Brigadier General Evans Fordyce Carlson (26 February 1896 - 27 May 1947) was the famed U.S. Marine Corps leader of the World War II "Carlson's Raiders". He is renowned for the "Makin Island Raid" on August 17, 1942 and their "Long Patrol" (aka Carlson's patrol or Carlson's Raiders) from November 4, 1942 to December 4, 1942 behind Japanese lines on Guadalcanal, in which 488 Japanese were killed, 16 Raiders were killed and 18 wounded, during the Guadalcanal campaign.
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.
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.
Carlson's famed 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.
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.
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.
A year later, 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 Route Armies 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 creation the Raiders, the Marine Corps authorized the creation of the Raiders despite misgivings about Carlson's philosophy.
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.
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 Tarawa as an observer. In its November 1943 engagement he was cited for volunteering to carry vital information through enemy fire from an advanced post to division headquarters.
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.
First Navy Cross, Nicaragua (May 16, 1930–May 1, 1931)