BUGLER TO BATTELER “The Fighting Field Musician” – Sergeant Darrell S. Cole, USMCR, WWII, Medal of Honor (1920-1945)

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Sgt. Darrell S. Cole, Medal of Honor, WWII, Iwo Jima

BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D.  My guess is that unless you are related to him, not many people remember Darrell Samuel Cole.   However most of us that are 20 years or older would remember the USS Cole bombing. On the 12th of October 2000 the U.S.Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Cole was harbored and being refueled in the Yemen port of Aden. Seventeen American sailors were killed, and 39 were injured.


The USS Cole is the namesake of Darrell S. Cole, a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima and received a Medal of Honor for his actions there.

Cole was born July 20, 1920 in Flat River Missouri.  He attended high school in Esther, Missouri.  Flat River and Esther are now known as Park Hills. Cole graduated in 1938.  While in high school Cole learned to play the French horn. This is what led to him becoming a bugler when he joined the Marines.

When Cole graduated from high school, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), where he became an assistant forestry clerk and assistant educational advisor for his company. He left after one year and he went to Detroit, Michigan where he worked at a company that made engine gaskets.

On August 25, 1941, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Following United States Marine Corps Recruit Training at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina, he was appointed to the Field Music School for training as a Marine Corps Field Musician (a bugler). He was unhappy with being a field musician because he had joined the Marine Corps to fight. He applied for a change in rating to be a machine-gunner, but was refused due to the shortage of buglers. After completing field music school, he was transferred to the 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

After completing his first overseas tour he returned to the United States in February 1943 and was assigned to the First Battalion, 23rd Marines, 4th Marine Division at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. When his unit moved to California he again asked for relief as a field musician and for permission to perform line duties. Again, due to the shortage of buglers in the Marine Corps, his request was denied.  Although rated as a bugler he fought as a machine-gunner in several major campaigns of World War II including Guadalcanal, Tinian, Saipan. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1944.  On his fourth request to change his rating to machine-gunner the request was approved, 4 months before he was sent into combat again on Iwo Jima.

The Battle of Iwo Jima was fought between the United States and the Japanese Empire in February and March 1945 during the Pacific Campaign of World War II. Ground fighting on the island took place over approximately 35 days, lasting from the landings of February 19 to a final Japanese charge the morning of March 26, 1945. The U.S. invasion, known as Operation Detachment, was charged with the mission of capturing the islands airfields. The Japanese positions on the island were heavily fortified, with vast bunkers, hidden artillery, and 18 kilometers (11 mi) of tunnels.

On February 19, Sergeant Cole led his machine gun section ashore in the D-Day assault of Iwo Jima. Moving forward with the initial assault wave, a hail of fire from two enemy emplacements halted his section’s advance. Sergeant Cole personally destroyed them with hand grenades. 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 destroyed by a machine-gunner in Cole’s squad. When his machine guns jammed, armed only with a pistol and one hand grenade, Sergeant Cole made a one-man attack against the two remaining gun emplacements. 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 enemy strong points.

Upon returning to his own squad, he was killed by an enemy grenade. As a result of his one-man attack, Sergeant Cole’s company could move forward against the fortifications and attain their ultimate objective.  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

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 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 information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.





  1. Marine musicians remember Sgt Cole! The Quantico Marine Band hall is named for him and there is a memorial plaque at the School of Music in Virginia Beach. Semper Fi!

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