Till June 1944 to September 1943 the whole of the 101 Airborne Division was sent to England to prepare for the invasion of Europe. At that time it was still nine months before the fight would actually begin for them.
In early 1944 all the attention and energy
was focused on the readiness of the troops for the invasion of the continent. On the eve of the big day - D-Day -
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a close friend of Robert Cole and now commander of the Allied forces, visited the airport where 101 Airborne Division would fly from. Robert gave him a personal tour.
101 Airborne Division They were dropped just behind the German defenses, along the Normandy coast. 101 Airborne Division was assigned to attack the roads to Utah Beach, and then to attack the German artillery and to take the bridges over the river Douve. Although the paratroopers Although the paratroopers scattered as they landed Cole was able to gather his men together and they reached their targets. The toughest mission, however, was yet to come...
After successfully jumping on D-Day, 101 Airborne Division received the order to advance toward the strategically located Carentan. To get there 502 PIR needed to cross four bridges. In addition, they were constantly under fire from German troops. Many soldiers were killed along this stretch, giving it the nickname of Purple Heart Lane.
After the last bridge Robert Cole and his men were again under fire from the Germans. There was only one way out: attack and make the best of it. Cole ordered his men to fix bayonets and they continued the attack in the direction of the German defense. This action is recorded and referred to as Cole’s Charge.
Cole and his men managed to reach the German defenses and to eventually overpower them. But the losses were enormous: in one day 502 PIR lost 270 of the 400 men. Robert Cole received posthumously, the Medal of Honor for his heroic action.
The success of Cole’s charge was strategically important for the American advance. The town of Carentan was taken in the days after June 11, 1944. After the
mission Robert Cole gave an interview to the press.
He and his crew of 502 PIR stayed in Normandy until July. Then 101 Airborne Division returned to England, first to unwind, and then to get ready for the next operation.
We know that Robert Cole was a hard taskmaster. After receiving reinforcements the men were ready for a new challenge, which in September soon presented itself in the form of Operatie Market Garden.
On September 17,1944 the largest airborne operation ever was launched: Operation Market Garden. That day a grand total of 41,628 paratroopers were dropped.
The men of 101 Airborne Division were dropped between Eindhoven and Veghel and they had the task of taking several bridges, roads and towns. 502 PIR was dropped at Son and (among others) were to take a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal in Best.
The 3rd Battalion 502nd PIR, commanded by Robert Cole, had as their
first task to secure the drop zone ,so that subsequent drops could be made in safety. That was easy.
On September 18, Robert Cole received information that H-battalion was in trouble near Best, so he decided to go their to offer help.
To asssist in facing the German defense, he enlisted the help of P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. When they accidentally began shooting at American positions, Robert Cole ran into a field to set up the orange identification markers, the Air Recognition Panels so that the pilots would know where the Americans were located.
Robert Cole stood with
his hand over his eyes to shield them from the sun, in order to see the planes. That moment was fatal. As he looked up he was hit by a shot in his head from a German rifle. He died on the spot.
Robert Cole's death was the biggest setback 502 PIR suffered during the war. There was no better battalion commander.
For his heroic deeds in Normandy Rober Cole received - unfortunately posthumously - the Medal of Honor, de Purple Heart and the Frennch Croix de Guerre award. The Medal of Honor was presented to his wife and their two year old son at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Robert Cole was buried in Margraten. He found his final resting place in Block B, row 15, grave 27. Since September 18, 2009 a monument to commeorate Robert stands in Best, near the spot where he died.