Halftone reproduction of a photograph, copied from the official publication Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy, page 168. Darrell S. Cole received the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life on 19 February 1945, during the Battle of Iwo Jima. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Veterans Voice: Darrell Samuel Cole

Darrell was very proud to be a Marine and died fighting for his country and the Marine Corps. He exemplified what it meant to be a Marine.

Darrell Samuel Cole was born in Flat River, Missouri, on July 20, 1920. He was one of 12 children. When Darrell was in high school his dad was injured and no longer able to work. Darrell was required to find an after-school job to help support the family. Darrell became the school janitor, but still found time to join in extracurricular activities and maintain good grades.

After high school, Darrell worked at a number of different jobs, trying to find something he really enjoyed. Eventually, in August of 1941, he joined the United States Marine Corps. He took basic training at Parris Island. As a musician, he ended up being assigned to the Field Musician School and became a bugler. He was not happy in this role and kept applying for machine gunner training, finally making it at the 4th request.

Little did he realize that a Navy destroyer would eventually be named in his honor, or that he would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. The USS Cole, still in service, was named after Darrell.

He was assigned to the 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, and was deployed to New Zealand where he helped prepare for the coming invasion of Guadalcanal. He reported that New Zealand was a cultural shock. Most teenagers had false teeth due to the lack of minerals in the New Zealand water. The New Zealand accents were a difficult adjustment as well.

In August of 1942, troops embarked by ship, unaware of their destination. They arrived at Coral Island where they spent 3 days practicing land invasions. Back on board the ship, they began preparing for battle, sharpening bayonets, cleaning rifles, packing and re-packing combat gear. At 2:30 everyone was awake, they ate breakfast, said goodbyes to sailors. Each man had their face blackened by cork, had a belt full of ammunition, and two bandoliers of additional ammo, and 2 hand grenades.

They had been undetected up to this point, but were soon spotted by a Japanese observation plane and soon they were under attack by Japanese fighter planes. The noise was deafening with anti-aircraft fire. The sun had not yet risen in the east.

Everyone was loaded on Higgins boats for the hour-long ride to land with the sky alive with planes. At land they went over the side on nets filling the landing boats, then heading for shore at top speed. They passed numerous U.S. ships which were bombarding the landing zone, flames shooting out a hundred feet or more with each round.

The 5th Marines landed first and found no opposition at first. The Japanese were surprised and left breakfast on the tables in their urgency to escape. After about 2 hours they were bombed by Japanese planes which came back later for a second bombing run.

Their mission was to circle behind the airport and then capture it. However, the 5th Marines, finding no opposition, had already captured it. They set up defensive positions along the Lenora River. About 11:30 on the night of August 20th, there was a landing of top caliber Japanese Imperial Black Dragon troops who joined with Japanese already on the island. That Japanese unit had made 16 prior successful landings including the Wake Islands, Timor, the Philippines, and China.

Intense fighting ensued. In two days of battle, 1462 Japanese were killed while the Americans lost 28 men and 72 wounded. Japanese bodies were stacked 3-5 feet deep on the beach. One Marine killed three Japanese with a machete, looked down at what he had done, and fainted away.

Following the big battle, tanks were sent in to knock out the remaining sniper nests and machine guns. The first Grumman planes arrived at the airbase, but there were not enough American planes to fight off the Japanese bombers and the men were pinned down in foxholes for days. During that time their only food was rice captured from the Japanese, and full of little white worm. They were served one dollop of rice, twice a day, worms and all.

Cole said it was a “helpless feeling” in the foxholes, being bombed and unable to do anything about it. Eleven men in his company were killed in their foxholes. Later they found the bodies of native islanders tied to trees and mutilated, and a few Americans as well.  

The Marines were there for 4 and a half months, with very little food or clothing. There was almost daily rain, with hot and muggy days and unrelenting swarms of mosquitoes. Conditions were miserable and at one point all 1500 men came down with severe diarrhea.

Darrell finally made it home in February of 1943. He was subsequently reassigned to the 23rd Marines. He continued to apply as a machine gunner and was repeatedly turned down. The 23rd soon shipped out to the Marshall Islands. He took part in the battles of Kwajalein, Tinian, and Saipan. He quickly gained a reputation as an experienced combat veteran, and eventually received his wish to be assigned as a machine gunner.

During a battle his squad leader was killed. Although wounded, Darrell took command of the squad. He earned a Bronze Star for this action, and in November of 1944 was promoted to sergeant.

On February 19th, 1945, Darrell and B Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines landed in the 3rd wave on Iwo Jima.  They immediately came under fire from a nest of enemy pillboxes about 250 yards inland. Marine Captain LaVerne Wagner commented that his troops could not move 25 yards in any direction without coming under fire.

Darrell took it upon himself to destroy the nearest pillboxes. He rushed back and forth from the enemy position, taking additional grenades. He had already destroyed two pillboxes and went back forward by himself armed with only a pistol and grenades. He destroyed a third pillbox, but immediately after then killed by an enemy grenade. He was recognized for his heroism. Sergeant Clarence Harron said, “He made it possible for us to get inland off the beach and had it not been for his actions, many more Americans would have died”.

Darrell was very proud to be a Marine and died fighting for his country and the Marine Corps. He exemplified what it meant to be a Marine.

On April 17, 1947, Darrell posthumously received the Medal of Honor. He is buried in Park View Cemetery in Farmington, MO. In 1995, the destroyer USS Cole (DDG-67) was named in his honor.


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