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Robert George Cole

Servicenumber : O-022028
Rank : Lieutenant-Colonel
Division : 101 Airborne Division
Regiment : 502 Parachute Infantry Regiment
Unit : 3rd Battalion
Date of Death : 18-09-1944
Age : 29
Grave : Plot B. Row 15. Grave 27.
Robert George Cole was born on 19 march 1915 in Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. He was a son of Colonel Clarence F. Cole and Clara H. Cole. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio in 1933 and joined the Army on 1 july 1934. On 26 june 1935 he went to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
After finishing West Point he returned home to marry Allie Mae Wilson. 
Cole was appointed a second lieutenant to the 15th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington in 1939 and remained there until his transfer to the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1941. In march 1941 he earned his jump wings. Rapidly advancing through the ranks at Fort Benning as the parachute infantry battalions were expanded to regiments, he was a lieutenant colonel commanding the 3rd Battalion of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment on 6 june 1944, the date of his unit's first combat jump.
Lieutenant Colonel Cole parachuted into Normandy with his unit as part of the American airborne landings on D-Day. By the evening of 6 june he had gathered about 75 men. They captured Exit 3 at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville behind Utah beach and were at the dune line to welcome men from the U.S. 4th Infantry Division coming ashore. After being in division reserve, Cole's battalion had guarded the right flank of the 101st Airborne Division attempts to take the approaches to Carentan.
On the afternoon of 10 june, Cole led 400 men of his battalion single file down a long, exposed causeway, known as Purple Heart Lane, with marshes at either side. A hedgerow behind a large farmhouse on the right was occupied by well dug-in German troops. At the far end of the causeway was the last of four bridges over the river Douve flood plain. Beyond the last bridge was Carentan, which the 101st Airborne Division had been ordered to seize to effect a linkup with the 29th Infantry Division coming off Omaha beach. 
During the advance Cole's battalion was subjected to continuous fire from artillery, machine guns and mortars. Cole's battalion, advancing slowly by crawling or crouching, took numerous casualties. The survivors haddled against the bank on the far side of the causeway. An obstacle known as a Belgian gate blocked nearly the entire roadway over the last bridge, allowing the passage of only one man at a time. Attempts to force this bottleneck were futile, and the battalion took up defensive positions for the night.
During the night, Cole's men were exposed to shelling by German mortars and by a strafing and bombing attack by two aircraft, causing further casualties and knocking I Company out of the fight. However the fire from the farm slackened and the remaining 265 men infiltrated through the obstacle and took up positions for an assault.
With the Germans still resisting any attempts to move beyond the bridges, and after artillery failed to suppres their fire, Cole called for smoke on the dug-in Germans and ordered a bayonet charge, a rarity in World War II. He charged towards the hedgerow, leading only a small portion of his unit at first. The remainder of the battalion, seeing what was happening followed as Cole led the paratroopers into the hedgerows, engaging at close range and with bayonets in hand-to-hand combat. The German survivors retreated, taking more casualties as they ran away.
The assault, which came to be known as "Cole's Charge", proved costly; 130 of Cole's 265 men became casualties. With his battalion exhausted, Cole called for the 1st Battalion to pass through his lines and continue the attack. However, they were also severely depleted by mortar fire crossing bridge 4, such that they took up positions with 3rd Battalion rather then proceeding. There, on the edge of Carentan, they were subjected to strong counterattacks by the German 6th Parachute Regiment during the morning and afternoon. At the height of the attacks, at approximately 1900, Cole's artillery observer managed to break through radio jamming and called down a concentration by the entire Corps artillery that broke up the attacks for good.
At 0200 on 12 june the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment passed through their line and captured Hill 30 to the south of Carentan. From there, led by E Company, the 2nd Battalion of the 506th PIR (Band of Brothers) attacked north into Carentan at daylight as part of a 3-battalion assault. The German 6th Parachute Regiment, virtually out of ammunition, had abandoned the town during the night, leaving only a small rear guard. By 0730 on 12 june Carentan was captured.
Lieutenant Colonel Cole was recommended for a Medal of Honor for his actions that day, but did not live to receive it.
On 18 september 1944, during Operation Market Garden, Cole, commanding the 3rd Battalion in Best, The Netherlands, got on the radio. A pilot asked him to put some orange identification panels in front of his position. Cole decided to do it himself. For a moment, Cole raised his head, shielding his eyes to see the plane. Suddenly a shot was fired by a German sniper in a farmhouse only 300 yards away, killing Cole instantly.
Two weeks later Cole was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bayonet charge near Carentan on 11 june. As his widow and two-year-old son looked on, Cole's mother accepted his posthumous award on the parade ground.
Cole's Medal of Honor citation: "For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty on 11 June 1944, in France. Lt. Col. Cole was personally leading his battalion in forcing the last 4 bridges on the road to Carentan when his entire unit was suddenly pinned to the ground by intense and withering enemy rifle, machinegun, mortar, and artillery fire placed upon them from well-prepared and heavily fortified positions within 150 yards of the foremost elements. After the devastating and unceasing enemy fire had for over 1 hour prevented any move and inflicted numerous casualties, Lt. Col. Cole, observing this almost hopeless situation, courageously issued orders to assault the enemy positions with fixed bayonets. With utter disregard for his own safety and completely ignoring the enemy fire, he rose to his feet in front of his battalion and with drawn pistol shouted to his men to follow him in the assault. Catching up a fallen man's rifle and bayonet, he charged on and led the remnants of his battalion across the bullet-swept open ground and into the enemy position. His heroic and valiant action in so inspiring his men resulted in the complete establishment of our bridgehead across the Douve River. The cool fearlessness, personal bravery, and outstanding leadership displayed by Lieutenant Colonel Cole reflect great credit upon himself and are worthy of the highest praise in the military service."
On 18 september 2009, a monument was unveiled in Best, The Netherlands, near the place of Cole's death. At the ceremony Cole's son was present as well as members and veterans of the 101st Airborne Division.
The author of the book 'Hell's Highway', George E. Koskimaki, wrote about Cole in his book on pages 157 and 158. He wrote about the attempts of H Company, 3rd Battalion, to capture the bridge at Best:  "True to their training on maneuvers 'not to destory civilian property' the soldiers took the time to climb over, under and through the wire fences. This went on until Lt. Colonel Robert Cole, the battalion commander, in very forceful and clear rhetoric told them to 'cut the God-damned wire and quit wasting time! This was done quickly and the column moved out much more rapidly."
On pages 160 and 161 he wrote: "When the first reports of the difficulties of "H" Company reached him, LTC John Michaelis, the regimental commander, realized Best would take more men than the original plan had called for in the planning stages. The fact that the highway and railroad bridges were still intact made the effort worthwhile now that the Son bridge had been blown." Michaelis ordered 3rd Battalion to capture the bridges at Best. There they met strong German forces. One pages 168-172 Koskimaki wrote what happened next: "In desperation, the 3rd Battalion commander would call for air support to overcome some of the superiority the enemy had in artillery and rapid-fire weaponry. T/5 John E. Fitzgerald served as runner for 3rd Battalion commander LTC Robert G. Cole. He and radioman Robert Doran had a close relationship with Lieutenant Colonel Cole and were considered favorites. He said, "On the morning of the 18th, Colonel Cole shared a can of grapefruit with T/5 Robert Doran, his radio operator, and myself. He had carried it all the way from England. This and other acts of kindness were common to his character. We began to receive increasingly heavy fire as the morning wore on. The Germans were using anti-aircraft guns to defoliate the section of woods we were occupying. Casualties were mounting all around us. Cole soon realized his only option was to call for air support." Lieutenant Colonel Michaelis wanted to know if the canal bridge had been taken. "Lieutenant Colonel Cole at that time was agitated because the strafing by the fighter planes was hitting his positions as well as those of the Germans. He was also upset because he had just lost his radio operator. 
T/5 John Fitzgerald describes the loss of his buddy. "T/5 Robert Doran, Cole's radio operator, was killed shortly before Colonel Cole. Doran was occupying a foxhole with me. As enemy fire was extremely heavy, both Colonel Cole and I repeatedly asked him to stay down. However, this interfered with his radio reception. He repeatedly got up from the hole, completely exposing himself to enemy fire, so he could send an receive critical messages. He died in the middle of sending a message."
Responding to regimental S-2 Sgt. Graham Armstrong's query as to the status of the highway bridge south of Best, Cole had matters of more importance at the moment. PFC Richard Ladd, who had been in the company of Sergeant Armstrong, described the scene: "Undoubtedly due to the ixigency of his battalions' situation Cole exclaimed, 'To hell with the bridge!' or stronger words to that effect. Almost simultaneously, he leaped out of his foxhole and ran several yards out into an open area to more effectively display an orange parachute panel for recognition by the fighter bombers. He was struck down at that moment by a German bullet. This was possibly the most devastating rifle shot of the war for the 502nd. 
Fitzgerald continued his story: "September 18th was one of the darkest days for the 3rd Battalion. The battalion had unknowingly come across a very large group of the enemy, who were trying to make their escape back to Germany by train. They were part of the armies retreating across Belgium and France. At the town of Best, they were ordered to stop and fight....Colonel Cole decided that the only option left to him was to call for air support. When our P-47 fighters arrived, all hell broke loose as they started to strafe the area. He was becoming increasingly concerned for the safety of his men. He ordered and supervised the setting off of orange smoke pots to our front. "As the planes continued their havoc, his concerns increased. He decided to go into an open field to lay out a group of orange panels as additional precaution. Just before he started towards the field h sent me to locate a jeep that was a short distance away. It was loaded with ammunition. We had been waiting for its arrival as our supppy of ammo was only gone a few minutes. When I returned, I saw a group of men standing near the edge of the field. As I came closer, I saw the colonel's body on the ground. Kneeling down beside him, I looked up at the battalion's surgeon and asked, 'Why don't you do something for him?' He replied, 'I'm sorry, John, there is nothing I can do for him now.' He had been shot by a sniper hidden in a house about a hundred yards from the field. We knew we had lost so much more than a battalion commander that day." 
Picture: 14-10-2016
Picture: 16-07-2016
Picture: 16-07-2016
Sources: wikipedia, website www.fieldsofhonor-database.com, 'D-Day Then and Now', 'Operation Market Garden Then and Now'  and 'Hell's Highway'


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