From his initiative, unfaltering courage, and indomitable determination during World War II, Sgt. Darrell S. Cole served as an inspiration. His leadership in the face of almost certain death sustained and enhanced the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service where he was posthumously awarded the military’s highest decoration for his heroism, the Medal of Honor. Cole was remembered for his sacrifice 50 years later when the Navy christened an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer in his name.
On October 11th the Navy will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attack on the USS Cole (DDG 67), which ultimately took the lives of 17 U.S. Navy Sailors and injured 37 others. Each year we honor and remember the perseverance of those who endured such losses – families, friends, and shipmates – and the sorrow intertwined with the pride of service and their sacrifice.
As the 20th anniversary approaches, we reflect on the ships namesake and revisit the story of the heroic acts of Sgt. Cole.
During the invasion of Iwo Jima on February 19th, 1945, Cole's team was assaulted by a tremendous volume of small-arms, mortar, and artillery fire as they advanced with one squad in the initial wave of the attack.
Despite a blanket of flying shrapnel, his squad destroyed two hostile emplacements with hand grenades and continued moving forward until a merciless barrage of fire from three Japanese guard posts halted their advance. With one remaining machine gun in action, Cole delivered a shattering fusillade and succeeded in silencing the nearest and most threatening emplacement before his weapon jammed.
Cole, armed solely with a pistol and one grenade, advanced alone to the hostile guard post where he hurled one grenade at the enemy in a sudden, swift attack, and then quickly withdrew. Upon returning to his squad for additional grenades, he again advanced, attacked, and withdrew. With enemy guns still active, he ran the gantlet of slashing fire a third time to complete the total destruction of the Japanese strong hold. On returning behind enemy lines, he was instantly killed by a grenade. Through his bravery and personal initiative, Cole single-handedly eliminated a formidable Japanese position, thereby enabling his company to storm the remaining fortifications, continue the advance, and seize the objective.
Born July 20th, 1920, from humble beginnings in Flat River, Missouri, Cole saw employment as a forestry clerk and later a machine operator in Detroit, Michigan, before his enlistment into the United States Marine Corps in 1941.
After completing basic training in Parris Island, South Carolina, he attended Field Music School, where he was then assigned as a bugler. His first assignment was with the 1st Marine Division, where he participated in the Guadalcanal campaign in August 1942, where he performed additional duties as a machine gunner. Following the campaign, Cole requested a transfer to regular duties as a Marine Private First Class but was denied due to the shortage of field musicians.
In February of 1944, after yet another unsuccessful request for occupational transfer, Cole participated in the invasion of Roi-Namur, where he again served as a machine gunner. In June of 1944, during an assault on Saipan, his squad leader was killed during a battle, and Cole assumed command. For his courageous actions during the assault on Saipan, Cole was awarded the Bronze Star and earned the nickname, the fighting field musician.
In November of 1944, a final request for occupational change was requested. His gallant bravery and superior leadership during combat was rewarded with an approved transfer and subsequent promotion to Sgt. Cole was reassigned as the squad leader of machine-gun section, Company B, 4th Marine Division, where he led his team through the invasion of Iwo Jima and sadly lost his life.
Through his inspirational initiative, Cole still service as a reminder of unrelenting determination and bravery in the face of adversity. As we reflect on the namesake of the USS Cole, we also look back and remember the 17 Sailors who lost their lives on October 11th. Their stories live on and will be remembered for their selfless sacrifice while serving to protect our great nation.