Editor's Note: October 12, 2020 will mark the 20th anniversary on the attack of USS Cole. For the Navy, and Destroyers especially, there is a lot in a ship's name and the heroism, resilience and warfighting exhibited by the Sailors that fateful day truly lived up to their namesake, Sergeant Darrell S. Cole, The Fighting Music. Today, Sgt Cole's valor and sacrifice is remembered by a new generation of Marines and Sailors.
I learned about Sergeant Darrell S. Cole while attending the Naval School of Music, the primary Military Occupational Specialty school for Navy and Marine Corps Musicians. His picture is on the quarterdeck of the school, but I barely noticed his picture until I took the time to learn about his inspiring story. Up until that point, I had considered myself a pretty decent history buff on all things Marine Corps, which included Medal of Honor recipients. I was shocked to find out one of those recipients had been a Marine Musician himself and that Cole's hometown was barely an hour away from my own.
Darrell Cole graduated from high school in 1938 from the small town of Esther (now Park Hills), Missouri. Three years after graduation, due to the national emergency surrounding WWII, he enlisted into the Marine Corps Reserve on August 25th, 1941. Having played French Horn in his youth, Cole was seen as the best candidate to attend Field Music School and was then assigned to 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, where he soon deployed and landed with his fellow Marines on Guadalcanal, August 7th, 1942.
Initially, Field Music First Class (FMFC) Cole was not happy about being a musician, saying that he had joined a fighting outfit to fight, not blow a horn. However, the Field Musician seized an opportunity to prove his worth in combat, taking over for a wounded machine gunner in his unit and performed well enough to receive praise from his Commanding Officer. After Guadalcanal, FMFC Cole put in a transfer to become a regular machine gunner, but sadly he was denied the Marine Corps was short on field musicians.
In 1943, FMFC Cole joined 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, and once again took up the duties of a machine gunner in the Battles of Kwajalein and Saipan. During the battles, FMFC Cole not only became a machine gun section leader, but he was also awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, gaining the moniker of "The Fighting Field Music." For a third time, FMFC Cole put in a request to assume regular duties and was at last, given his combat record and experience, approved! He was then promoted to corporal and soon after to sergeant.
During the Battle of Iwo Jima, February 19th, 1945, Sgt Cole led his section onto the volcanic beaches before being halted by multiple enemy positions. Armed with only his pistol and hand grenades, Sgt Cole single-handedly took out four positions under heavy fire. While returning to his squad's position, Sgt Cole was killed instantly by an enemy grenade. For his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity" and "stouthearted leadership in the face of almost certain death" Sgt Darrell S. Cole was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and was buried on Iwo Jima, before being returned to the United States and re-interred in Park View Cemetery near Farmington, Missouri.
In 1996, the Navy commissioned the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Cole. In late 2000, while the USS Cole was refueling in Yemen, she was attacked by multiple suicide bombers. Seventeen U.S. Navy Sailors were killed and 37 injured. However, even after the devastating attack, Cole was redeployed and is still operational to this day. USS Cole lives up to her namesake, sharing the same resilience and fighting spirit demonstrated by Sgt Cole.
I joined the Marine Corps at 18-years-old out of St. Charles, Missouri. While my initial goal was to be an infantryman, I took the opportunities that were given to me and instead enlisted as a musician, hoping to find the perfect balance between warfighting and musical development. Now, nearly a year into my career, Sgt Cole's story speaks volumes to myself and fellow musicians who chose to serve the way we do. There is a fighting spirit that the Marine Corps instills into each and every Marine, regardless of MOS or rank, which has been on display for hundreds of years. Active or Reserves, Enlisted or Officer, we all share a unique willingness to fight those who choose to oppose us. Sgt Cole's story reminds me of why I joined - to fight for country if given the opportunity. To me, he is the pinnacle of a Marine Musician - proving that we are all Marines first. Sgt Cole can be used as the prime reason "Combat Readiness" is stressed at all levels of the Corps. At any moment, we could be asked to take over for a fallen comrade and fight the enemy. MOS proficiency is important, but Sgt Cole proved that no matter who and what you are, uncommon valor and courage can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time.