Iron Mike – Gruntworks Contributing Blogger
Suck it in and get cozy motherfuckers! Bring it in tight! Today we’re going to learn about a goddamn American hero that hoisted his brass-ones high and brought glory eternal to the Airborne in the most American way possible; killin’ Nazis. There are those in this country these days that glorify the Third Reich and the Socialist ideology of racial superiority it espoused, and I got a bone and a .308 to pick with those fuckers. Socialism is the ideology envy promoted by failure and fueled by hatred. Socialism – whether you put “National”, or “Soviet”, or “Democratic” in front of it – has no place in these United States. Not while this Red-Blooded Barrel-Chested Freedom Fighter stands on it. As a Red-Blooded Barrel-Chested Freedom Fighting American man, my job is to motivate you shitheads not to fall into the ideological traps of these limp-wristed wannabe Brownshirts or their gender-bending catamite Commie opponents at some massive display of anti-Patriotism over some bullshit issue no one ever gave a shit about before complaining became cool for some fucking reason. Today’s story is about a man among men among men. Men join the Infantry. Men among men in the Infantry volunteer for the Airborne. Men among men among men in the Infantry, LEAD the Airborne! Airborne All the Fucking Way! Today’s story is about Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Cole and how he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor on June 10th, 1944.
Robert Cole was born to an Army Physician, Colonel Clarence F. Cole, and his wife Clara on March 19th, 1915 at Fort Sam Houston, TX. His early childhood was by all accounts fairly normal for growing up in the Great Depression years, and he managed to graduate High School without Polio. He briefly enlisted in the Army in 1934, but received an Honorable Discharge in 1935 upon accepting an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Graduating from the Point in 1939, Cole married his sweetheart miss Ally Mae Wilson and was shipped off to his first duty station; Fort Lewis, Washington. Life in the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest must have been boring and service with the 15th Infantry Regiment lacked that certain prestige that all fighting men aspire to. So Second Lieutenant Cole applied for voluntary service in a new experimental form of warfare in 1940; the Paratroopers.
Service in the United States Army’s fledgling Airborne Corps proved to be an excellent career move for Cole. In March of 1941, he ceased to be a disgusting Leg and earned his Jump Wings. As was one of only a handful of qualified officers in the new Airborne Infantry doctrine, Cole was about to rise rapidly through the ranks. A standout among his peers, Cole would go from being a Second Lieutenant in 1941, to a Lieutenant Colonel in 1944. As the Airborne Battalions were expanded into Regiments (Back then Battalions fought together as Regiments instead of under a Brigade like they do now) experienced officers that were qualified Paratroopers were rarer than unicorn turds, which meant that in order to fill senior leadership positions in new Airborne Divisions like the 17th, 82nd, and 101st… Junior Officers were getting promotions quick, fast, and in a hurry. By the time Pearl Harbor happened Cole was already a Captain looking at Major, and by the time the planning for Operation Overlord had begun he was commanding the 3rd Battalion of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He was 28 years old when he took command.
We all know the stories of June 6th, 1944. Especially if you followed the HBO Miniseries Band of Brothers. That show followed the exploits of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment… and because of it the last time you did MOUT training some asshole yelled “We’re taking Carentan!” right before you started your mock assault. What you probably don’t know is what happened between June 6th and the assault on Carentan, France on June 12th of 1944; and that story, gentlemen, is worth telling…
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cole landed – like most of the 101st Airborne Division – off his designated drop zone in the early hours of D-Day in the Normandy Bocage country on the Contentin Peninsula. He rounded up a handful of paratroopers and like many other leaders, began making his way to his rendezvous point engaging any German patrols his small group encountered on the way. Cole’s Battalion was templated as the 101st Division Reserve, and after linking up with as many men as he could muster; Cole took his 3rd Battalion to the Division HQ staging area for further instructions. Weather, German Anti-Aircraft fire, and good old fashioned shitty luck mean that by the 8th and 9th of June most of the units were still not where they were supposed to be to achieve their objectives. As men and equipment were being pushed inland from Omaha and Utah beaches, critical road junctions had to be seized from the Germans to prevent a counterattack pushing the invasion force back into the sea with one fell swoop. Opposite the allied invasion force was some of Nazi Germany’s most experienced commanders including Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and the battle-hardened German troops of the 7th Army, 5th Panzer Army, and Army Group B – Commanded by Rommel himself. One of these critical highway junctions leading inland was the small French town of Carentan. This town, besides being a strategic road junction, also commanded the high ground over the Douve and Madeleine rivers which formed a natural barrier to the Americans trying to seize it. Inside the town was the 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment, outside the town was a series of 4 bridges that had to be taken if any assault on the town were to be possible. Taking those bridges was the task given to LTC Cole’s 3rd Battalion, Five-Oh-Deuce. On June 10th, he was given the order by the 101st Airborne Division Commander to seize the highway (Highway Number 13 or N13) along the causeway into Carentan and continue the attack into town if possible.
3rd Battalion was immediately under heavy German resistance as it traveled along the raised causeway from St. Come du Mont to seize the bridges leading to Carentan. The first bridge was damaged by shell fire and could not be repaired by engineers in time to carry out the attack. A makeshift foot bridge was created from rope and spare pieces of wood that only a few paratroopers could cross at a time in between the German shelling that came from the area surrounding Carentan. Enemy fire picked up again as 1st Platoon from D Co. 3/502nd began to lead the battalion over the bridge. Any time men clustered up or stood too high intense German machine gun and mortar fire targeted the narrow choke point. Men were forced to cross one-at-a-time with nearly 1-minute intervals between.
The second bridge was seized much the same way. Small infiltrations of men pushing across and dispersing as fast as possible, while Germans harassed them with machine gun, mortar, and sniper fire. As the day went on the Germans began to target the choke points with the dreaded Flak 36 88mm artillery piece. Shells splashed in the waters of the Douve River in front of the men as they waited to cross. The battalion was moving at a crawl… any man that stood too high would be cut down by enemy fire and so would any group of men that dared bunch up at the bridges. Cole’s battalion was in a bad spot with no easy way out and casualties were mounting.
After taking the third bridge Cole’s men were exhausted and still 150 yards away from the fourth bridge. The Germans held positions in a farmhouse overlooking the flooded land between the third and fourth bridges along the causeway. An emplaced machine gun nest held the other end of the last bridge behind a sandbag bunker. Cole stopped his battalion for the night along an embankment near Bridge #3 that offered some cover and concealment for his men and allowed the stragglers still moving forward to catch up under cover of darkness. During the night, the Luftwaffe bombed and strafed his position causing severe casualties to I Company and taking them out of the fight. Of Cole’s original battalion of 400 some-odd men, 265 were present and in fighting shape. He had to do something. Calling together his remaining officers Cole laid out his plan. His battalion was not going to stay out in the open to be cut up by machine guns and artillery like sitting ducks. They were going to the one place there was no enemy fire – and that was where the enemy was standing. They were going forward and he was going to lead them come Hell or High Water… and they had about all they could handle of both already. The remaining 265 men of 3/502nd would infiltrate one-by-one past an anti-tank obstacle blocking the road (known as a “Belgian Gate”) under the cover of darkness and attack the last bridge at first light. Then came the single most terrifying order any Infantryman of the past 300 years could possibly hear – two words: “Fix Bayonets!”
The word went down the line and a haggard batch of paratroopers four days into what they were told was to be a 3-day fight drew their blades and fixed them to the ends of their rifles. At around 0600 Cole radioed in the higher and initiated a smoke screen on the German positions (earlier fire missions had failed to silence them) provided by the Battleship USS Texas in the English Channel. In a booming Texas voice that rivaled the 14-inch shells Cole called out to his men: “These goose-stepping Heinies think they know how to fight a war. We’re about to learn ’em a lesson!” At 0615 just after sunrise, Cole leaped from his position sprinting towards the Germans blowing his whistle and firing his .45 pistol. The entire battalion charging behind him.
The Germans unleashed hell on the charging Americans as they crossed the open fields flooded by the Germans and muddied by bombs and artillery. The Americans suffered dozens of casualties in the opening minutes of the attack… but Cole pressed on all the way to the last bridge; personally leading the charge with a rifle he took from a fallen paratrooper. He leads his men into hand-to-hand combat with the German defenders, sticking cold American steel into the rib cages of jack-booted fascists and driving the surviving Fallschirmjäger from their machine gun positions beyond the last bridge into the farmhouse and surrounding orchard. The Nazis finest paratroopers got everything they gave the men of the Screaming Eagles and more. N13 was open to Carentan at huge cost to the Five-Oh-Deuce. Of the 265 men that participated in the attack, 132 were still standing. LTC Cole radioed higher to notify them the causeway was open, but he was combat ineffective to carry the attack into the town. He directed his men to establish a hasty defensive perimeter and held on through a series of counter attacks by the German paratroopers while relief was moved up the causeway behind them. The last German counterattack was broken by American artillery that nearly landed on the men of 3/502nd. German artillery rained down on the following unit: 1st Battalion, 502nd PIR and caused significant casualties by the time they had crossed the last bridge. They took up positions on Cole’s flank and the 506th PIR would begin the assault on the town early the following day. By 0730 on June 12th, 1944 Carentan had been seized by the Easy Company and the 506th. The main German force had run short of ammunition and abandoned it the night prior after facing Cole’s Battalion. The portion of Highway 13 between St. Come du Mont and Carentan was declared “Purple Heart Lane” for the high numbers of casualties there.
LTC Robert G. Cole would earn the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in leading his battalion in a bayonet charge to dislodge the stubborn German defenses outside Carentan. He would not live to receive it. During Operation Market Garden on September 18th, 1944 Cole would personally go out ahead of his unit to place marker panels signaling their position to P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers providing close air support. As LTC Cole raised his head to scan for the planes, he was shot and killed by a German sniper. Two weeks later with his widow and 2-year-old son looking on; Cole’s mother Clara received his Medal of Honor in a ceremony at his childhood home of Fort Sam Houston. The citation reads:
“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.”
LTC Robert G. Cole lies eternal with many of his men at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, The Netherlands. His actions were immortalized in the painting “Strike Attack” by James Dietz.
You should take away several things here. First, Americans stab Nazis in the fucking chest not fly their fucking flags on US soil. Second, you never stop leading from the front no matter what. Your rank does not privilege you away from sacrificing with your soldiers. You may not be a Lieutenant Colonel at the age of 29, but you can damn sure be the leader your soldiers need you to be. Out in front at PT. Sucking exhaust fumes with them in the motorpool doing vehicle maintenance. Staying up at night on watch instead of sleeping in the patrol base. LTC Cole’s men loved him for leading them out of the worst day in their lives and if you want yours to love you as a leader you have to show them you care and that you’re willing to sacrifice for them. Go be a man among men among men today. All you disgusting Legs: go train up for jump school and cure yourself of your disgusting birth defect. Fucking Legs… The rest of you; get out there and get some goddamn PT in, you can’t lead from the front and kill Nazis, or Communists, or jihadist terrorists, or any of the other anti-American ideologies floating around out there with degenerate millennials these days if you’re a fat piece of shit. Airborne All the Way!