Ed McMahon – a Great Marine

Updated: July 6, 2009



The Legacy of Colonel Ed McMahon

How does a son say goodbye to his father?  While this is a profoundly painful question to ponder, in this instance, the answer is really very simple – by honoring my father’s request to be buried and celebrated as a great Marine.

To Ed’s millions of fans around the world, he was an entertainment icon who’s brilliant and colorful career spanned some 70 years and included work as a bingo caller in a traveling carnival – yes, that’s right, Ed spoke Carnie.  Ed also worked in radio, theater, movies, and of course television.  Ed was the quintessential pitchman – selling everything from the famous Morris Metric Slicer to Budweiser Beer and even some of Mr. Carson’s jokes that didn’t always work as planned.  In Ed’s words: “jokesters joke, actors act, entertainers entertain”.  Ed was a consummate entertainer.

However, those who knew Ed best knew that while he loved being an entertainer, he truly loved being a Marine.

Ed’s Marine Corps career began during World War II and lasted 23 years.  At the end of it all, Ed was promoted to Colonel – he considered this to be one of the greatest accomplishments of his life; amazing when you consider the body of his work.
Over the years, Ed told me that he wanted to be remembered as: “a good entertainer, but a great Marine!” Considering Ed was an entertainment giant, this speaks volumes in regards to his love of the Marine Corps, with its inherent brotherhood and Corps values of respect, honor, and integrity – the defining elements of Ed’s character.

A few of the notable highlights of Ed’s service in and life-long involvement with the United States Marine Corps include:

  • Eating powder eggs during Officers Candidates School – even though they were billeted on a farm with hundreds of chickens – some things in the Corps never change!
  • Being commissioned as a 2nd Lt.
  • Being made a flight instructor while still in flight school.
  • Earning his Naval Aviator wings on 4/4/44.
  • Flying the hottest fighter in WWII – the F4U-Corsair.
  • Being placed in hack for conducting “training missions” over his girlfriend’s house.
  • Becoming a test pilot.
  • Being placed in hack for conducting “training missions” over his girlfriend’s house again.
  • Teaching carrier landings.
  • And yes, being placed in hack for flying “training missions” over his girlfriend’s house AGAIN.
  • Telling NBC he’d love to sign a big contract to be their next star– but he had just received orders to report to Korea.
  • Meeting Marilyn Monroe prior to deploying to Korea and having her impishly tell him: “Ed, I’m not wearing anything underneath”.
  • Flying 85 combat missions in Korea as an artillery spotter – Ed earned six Air Medals for his tenacity and proficiency at closing with and destroying the enemy.
  • Cornering the market on food and alcohol by becoming his squadron’s Officer-in-Charge of the Mess Tent and Officer’s Club.
  • The 3-day long party in Tent 7 with 55 gallon drums of “truce juice” when the armistice was signed.
  • Participation in creating the Toys for Tots program.
  • Being promoted to Colonel.
  • Promoting his son to the rank of Corporal.
  • Passing a flight physical at age 70 and flying the Harrier Jump Jet.
  • Working with The Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation to cement the legacy and traditions of Marine Corps Aviation.
  • And being Major General Lenhert’s Guest of Honor at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Ball in 2005 – Sir, he had tremendous respect for you and was humbled to be your guest of honor.

Colonel Edward Leo McMahon – Dad – on behalf of a grateful nation, fiercely loyal United States Marine Corps, assembled friends, loving family, and me – a devoted son – it is the highest honor of my life, to fulfill your request to be buried as a Marine.  I wish you Godspeed, as you pull chalks and embark on one last mission in your Corsair – destined for the final rally point– Valhalla – warrior heaven.  I salute you!


Photo copyright 2009, the Associated Press




  1. Uber Pig

    July 6, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    RIP, Ed. Thanks for this eulogy, Lex.

    — Uber Pig

  2. jimg

    July 6, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Gosh , I really, really hate to do this, Lex – yours was a very moving remembrance of your father – but it’s chocks – those wooden blocks, attached with a rope, that keep the planes wheels from moving while the plane is parked…those are called chocks..I’m sorry to have to add here because I really enjoyed sneakily listening to your Dad and Johnny from the top of the stairs as I was supposed to be in bed – that had to be after 11:30 eastern time and I was in 6th grade!

  3. Gary

    July 7, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Thank you Lex for the wonderful eulogy. Colonel McMahon was truly a great marine and a wonderful entertainer. May he rest in eternal peace. God bless.

  4. Sam

    July 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Thank you Lex, for sharing an intensely emotional experience with us. Your father lived and died a hero, and he has surely gotten a hero’s welcome in Valhalla. God speed, Colonel.

  5. Shane

    July 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    A long time ago I had the lapse in judgment to get married. At the time my mother in law to be coordinated weddings for living. So she got all her buddies to put together the most absurd show wedding you can imagine at a really elite country club so they could take pictures to show people.

    Naturally I got married in my blues. Before the wedding when we were all milling around next to the club or tavern or whatever they called it this big old guy came up, shook my hand and asked me how long I had been in. I responded with my measely 18 months or so. He said that he had “flew around for the corps a while back” Then went back to the guy he was talking to. It was’nt til then that it hit me that “holy shit, that’s fucking Ed McMahon”!

    I could’nt tell you what my (ex)wifes dress looked like to save my life and would have to dig up the marraige license to get the date, but I remember that handshake!

  6. Wardog

    July 7, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Your dad was an icon of my life. That big laugh of his at Johnny’s bad jokes, in the commercials for Toys for Tots and all the other stuff he did. When I was a recruiter I used him all the time as an example to show what the Corps teaches us for success. I appreciate your sharing this great Flying Leatherneck with us all.
    Semper Fi,

  7. Lex

    July 8, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks everyone – I appreciate the thoughts and hearing your personal experiences about Ed. He was an amazing man – who loved his country and Corps! Jim, I appreciate the correction re: chocks – I’m a ground pounding mud Marine and never really learned much about the air wing, other than Ed’s stories; I’m sure he would have corrected that error as well.

    Warm Regards & Semper Fi!

  8. PV2 Leonard

    July 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    He was a great man, and knowing he was a serviceman makes him greater in my eyes. Knowing how motivated and strong he was, makes him a legend to me. I was never fortunate enough to meet him, but I wish I had.

    Semper Fi, Colonel.

  9. Tim Hellmuth

    July 12, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Semper Fidelis Ed, would have much rather heard this story on the news instead of the mj ordeal. I grew up watching you on T.V. and never knew you were in the Corp. God bless your family and you will be missed. Tim

  10. Bob Geluz

    July 14, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Semper Fi!, Colonel McMahon, from a former U.S. Marine. Just a non-com, Corporal, but thanks for all of your years on the Johnny Carson show and your service to our country.

    Again, Semper Fi!

    Bob Geluz

  11. Rich A.

    September 10, 2009 at 8:07 am

    Great eulogy Lex, very moving. Semper Fi!

  12. Mindy Damery

    May 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    I am the granddaughter of George Meisenthelter II, Ed’s co-pilot in Korea. Your dad wrote the most awesome letter to my Aunt, Cathy Cratty, to tell her about my Granddad’s time in Korea, because he died when she was nine. He responded to her letter with a two pages of wonderful words and stories. He kept in contact with her several times over the years. We had the honor and privilege of seeing him in Crystal Lake, IL were he did his “My Memoirs of the Tonight Show” He spoke on stage of his time with the Marine Corps and it was evident that he was as proud of that as he was of anything in his career. He met with my grandmother, my mother and aunt after the show. He was a remarkable man and truly was the perfect example of “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”


    Mindy Damery

    PS If you would ever like to read the letter I have a copy and would be proud and honored to show it to you. He was very gracious to take time out of his busy schedule to write it. Not to mention over the years he always made sure to meet with any of George’s family if they were in town. Speaks volume of his wonderful character.

  13. Leonard Chapman

    June 6, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Thank you for your wonderful memories of your dad. I am working on your father’s genealogy, and hope to download it to “Rootsweb Worldconnect Project” in the next month. Wish I could use some of your material, but copyright (C) rules are something I don’t like to get in trouble over!

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