

He went back to China for the third time in 1937 as an official student of the Chinese language and as a military observer with Chinese forces. There he was afforded the opportunity to learn the tactics of the Japanese soldier.

He met Edgar Snow in China and read Snow's Red Star Over China. This encounter led him to visit the Chinese communist troop headquarters in northern China, where he met Chinese Communist leaders such as Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. Traveling thousands of miles through the interior of China with the communist guerrillas, often on foot and horseback over the most hazardous terrain, he lived under the same primitive conditions. He was impressed by the tactics used by Chinese Communist guerrillas to fight Japanese troops. Carlson adopted the phrase "gung ho" from Rewi Alley's Chinese Industrial Cooperatives.[3] Carlson often had leftwing political views, prompting General David M. Shoup to say of him, "He may be red, but he's not yellow."[4]

When Carlson left China in 1938, he was commended by the commander in chief of the Asiatic Fleet for his services. Carlson was so impressed with the danger of Japanese aggression in the Far East that in 1939, he resigned his commission as a captain in order to be free to write and lecture on that subject. When the danger he foresaw neared reality in 1941, Carlson applied to be recommissioned in the Marine Corps and was accepted with the rank of major.

World War II, "Carlson's Raiders"
LtCol Carlson after the Makin Island Raid
LtCol Carlson after the Makin Island Raid

In 1942, he was placed in command of the Second Marine Raider Battalion with the rank of lieutenant colonel, a new combat organization whose creation he influenced. The organization and discipline of the 2nd Raiders was modeled on that of the communist armies that he had observed during his time in China. Because of his relationship with President Roosevelt and the president's son, Captain James Roosevelt, a Marine reserve captain who authored a letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps proposing the creation of the Raiders, the Marine Corps authorized the creation of the Raiders despite misgivings about Carlson's philosophy.[2]

In the United States military there was a sharp caste-system divide between officers and enlisted personnel, and even experienced noncommissioned officers were expected to be subservient to even the newest, greenest second lieutenant. Carlson's experience in having gone back and forth between officer and enlisted status in both the army and the Marine Corps convinced him that this was not in the best interests of the service. Carlson saw the Communist approach as superior. Leaders were expected to serve the unit and the fighters they led, not to be served. Responsibility, not privilege, would be the keyword for battalion leadership when the Second Raiders formed up. Using an egalitarian and team-building approach, Carlson promulgated a new way for senior NCOs to mentor junior officers and work with the officers for the betterment of the unit. Even more controversial in concept, Carlson gave his men "ethical indoctrination," designed to "give (his men) conviction through persuasion," describing for each man what he was fighting for and why.[5]

LtCol Carlson is decorated by Adm Chester W. Nimitz, on 30 September 1942.
LtCol Carlson is decorated by Adm Chester W. Nimitz, on 30 September 1942.

Of more lasting importance to the Marine Corps, Carlson also changed the organization of his squads, eschewing an eight-man squad dictated by the Marines in favor of a 10-man squad composed of a squad leader and three 3-man "fireteams", each containing a BAR, a Thompson, and an M1 rifle.[5]

Carlson's leadership of the Second Raiders in the Makin Raid, 17 August 1942, earned him a second Navy Cross (​516-inch gold star in lieu of second Navy Cross). He received a third Navy Cross (second ​516-inch gold star in lieu of third Navy Cross) for extraordinary heroism and distinguished leadership on Guadalcanal in November and December 1942.

On March 15, 1943, the four raider battalions were placed under the control of the newly created 1st Raider Regiment, commanded by the former commander of the 3rd Raiders, Col. Harry B. Liversedge. A week later Carlson was relieved as commander of the 2nd Raiders by Lt. Col. Alan Shapley, an officer of much more orthodox thinking, and made executive officer of the 1st Raider Regiment. Within a month Shapley had reorganized the 2nd Raiders into a traditional organization, and Liversedge then standardized the organization of the four raider battalions along the lines of the 1st Raider Battalion, although all adopted the 3-fireteam squad-organization concept pioneered by Carlson, which was soon adopted by the Marine Corps as a whole.[6]

Later service in the Pacific

Carlson was soon ordered back to the United States for medical treatment of malaria and jaundice, and served as a technical advisor to Walter Wanger's Gung Ho!: The Story of Carlson's Makin Island Raiders (released December 1943).

He subsequently returned to the Pacific campaign and participated in the Battle of Tarawa in November 1943, as an observer, and was cited for volunteering to carry vital information through enemy fire from an advanced post to division headquarters. During the Battle of Saipan in 1944, he was wounded while attempting to rescue a wounded enlisted radioman from a front-line observation post, and was awarded a second Purple Heart (​516-inch gold star in lieu of second Purple Heart).

Retirement and death

Grave at Arlington National Cemetery
Grave at Arlington National Cemetery

Physical disability resulting from the wounds received on Saipan caused Carlson's retirement on 1 July 1946. He was advanced to the rank of brigadier general on the retired list at that time for having been specially commended for the performance of duty in actual combat.

On 27 May 1947, at age 51, Carlson died as the result of a cardiac ailment at Emanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon. He had been living in Brightwood, Oregon, since his retirement. He was survived by his wife, Mrs. Peggy Tatum Carlson, and a son by a previous marriage, Evans C. Carlson.

General Carlson is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Awards and decorations

General Carlson's awards include:

Navy Cross with two ​516 gold stars | Legion of Merit
Purple Heart Medal with ​516 gold star Presidential Unit Citation (Navy) with three ​316 bronze stars Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal
Mexican Service Medal World War I Victory Medal with France clasp Yangtze Service Medal
Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal China Service Medal American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three ​316 bronze stars World War II Victory Medal
Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra Nicaraguan Presidential Order of Merit
with ​516 gold star
Nicaraguan Medal of Distinction with ​316 silver star

Navy Cross citations

Nicaragua (May 16, 1930 – May 1, 1931)

First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps
Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua
Date of Action: May 16, 1930 – May 1, 1931

The Navy Cross is presented to Evans Fordyce Carlson, First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while attached to the Guardia Nacional from 16 May 1930 to 1 May 1931. Upon joining the Guardia Nacional, First Lieutenant Carlson was assigned at Jalapa in the bandit area of Nueva Segovia. On 8 July 1930, he received a report that a group of one hundred bandits were looting the town of Portillo. He immediately left with a detachment of sixteen men to gain contact. Four of the men deserted en route but with the remaining twelve men he pushed on and overtook and gained contact with a group of forty bandits, completely routing them, killing two and wounding seven, without any casualties to his detachment. Arms, ammunition, equipment and clothing looted from the town of Portillo were recaptured. Lieutenant Carlson maintained his district in a most excellent manner and by his activities and well-directed operations kept it singularly free from banditry.[7]
Makin Island, Raid (August 17–18, 1942)

Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve)
Commanding Officer, 2d Marine Raider Battalion
Date of Action: August 17–18, 1942

The Navy Cross is presented to Evans Fordyce Carlson, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service as Commanding Officer of the Second Marine Raider Battalion in action against Japanese forces on Makin Island, 17–18 August 1942. In the first operation of this type ever conducted by United States forces, Lieutenant Colonel Carlson personally directed his forces in the face of intense fire of enemy ground troops and aerial bombing barrage, inflicting great personnel and material damage on the enemy. In the withdrawal of his forces under adverse sea conditions, he displayed outstanding resourcefulness, initiative and resolute purpose in evacuating all wounded and disabled men. His high courage and excellent leadership throughout the engagement were in keeping with the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.[8]
SPOT AWARD, October 1942
Guadalcanal, Long Patrol (November 4–December 4, 1942)

Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve)
Commanding Officer, 2d Marine Raider Battalion
Date of Action: November 4–December 4, 1942

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.[8]
SPOT AWARD, January 1943


Carlson wrote books about his third tour in China when he was attached to the Chinese 8th Route Army:

  • Twin Stars of China, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1940.
  • The Chinese army its organization and military efficiency, International Secretariat, Institute of Pacific Relations, 1939. (ASIN B00089LO5S)
  • Evans F. Carlson on China at War, 1937–1941, China and U.S. Publication. (ASIN B0006F13D2)

See also


  1. ^ The Long, Strange Journey Of 'Gung-Ho'
  2. ^ a b Hoffman, Maj. Jon T. (USMC) (October 2013). "Creating the raiders". From Makin to Bougainville: Marine Raiders in the Pacific War. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  3. ^ Don Burke (September 20, 1943). "Carlson of the Raiders". Life: 58; cited in Moe (1967)
  4. ^ p.78 Peatross, Oscar F. Bless 'em All: The Raider Marines of World War II ReView Publications, 1995
  5. ^ a b Hoffman, Maj. Jon T. (USMC) (October 2013). "Shaping the raiders". From Makin to Bougainville: Marine Raiders in the Pacific War. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  6. ^ Hoffman, Maj. Jon T. (USMC). "Reshaping the raiders". From Makin to Bougainville: Marine Raiders in the Pacific War. Retrieved 27 June 2008. The Marines adopted a 4-man fireteam.[full citation needed]
  7. ^ Navy Cross Awards during the 2nd Nicaraguan Campaign, Home of Heroes. Archived August 29, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ a b Navy Cross Awards to members of the U.S. Marines in World War II, Home of Heroes Archived August 29, 2006, at the Wayback Machine


Further reading

  • Blankfort, Michael. The Big Yankee: The Life of Carlson of the Raiders, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1947. (ASIN B0007HNZ8K)
  • Haughey, David W. "Carlson's Raid on Makin Island", Feature, Marine Corps Gazette 85(8): 56–64, August 31, 2001.
  • Merillat, Herbert C. (Captain, USMCR) The Island: A History of the Marines On Guadalcanal, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1944. (Details Carlson's Long Patrol on Guadalcanal)
  • Quirk, Brian J. "Reflections of Carlson's Raiders", Commentary, Marine Corps Gazette 85(8):58–61, August 31, 2001.
  • Peatross, Oscar F. (1995). John P. McCarthy; John Clayborne (eds.). Bless 'em All: The Raider Marines of World War II. Review. ISBN 0-9652325-0-6.
  • Smith, George W. Carlson's Raid : The Daring Marine Assault on Makin, Presidio Press, 2001. (ISBN 0-425-19019-6)
  • Young, Howard. "Carlson's Raiders on Makin, 17–18 August 1942, Marine Corps Gazette 87(8): August 31, 2003.
  • Wiles, W. Emerson "Tripp" (2007). Forgotten Raiders of '42: The Fate of the Marines Left Behind on Makin. Potomac Books. ISBN 978-1-59797-055-6.

External links

  • Richardson-Moore, . "A Marine Legacy", Furman Magazine. Carol Carlson Loving on her grandfather. (PDF file, from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing China)
This page was last edited on 4 June 2020, at 02:05
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