Remembering Edwin Pollock, USMC, the Great-Uncle of One of Our Long-Time Subscribers
Presented by U.S. Bank
Above: Edwin Pollock, United States Marine Corps General, the Great-Uncle of One of Our Long-Time Subscribers
After publishing our last Veteran’s Way column, “Al Schmid, a Guadalcanal Marine,” in our November 2018 issue, I received an email from an old friend and subscriber Joe Pollock of Pollock Company in Augusta, Georgia. He thanked me for continuing to remember and honor those who defended our country and sacrificed for us to live in freedom, while noting that the column had special meaning to his family. He attached an article about his great-uncle””his grandfather’s brother””who was in command of the Marines at the battle of the Tenaru River.
When I opened the attachment from Joe there was a story about General Edwin A. Pollock, who coincidentally was the Commanding Officer at Marine Corps Schools in Quantico, Virginia, when I entered the corps many years ago. Allow me to share this special Marine’s story.
Edwin Pollock was born in Augusta, Georgia, on March 21, 1899. He was commissioned in the Marine Corps upon graduation from the Citadel in 1921. Upon earning his commission, he entered what was then a small military organization with a total force of less than 40,000 men.
These men served as part of ship’s company and generally manned 5-inch guns (the width of a shell, not the length of the gun). They also provided security and managed the brig. The brigs were either on a ship or at a land station. They also served at naval stations, primarily as security and at embassies around the world. That duty was known as “posts and stations.”
In 1941, Edwin Pollock was promoted to major. By then, the Marine Corps had expanded to 140,000 men, with numbers increasing at a rapid rate due to the threat of an impending war with Japan.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Pollock was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Division. During World War II, a Marine division comprised approximately 20,000 men. The Corps was growing up.
From December 1941 to June 1942, the Japanese advanced through the Pacific, conquering what was known as the Dutch East Indies (Java), the Philippines, Guam, Singapore, and many smaller islands. Their reach extended to the Solomon Islands, including Guadalcanal.
The Japanese immediately began building an airstrip. Once completed, it would be capable of attacking any ships heading to Australia, which was positioned to become the main staging area for the U.S. in the Pacific. This was where troops and ships would be sent from and where they would launch their campaigns to retake those territories conquered by the Japanese.
In March 1942, Admiral Ernest King was promoted to commander in chief of fleet operations. He immediately informed President Roosevelt that we could not allow the Japanese to complete that air strip. The President gave the Navy permission to begin planning for the invasion of Guadalcanal in August 1942.
The Marine Corps was ordered to form the 1st Marine Division and prepare for orders to engage the enemy. The 1st Marine Division was a paper organization, and Marines had to be taken from posts and stations, from aboard ships, and from established regiments such as the 1st, 5th, and 7th Marine Regiments to fill out the division.
On August 21, 1942, the attack on Guadalcanal was first perceived as a raid and was a complete surprise to the Japanese. This was evidenced by the fact that they had very few troops guarding the Korean laborers who were building the airfield. It did not take the Japanese long to respond.
In their response, the Japanese sent what was known as the “Ichiki” Regiment under the command of Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki. This regiment had a reputation of willingly giving their lives easily when engaged in combat. Ichiki’s unit conducted a nighttime frontal assault on Marine positions at the Tenaru River on the east side of the Lunga perimeter. Ichiki’s assault was defeated with heavy losses.
The Marines counterattacked Ichiki’s surviving troops after daybreak, killing many more. According to Wikipedia, all but 128 of the original 917 of the Ichiki Regiment’s First Element died.
History has called this battle many names simply because there were no accurate or even good maps of Guadalcanal. That was why it has been called the”¯Battle of the Tenaru River, and sometimes called the”¯Battle of the Ilu River”¯or the”¯Battle of Alligator Creek.
For his heroism during this battle, Lt. Colonel Pollock, USMC, was awarded the Navy Cross. This is the second highest award anyone in the Naval Service can receive. The following is an edited version of the citation:
During the night of 20″“21 August 1942, when the troops under his command were subjected to a powerful and determined surprise attack at the Tenaru River, Lieutenant Colonel Pollock, immediately left his Command Post, advanced through severe enemy mortar and machine-gun fire to a position in the front line, and while thus constantly exposed to extreme danger, directed the defense of our forces for a period of twelve hours. As a result of his excellent judgment and superb leadership, the men under his command destroyed practically the entire enemy force. His outstanding courage and dauntless spirit of aggressiveness contributed greatly to the success of our forces and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Pollock also earned the Legion of Merit with Combat V during a subsequent campaign at Cape Gloucester. In Iwo Jima, he earned the Bronze Star with Combat V (for Valor).
Joe Pollock has every reason to be proud of his great uncle, as all well as those of us who continue to honor the sacrifices made by the military in all the wars. Sadly, there have been far too many.
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