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)

Edward B. Cole was born on 23 Sep 1879 in Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts He attended Harvard for two years where he played football (quarterback), baseball and was a member of the fencing club. After leaving Harvard in 1902, he worked for a couple of years for a mining company in the west.

In May 1904 he accepted a commission as 2nd Lt in the Marine Corp and, later that year, August 14, married Mary Welsh of Philadelphia in Baltimore, Maryland. He completed Basic School in Marine Barracks at Annapolis in Feb 1905.

In In May 1907, he was promoted to first lieutenant, after just four years service. From Dec 1908 to March 1911 he served in the Philippines. For the next six years his duty stations included Puerto Rico, Vera Cruz and the Naval Aeronautic Station in Pensacola, Florida. In May 1914 he was promoted to captain. By 1916 he was working with Headquarters Marine Corps in developing tables of organization for machine gun companies and serving on the War Department's Machine Gun Board in Washington, DC. He invented a tripod for machine guns, and a redesigned machine gun cart adapted from a German model. He also published a field book for machine gunners and would lead the large-scale procurement of the Lewis Machine Gun for the Marine Corps. He was promoted to major in May 1917.

Later that year Major Cole was ordered to Quantico to form a machine gun battalion to be sent to the war in France. Designated the "First Machine Gun Battalion" (later, the "Sixth MGB"), it was composed of a Headquarters Detachment, the 77th and 81st Companies, and two companies to be selected later. At this point, Cole's personal history may be traced by following the history of the battalion.

Major Cole was mortally wounded during the fighting at Belleau Wood. His final hours are described by George B. Clark in his book, Legendary Marines of the Old Corps:

"The battle for Belleau Wood continued for four days more and then, on 10 June, the various companies laid down a barrage of machine gun fire. It was as the 1st Battalion, Sixth Marines were crossing open ground toward the underbelly of the bloody Belleau Wood when Cole, always in front, suffered a severe wound.

He had relinquished command to his adjutant Thomas Curtis while he went forward. In vain Curtis had tried to dissuade him that his place was back with the guns. "Ned" as he was called, insisted he was going forward 1/6 and did so. Along the way he came across nearly 100 Marines who had lost their way. Picking them up, he directed them to follow him and then led them in a flank attack.

They had nearly reached the German guns when the enemy saw them. The Germans were unable to turn the guns around, so they began hurling grenades. Two of them wounded him in his arms and legs before he grabbed the third to throw it back. It exploded in his raised hand, shattering it, and the fragments went into his face and all through his body. His men continued the attack and wiped out the guns and gunners, thirty-five of the former and an unknown number of the latter.

Ned tried to crawl back to his lines but the loss of blood slowed him down consderably. He was eventually picked up by Marines and carried to the rear.

Back at a line hospital the doctors tried to stem the bleeding and to operate, but he had lost so much blood they were forced to discontinue. By now he was in a state of shock and extremely weak. Though the doctors gave him up as a lost cause, his will carried him through the night.

In a day or so, he asked his brother, BigGen Charles H. Cole, to bring fruit to the other wounded when he visited--- still thinking of the 'other guy' when he himself was in such a bad way. His duty was still on his mind when, shortly before he died, he sent Gen Harbord, commanding the 4th Brigade, a message that he would very soon be back and fighting again. He died on 18 June 1918, fighting to the last.

Immediately after his death, Major Cole was interred at the temporary American military cemetery on the grounds of Château de Montanglaust, in grave #4, fourth grave in first row. He was later reinterred at the American military cemetery in Mouroux, and was reinterred one final time in 1923 at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery at Belleau.

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

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

The Citation for Major Cole's Distinguished Service Cross 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.”

The Citation for Major Cole's Navy Cross reads: “In the Bois de Belleau, France, on 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."

A Selection of Major Cole's letters home


Lt Col Dooley, Capt Cole
and the Lewis Machine Gun


The Cole machine gun cart


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


George B. Clark, Legendary Marines of the Old Corps
(Pike, NH: The Brass Hat, 2002).

John A. Anderson, Find a Grave entry
for "Maj Edward Ball 'Ned' Cole, Sr."

Special thanks to Carolyn Kingston.