Pacific Valor Series: Darrell Cole

Margaret Dudley

Each year at the Pacific Combat Zone, the National Museum of the Pacific War’s Living History Program holds four presentations of Pacific Valor—a battle re-enactment program that focuses on real life examples of heroism from the Pacific War. In 2024, presentations focused on two individuals, one Marine and one Soldier who gave everything for their nation. During the March and May presentations, Pacific Valor will honor the heroism of Marine Corps Sergeant Darrell Cole.

Darrell Cole was born in Flat River Missouri in 1920. Coming of age at the tail end of the Great Depression, Cole found early employment as a forester with the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies. In August 1941, with world tensions on the rise, Cole joined the United States Marine Corps as a Bugler.

Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.

Despite his ability with the bugle, Darrell Cole sought to give more for his country, especially after the war began. Shipped off to Guadalcanal with the storied 1st Marine Division, he repeatedly requested to be moved from his duties as a musician to his preferred battle implement—the machine gun. After his request was denied, Cole took matters into his own hands, repeatedly abandoning the bugle to take up a machine gun and join the battle. At Guadalcanal, Roi-Namur, and Kwajalein the “Fighting Field Musician” rained machine gun fire, not musical notes, down on the Japanese.

Cole’s commanders were impressed with his abilities and assigned him to lead the machine gun section for the upcoming battles in the Marianas. On Saipan and Tinian, Cole continued to show excellence in battle and earned a Bronze Star after assuming leadership of his squad when their commander was killed.

The Battle of Iwo Jima, 1945. National Archives photo

Finally promoted to Sergeant, he was set to lead a machine gun section of the 4th Marine Division as they stormed the black sand beaches on the fortress island of Iwo Jima. Cole cleared two bunkers before the advance of his unit was held up by a complex of three Japanese positions. Realizing that unit would be decimated if a tenacious assault was not launched, Sergeant Cole advanced alone towards the enemy position armed only with a single hand grenade and a pistol. Hurling the grenade into the bunker, Cole quickly returned to his own position and armed himself with another explosive. Making the trip a total of three times, Sergeant Cole single-handedly destroyed all three Japanese positions in the complex, clearing the way for his unit to continue the advance.

Tragically, Sergeant Cole was killed on returning to his position the final time. Through his valiant spirit and initiative, Cole maintained the advance against the Japanese positions, enabling one of the most important victories of the Pacific War. Initially buried at the 4th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima, he was reinterred at Park View Cemetery in Farmington Missouri.

The USS Cole, an Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer. US Naval History and Heritage Command photo.

It would be several years before Sergeant Cole would be recognized with his nation’s highest honor. In 1947, a grateful nation bestowed the medal to his widow. There would be more recognition for Sergeant Cole in the 1990’s with the Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer, USS Cole named in honor of this hard-fighting Marine.

Click here for information on our Pacific Valor events honoring Sgt. Darrell Cole.

Further Reading:

All Hands, "The Fighting Field Music"

Congressional Medal of Honor Society, "Darrell Samuel Cole"

Marine Corps University, "Sergeant Darrell Samuel Cole"

Naval History and Heritage Command, "Cole, Darrell S."

Naval History and Heritage Command, "USS Cole"


Aaron Shuman, Museum Experience Coordinator, National Museum of the Pacific War