Private Randolph Ray Edwards


Randolph Ray Edwards
2253 Brainard Street, New Orleans, LA
Father, Mr. Benjamin Edwards
August 30, 1919
February 2, 1942
September 24, 1942
Guadalcanal D/1/7 Mortarman Private KIA
Machine gun bullet wounds, multiple, side
Purple Heart
Buried in the field, vicinity of Matanikau River, Guadalcanal
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Service Number: 364854

Birth and Early Life:
Randolph Edwards was born in McComb, Mississippi, on August 30, 1919. His parents, Benjamin and Ethel, relocated their family to New Orleans; for a time, “Ray” lived with his aunt and cousins on Brainard Street. He was not present much after finishing high school; his job as a brakeman for the Illinois Central Line kept him busy making runs between New Orleans and Chicago. (1)

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Ray left the railroad following America’s entry into World War Two; he resigned January 31, 1942 and enlisted in the Marine Corps on February 2. He traveled to the San Diego recruit depot for boot camp, and following the completion of his training that April, was assigned to Company D, Twenty-Second Marines – part of the Third Marine Brigade stationed in Samoa.

Wartime Service:
On July 10, 1942, Private Edwards was transferred from the 22nd Marines to Company D, 7th Marines, and joined an 81mm mortar squad. His new commander, Major David S. McDougal, was a stickler for discipline and had no problem reducing men to the ranks for “failure to conduct [themselves] in a manner satisfactory to the CO,” but the important thing was that the 7th were bound for action. (2) Months in Samoa had many young Marines champing at the bit, and several transferred from garrison units to regiments headed to Guadalcanal. (3)

Date Of Loss:
Private Edwards was killed in action on September 24, 1942.

The rifle companies of his battalion (Able, Baker, and Charlie) as well as some headquarters personnel were detached that morning to patrol out to the Matanikau River. Some accounts state that Puller left Company D behind – their heavy weapons would slow down his rifle troops, and were better suited to use at the main Marine defensive line. (4) However, Puller had seen more combat in Central America than the rest of his battalion had seen anywhere, and he may well have organized his patrol thusly:

Map from “Fighting On Guadalcanal.” Hosted by Mark Flowers,

Puller explained this configuration in a pamphlet entitled Fighting On Guadalcanal:

A platoon of D Company is attached to each rifle company because of the heavy country. C Company watches the rear. Each company is responsible for its flank. This is a time-tested and proven formation which works. If attacked from a flank, face and adjust.

The practice of dividing up a weapons company into separate platoons attached to rifle companies became the standard MO for Marine infantry until the weapons companies were disbanded in the spring of 1944.

Private Ed Poppendick, a machine gunner with Company D, claims that “all of Company D went out, and Chesty was with us, leading the party toward the Matanikau.” From his account, it is clear that Puller brought along not only his crew-serviced Brownings, but also at least one squad of mortarmen.

Anyway, it was getting [to be] dusk and Chesty decided “Okay, guys, we’re gonna go up one more hill, and then we’ll bivouac.” hat was all right because it was getting too damn dark; who wanted to go down into the next valley in the dark? We started up the hill and the next thing, we heard a couple of shots. Puller yelled, “I got a couple of the bastards!” Well, I didn’t know what the hell happened. Geez, everything started to go.

This kid Randolph that had just gotten in our outfit… didn’t last too long. That happened a lot with the new recruits who were coming in with no battle experience. Having been in the island for a little bit, [I] had already learned a lot about different things, and [I] tried to pass on some knowledge to the new guys. [5] But no one can take a standard ten or twenty minutes, or even two hours, to explain… what’s going to happen in a battle. Even if you had all the time in the world to explain it, there’s always a new situation that you’ve never been in before. You just told the new guys to keep their heads low and stay away from going up any paths. Once you were in actual battle conditions, you had to learn a lot of things real fast, and your previous training was never enough.

Anyway, this kid Randolph… I had just gotten to know him. You don’t get to meet too many of the guys enough to know them because once you get used to them, it’s like everything else; you get to know them, and they’re gone. Randolph got hit when they called for the small mortars. [6] He had the mortar base plates, and he made the mistake of going up the path. [7] As he went, geez, they just riddled him right down the side with a machine gun. He really got it.

The battalion tried to make it to the top of the hill, but it was raining so hard we kept slipping back; for every two feet up, you went back five.

After the battle was over, I had to identify Randolph’s body. When you saw a dead marine, it was really a tough situation. But you were glad it wasn’t you. Afterwards a group of us buried Randolph. [We buried] anybody that was killed… right on the spot. Someone would make a map of the graves so they could go back and dig our guys up. We always went back for the fallen when we had the chance. A lot of times… [they would] bury the marine in his poncho  and take his canteen and put all the information in the canteen and bury him with it. [8]

Despite the care of his friends, Private Edwards’ grave was never found after the battle. He and the other Marines of 1/7 killed September 24, 1942 probably still lie where they were buried that day.

Next Of Kin:
Father, Mr. Benjamin H. Edwards

Status Of Remains:
Buried on Guadalcanal

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) “Ray Edwards Dies In Action” Illinois Central Magazine, Vol. 32, 1943.
(2) Such was the fate of PFC Clarence Ables; a good number of D Company PFCs were similarly reduced.
(3) Edwards was one of a handful of Marines who chose to transfer out of the 22nd to the nearby 7th; the most popular destination for hard-charging Marines was the nearby Raider battalion, but not all passed the tough physical requirements. Others liked the look of 1/7’s commander, Major Lewis “Chesty” Puller; most just wanted to get a chance to fight back.
(4) “Chesty decided to leave his heavy weapons and take only his three rifle companies on the operation. The force of just under 600 men departed the perimeter on the morning of 24 Sept., with Co A in the lead, followed by the command group and companies B and C.”  Hoffman, Lt. Col. Jon T. Chesty: The Story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller.
(5) Poppendick may be referring to time in the unit rather than time on Guadalcanal. Private Edwards joined Company D in July, but landed on Guadalcanal on the same date and would have had just as much time in the combat area as Poppendick.
(6) The Table of Organization for a Marine weapons company allowed for a reserve of small 60mm mortars to be used in lieu of main armament of 81mm mortars when needed. Bringing the lighter, more mobile weapons along on a combat patrol was a good decision; they would be able to back up the fire of the mortar squads organic to the rifle companies.
(7) The mortars were carried in sections due to their weight. The base plate for a 60mm mortar was usually carried by the squad leader; given Edwards’ junior status, it is unlikely that he was in command. 81mm squads made a habit of sharing the burden of their (much heavier) base plate; Edwards’ squad may have been following this convention.
(8) Michael Green and James D. Brown, War Stories of the Infantry: Americans in Combat, 1918 to Today (Zenith Press, 2009) 39-41.

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