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Group formed to remember Marine’s sacrifice

FARMINGTON — The wind was blustery and the sky a gun metal gray as a couple dozen people gathered at Parkview Cemetery on the northern edge of Farmington shortly after noon on Saturday. The group had formed to remember the sacrifice made by Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Darrell S. Cole, who was killed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.

First Marine Division Association publicity director William Merritt, formerly of Elvins, emceed the ceremony. While he didn’t serve alongside Cole, a native of Esther, he did serve in the Marines in World War II in the Pacific Theater. He was joined by members of the First Marine Division Association, the George Phillips Detachment Marine Corps League, and the Darrell S. Cole Detachment Marine Corps League, as well as fellow veterans and some members of the Cole family.

The ceremony started with a call to order by Merritt. Several retired Marines, dressed in red jackets, stood near the white marble stone marked “Darrell S. Cole, Medal of Honor” with a cross above and star below the name. On Merritt’s command a gun salute was fired, followed by the playing of Taps by a lone bugler. Next a prayer was offered by a chaplain, and the entire group gathered for the event saluted Sgt. Cole.

Cole was born July 20, 1920. He was raised in Esther, now part of the community of Park Hills. He graduated Esther High School in 1938 and joined the Marine Corps in 1940. He was killed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.

Merritt told how Cole was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, with the award delivered to his widow on April 17, 1947. The emcee then explained how he had requested a flyover during the ceremony, but was unsure if the request had been approved. Next he read the letter that accompanied the Medal of Honor given to Cole some 65 years ago.

According to Merritt, Cole joined the Marine Corps to fight, but after boot camp he was assigned to Field Music School for training as a Marine Corps bugler. He repeatedly requested permission to perform line duties, but was refused due to the shortage of buglers in the Marine Corps at the time.

He was transferred to the First Marine Regiment, First Marine Division, and on August 7, 1942 reached the shores of Guadalcanal for the first American offensive of World War II.

Not too happy in his role of bugler when he had joined a fighting outfit to fight and after acquitting himself meritoriously as a machine gunner in the absence of the regular gunner, he applied for a change in rating but was refused.

Cole fought not only at Guadalcanal, but also as a member of the Fourth Division at Roi-Namur in the Kwajalein Atoll. It was there he went into action as a machine gunner. Four months later when the Division stormed ashore at Saipan, he was designated a machine gun section leader.

During the battle when his squad leader was killed, Cole, although wounded, assumed command of the entire squad and performed in such a way as to be awarded the Bronze Star Medal, along with a Purple Heart for wounds received in action.

A few days after the battle of Saipan, Cole led his squad ashore in the invasion of the neighboring islands of Tinian where he continued to live up to his growing reputation as “The Fighting Field Music.” After the Marianas campaigns he again requested a change of rating and this time his request was approved and he was redesignated Corporal “line” and was subsequently promoted to Sergeant in November of 1944.

On Feb. 19, 1945, Cole led his machine gun section ashore in the D-Day assault of Iwo Jima. Moving forward with the initial assault wave, their advance was halted by a hail of fire from two Japanese emplacements which Sergeant Cole personally destroyed with hand grenades.

According to records, his unit continued to advance until pinned down for a second time by enemy fire from three Japanese gun emplacements. One of these emplacements was silenced by Cole’s machine guns, but it jammed.

Armed only with a pistol and one hand grenade, Sergeant Cole made a one-man attack against the two remaining positions. Twice he returned to his own lines for additional grenades and continued the attack under fierce enemy fire until he had succeeded in destroying the Japanese strong point. Returning to his own squad, he was instantly killed by an enemy grenade.

For his actions Cole was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was returned to the United States and buried in Parkview Cemetery.

Merritt explained that Cole’s bravery was something to be remembered and honored, and to be looked to as an example.

The military would later honor the bravery of the young soldier from Esther, Mo., when they christened the Naval Destroyer USS Cole on April 8, 1995.

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