- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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."