Crouched in their foxholes along Edson’s Ridge on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the Marines formed a critical but thin defense line between strategic Henderson Field and seasoned Japanese infantry lurking in the jungle. It was a miserable place to be. Heavy rains had swept the big island for several days, and the young Leathernecks—most of them unschooled in combat—knew that trouble was coming. The airfield was vital to both the Americans and the Japanese.
October 24, 1942, was a busy day for the 1st Battalion as the men deepened their soggy foxholes, carefully arranged mortars and machine guns, filled sandbags, and carried ammunition. Overseeing their efforts was a barrel-chested lieutenant colonel with a craggy face and high forehead who chewed on a cigar and spouted a mixture of encouragement and profanity. Around his neck was an Episcopal Church crusader’s cross, and in one of his battle-fatigue pockets a dog-eared copy of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars.