Marine Corps Sgt. Darrell S.Cole was one of 22 Marines who were awarded the Medal of Honor for the pitched combat that took place on the tiny volcanic island of Iwo Jima. He was originally assigned as a bugler but fought four times to change his rating, fighting in earlier battles as a machine gunner before being given a machinegun section. He was killed in action on February 19, 1945, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism against the Japanese. The Navy named a destroyer, the USS Cole (DDG-67) after him.
Iwo Jima was part of the Japanese Empire and was an important strategic location as it was within fighter range of Japan. That would mean that P-51 fighters would be able to escort B-29 bombers to and from their targets. And bombers damaged over Japan could land on Iwo Jima instead of trying to fly all the way back to Tinian. The Japanese knew this and heavily fortified it with hidden bunkers and tunnels that crisscrossed the tiny (8-square mile) island.
Cole was born on July 20, 1920, in Esther, Missouri. He graduated from high school in 1938 in Esther and was active in sports, photography, and music.
Cole enlisted in the Marine Corps on August 25, 1941. Following boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, he was appointed to the Field Music School for training as a Marine Corps Field Musician (a bugler), because of his expertise with the French Horn in high school. Plus the Corps had a big shortage of buglers at that time.
Because he had joined the Marines to fight, Cole sought to change to a Rifleman from a Field Musician. He had applied for a change in rating but was refused due to the shortage of buglers. He completed instruction and was transferred to the First Marine Regiment, First Marine Division.
On August 7, 1942, he went ashore at Guadalcanal as part of the first American offensive of World War II. During the battle, due to the number of men getting wounded, Cole filled in as a Machine Gunner in the absence of the regular gunner.
Cole returned to the United States in February 1943 where he joined the First Batallion, Twenty-Third Marines, a part of the Fourth Marine Division at Camp Lejune, North Carolina. As the unit moved to California in preparation for combat he again asked for a change of rating; he was again denied.
During the Fourth Division’s fighting in the Kwajalein Atoll, Cole, once again stepped into action, when other Marines went down, and filled in as machinegunner. The fighting was so fierce that only 51 Japanese troops out of 3,500 remained alive after the Atoll was secured.
When the Marines landed on Saipan in the Mariana Islands, Cole was finally assigned to a machine-gun unit and was designated as a machine gun section leader. During the battle, his squad leader was killed and Cole assumed command of the entire squad. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds suffered during the battle and the Bronze Star Medal for “resolute leadership, indomitable fighting spirit and tenacious determination in the face of terrific opposition.”
Soon after the battle of Saipan, Cole again led his squad ashore in the invasion of the neighboring islands of Tinian just a few days after the invasion began. He was known as “The Fighting Field Musician.”
After the Marianas campaigns, he resubmitted his request for a change of rating for the third time. Cole pointed out his combat experience and combat record: he felt that he would be of more benefit to the Marine Corps performing line duties than being a bugler. This time his request was approved. He was redesignated Corporal “line” and was subsequently promoted to Sergeant in November 1944.
On February 19, 1945, Sergeant Cole led his machine gun section ashore in the D-Day assault of Iwo Jima. His section was on the initial assault wave when concentrated fire from two enemy emplacements halted his section’s advance. Cole personally moved forward and destroyed them with hand grenades.
His unit once again began to advance until it was pinned down for a second time by enemy fire from three Japanese machinegun emplacements. One of these emplacements was silenced by Cole’s machinegun section. When his machine guns jammed, armed only with a pistol and one hand grenade, Cole made a one-man attack against the two remaining gun emplacements.
He was forced to return to his own lines twice for additional grenades and continued his solo attack under heavy enemy fire until both of the Japanese strong points were eliminated. However, as he was returning to his own squad, a Japanese soldier retaliated and threw a grenade of his own; Cole was killed instantly by the blast.
Sergeant Cole was initially buried in the 4th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima, but at the request of his father, his remains were returned to the United States to be buried in Parkview Cemetery, Farmington, Missouri.
Medal of Honor Citation:
Cole was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, which was presented to his widow on April 17, 1947.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Leader of a Machine-gun Section of Company B, First Battalion, Twenty-Third Marines, Fourth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the assault on Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, 19 February 1945.
Assailed by a tremendous volume of small-arms, mortar and artillery fire as he advanced with one squad of his section in the initial assault wave, Sergeant Cole boldly led his men up the sloping beach toward Airfield Number One despite the blanketing curtain of flying shrapnel and, personally destroying with hand grenades two hostile emplacements which menaced the progress of his unit, continued to move forward until a merciless barrage of fire emanating from three Japanese pillboxes halted the advance.
Instantly placing his one remaining machine gun in action, he delivered a shattering fusillade and succeeded in silencing the nearest and most threatening emplacement before his weapon jammed and the enemy, reopening fire with knee mortars and grenades, pinned down his unit for the second time.
Shrewdly gauging the tactical situation and evolving a daring plan of counterattack, Sergeant Cole, armed solely with a pistol and one grenade, coolly advanced alone to the hostile pillboxes. Hurling his one grenade at the enemy in the sudden, swift attack, he quickly withdrew, returned to his own lines for additional grenades and again advanced, attacked, and withdrew.
With enemy guns still active, he ran the gauntlet of slashing fire a third time to complete the total destruction of the Japanese strong point and the annihilation of the defending garrison in this final assault. Although instantly killed by an enemy grenade as he returned to his squad, Sergeant Cole had eliminated a formidable Japanese position, thereby enabling his company to storm the remaining fortifications, continue the advance and seize the objective.
By his dauntless initiative, unfaltering courage and indomitable determination during a critical period of action, Sergeant Cole served as an inspiration to his comrades, and his stouthearted leadership in the face of almost certain death sustained and enhanced the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
The USS Cole (DDG-67), an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis-equipped guided-missile destroyer was named for Sergeant Cole. Cole is homeported in NS Norfolk, Virginia. The ship was built by Ingalls Shipbuilding and delivered to the Navy on March 11, 1996.