Major Edward Ball Cole USMC
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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.