Colonel Ed Has Died
(January 31, 2010)
He wanted to be a Marine fighter pilot. The US was building up
their military force, but they were not at war yet and the Navy
required all its potential Navy and Marine pilots to have two
years of college. So Ed started classes at Boston College. When
Pearl Harbor was attacked the Army and the Navy both dropped the
college requirement and Ed applied to the Marines. His primary
flight training was in Dallas and then he went to Pensacola,
He was carrier qualified, which means he knew how to perform a
controlled crash of his single engine fighter, onto the rolling
deck of a Navy floating runway. It took Ed almost two years to
get through all the Navy flight training. His problem was he was
a very good pilot and the Marines needed flight instructors.
Van E. Harl
He had a great command presence and public speaking ability,
which landed him in the classroom, training new baby Marine
pilots. His orders to the Pacific fleet and the chance to
fly combat missions off a carrier came in the spring of
1945, on the same day the Atomic bomb was dropped on
Hiroshima. Of course his orders where changed. He never went
to sea and he was out of the Marines in 1946. Ed stayed in
the USMC as a reserve officer.
He became a successful personality in the new TV medium,
after the war. His Marine command presence helped. He was
recalled to active duty during the Korean War. He never got
to fly his fighter aircraft, but he saw his share of raw
combat. He flew the Cessna O-1E Bird Dog, which is a single
engine slow-moving unarmed plane.
He functioned as an artillery spotter for the Marine
batteries on the ground and as a forward controller for the
Navy and Marine fighter / bombers who flew in on fast moving
jet engines, bombed the area and were gone in seconds.
Captain Ed was still circling the enemy looking for more
targets, all the time taking North Korean and Chinese ground
He stayed with the Marines as a reserve officer and retired
in 1966 as a Colonel. The world knows Ed as Ed McMahon of
the Johnny Carson, Tonight Show.
One night I was watching the show when the subject of
Colonel McMahon earning a number of Navy Air Medals came up.
Carson, a former Navy officer, understood the significance
of these medals, but McMahon shrugged it off, saying that if
you flew enough combat missions they just sort of gave them
McMahon flew 85 combat missions over North Korea; he earned
every one of those Air Medals. The casualty rate, for flying
forward air controllers in Korea sometimes exceeded 50% of a
squadron's manpower. McMahon was lucky to have gotten home
from that war.
Once a Marine, always a Marine. When the public was spitting
(taking their personal safety into their own hands) at
Marines on the streets of Southern California during
Vietnam, Colonel McMahon was taking Marines off the streets
and into his posh Beverley Hills home. I spoke to a retired
Marine aircrew member the day Colonel McMahon died and he
personally remembered seeing McMahon at numerous Marine Air
Bases in California in the 1960s.
He was known for going to the Navy hospitals and visiting
the wounded Marines and Sailors from this country's
conflicts, even in the last years of his life. Colonel
McMahon presented awards and decorations to fellow Marines
and attended many a Marine ceremony and the annual Marine
Corps Birthday Ball. He stayed true to his Corps as a board
member of the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund and as the
honorary chairman of the National Marine Corps Aviation
After retiring from the Marine Reserve, one night on the
Johnny Carson show, members of the California Air National
Guard came on stage.
Colonel McMahon was commissioned a Brigadier General in the
Air Guard in front of millions of Americans who watched it
happen live. You will not see anything like that on TV
anymore. The three core values of a United States Marine
are; honor, courage and commitment. This is what a Marine is
taught from the first day of training and this is what that
Marine believes. That was Colonel Edward P. McMahon Jr.
USMCR Retired. Before he was a national figure he was a true
combat hero and a patriot the nation needed then and this
country needs now.
Your war is over. Thank you Colonel McMahon. Semper Fi, Sir.
Van E. Harl
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air
Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the
Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of
the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air
Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state
police officer in Nevada.
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