Portrait of First Lieutenant Edward B. Cole

Official U.S. Marine Corps photograph
Courtesy of Patricia Mullen, Archivist
Marine Corps University Research Archives

Major Edward Ball Cole USMC

Battalion Commander
(17 Aug 1917 to 10 June 1918)

On duty as member of the Machine Gun Board, Washington, DC, when the United States entered the war. Assigned to 6th Machine Gun Battalion, 4th Brigade of Marines, 2d Division, AEF, as Battalion Commander at the battalion’s initial orgainization on August 17, 1917, at Quantico; promoted to Temporary Major sometime between Aug 17 and Dec 8; sailed for France December 8; wounded June 10, 1918; died of wounds June 18, 1918, near Coulommiers, France.

Engagements: Verdun sector; Chateau-Thierry (Belleau Wood).

Awarded Legion D’Honneur, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Croix de Guerre.

Citation for DSC reads: “In the Bois de Belleau, on June 10th 1918, displayed extraordinary heroism in organizing positions, rallying his men and disposing of his guns, continuing to expose himself fearlessly until he fell. He suffered the loss of his right hand and received wounds in upper arm and both thighs.”

Citation for Navy Cross reads: “In the Bois de Belleau, France, in June 10, 1918, his unusual heroism in leading his company under heavy fire enabled it to fight with exceptional effectiveness. He personally worked fearlessly until he was mortally wounded."

The following are selected letters written by Major Edward Ball Cole, commanding officer of the 6th Machine Gun Battalion, to his wife Mary and to his two sons during his tour of duty in France. The letters date from December 1917 until his death from wounds received at Belleau Wood in June of 1918. I would especially like to thank my mother, Mary Sayward Cole, (daughter-in-law of Major Cole) for her thoughtful conservation of the letters through her self-published book "A Bridge of Remembrance" the story of Major Cole's life through his wartime letters. Without her loving and creative efforts, these letters would never have come to light.

Carolyn Cole Kingston
(granddaughter of Major Cole)

NOTES: "Charlie" or "Uncle Charlie" is Major Cole's brother, U.S. Army Brigadier General Charles H. Cole, 52nd Infantry Brigade, A.E.F. "Charlie" is also Major Cole's oldest son, Charles H. Cole II, age 10 in 1918. "Ted" or "Teddy"( Edward Ball Cole Jr.) is Major Cole's youngest son, age 8 in 1918. "Prince" is Major Cole's horse.
27 December, 1917

Dear Mary:

        Tonight we dropped anchor off the coast of France. The letter I wrote you in the United States I was unable to mail as no mail was allowed to be sent ashore so I am sending both it and this one back by an officer. It is twenty days since I left Quantico and while most of the trip was uneventful, a few minutes of it were extremely exciting with guns firing a depth bomb sending up a cloud of spray. My men behaved splendidly and I am very proud of them. Tomorrow I shall go ashore to report from there. I do not yet know just what part of France I shall go to. The passage was fairly smooth but quite a few of the youngsters were seasick. We run at night with all the lights out. I do not think I have ever seen it quite so dark as it is in the bowels of a ship with the lights out. My first view of France came during one of the most exciting moments of my life. I was looking astern watching the fall of our "after five inch battery shots" and a destroyer dropping a depth bomb, when, after the excitement was over, I turned around and what I saw in the distance was the shore of La Belle France. It will probably be a month before you get this letter but after that they will come regularly. Christmas day found us at sea in the heart of the submarine zone and while the men had turkey the officers did not. Anyway, tell the boys that when I woke I found my stockings full. As I have not had my boots off for four days, you can imagine what I found in them. Tonight I will get my pajamas on and tomorrow I will indulge in a bath which will be a great luxury. Did you have a pleasant Christmas I thought of you dear all day long. I hope you and mother and the boys had a happy Christmas and I know that you thought of me during the day. Too bad Charlie and I could not have Christmas together. I wonder where he is — for all I know he may be over on the shore and perhaps I may see him tomorrow. I was in command of troops on the way over and had a good sized outfit. A million kisses for you my dear little sweetheart. God bless you and our dear boys. With all my love.

• • • • •

5 February, 1918

Dear Mary:

        It is quite a few days since I have received a letter from you and several days since I wrote you. Thursday and Friday I spent with Charlie and we had a very pleasant time. He was doing some work here that I was interested in. He is well and very busy. I have been especially busy myself and outdoors nearly all day long. The weather has been very good which enables us to move ahead quite rapidly. I enjoy my work and am looking forward to the big thing but I can not begin to tell you, dear, how I long to see you and the boys. I think of you all the time and hope you are happy. It is a good thing to be busy, it helps to endure the separation better. What a strange world it is, millions of people suffering on account of one ambitious man and his imbecile son. Did you feel the coal shortage they had in the United States? What would I not give to see you my dear little girl tonight but we must take up the burden and bear it cheerfully for it means a better world if we are steadfast and true to our trust. We are working and suffering for the noble cause of humanity and the rights of peoples to rule themselves and live in safety, secure in their property and with a full voice in their government. Try and write me often. Love to mother cousin Sarah and the boys. Good-night sweetheart.

Letter from Major Cole to his two small sons, to whom he has sent a copy of his machine gun manual.
The letter reads:

Some day my two fine boys will be able to read this little book and apply it. Perhaps by that time the machine gun will be as obsolete as is the Queen Anne musket to-day, or much better still, war itself may be obsolete. Until that millenium arrives I want my boys to keep themselves in condition to answer their county's call an I hope that they will never wait to be drafted and they must remember that a good soldier must keep a clean mind and a clean body. Remember boys, I leave your dear mother in your care. 'Dad'

Photograph of Major Cole's grave, Plot B, Row 03, Grave 37,
Aisne-Marne Cemetery, Belleau, France.
Courtesy of Therry Schwartz

Special thanks to Carolyn Kingston.

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