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Edwin “Ed” Cole Bearss was listening to a radio broadcast of a football game between the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Cardinals on December 7, 1941, when an announcer interrupted with news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He immediately enlisted in the Marines determined to “get back” at the Japanese.
The day after Christmas in 1943, Ed found himself aboard a Higgins boat heading toward the Japanese-held island of New Britain. The Marines were engaged in combat almost immediately, seizing ground at the point of the bayonet and then digging in to fight off determined Japanese counter-attacks.
On January 2, 1944, Ed took point and led his platoon deep into the jungle. The Marines encountered and began firing at several Japanese soldiers when machine gun fire opened up on them from hidden Japanese pillboxes. Ed would be severely wounded by the fire and spend a total of 26 months in the hospital recovering.
After the war, Ed, who was fascinated by the Civil War, embarked on a lifelong study of its leading figures and battlefields. In 1981, Ed Bearss became Chief Historian of the National Park Service. He was one of the leading speakers on the 1990 "The Civil War" television documentary by Ken Burns. And in keeping with his family’s tradition of dedication to service, his son and daughter both joined the US Marine Corps.
Ed Bearss passed away on September 15, 2020 at the age of 97