Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said in a speech, “I hate war. Eleanor hates war.”
Jim Cole of Hewitt agrees with that sentiment.
When it comes to war, Cole, a retired PFC with the 4th Infantry Division, doesn’t mince words.
“My viewpoint from the foxhole was better than the view from the oval office,” he said. “The war experience changed the direction of my life.”
Cole entered into World War II just days after D-Day on June 6, 1944, at the age of 23, as a replacement for the 4th Infantry Division, which had sustained a great many casualties on the beaches of Normandy.
There, on his first day in combat, he dug a foxhole “that was close to China it was so deep,” he said.
But he wasn’t there long enough to use it. He and his unit were ordered to move over the next hedgerow, an obstacle to allied infantry and tanks.
Once over the next hedgerow, Cole started to get into a foxhole the enemy had left behind, but spotted another covered by a door from a house. He put his rifle down and lit a cigarette.
“Then came the German artillery. After the barrage was over, I looked back at the foxhole I first started to get in. Two soldiers inside were killed,” he said.
After breaking through out of the beachhead, U.S. troops had the Germans on the run.
Grand welcome to the City of Light
To his surprise, Cole’s unit came to the city limits of Paris, “which was the greatest reception I have ever experienced,” he said. “The French people were (lined up) from the curb of the street to the tops of the houses, with a bottle of wine in one hand, and singing the beautiful French anthem.”
“I was exceedingly proud to help usher in freedom once again,” he added.
After the fanfare, the troops pushed on to their next stop: Hurtgen Forest, “which was one of the fiercest battles in World War II,” Cole said.
“There were three American divisions; each one of them was reduced to about one-third of its normal strength,” Cole said. “In the ice and snow, the casualty rate was exceedingly high. We had to declare a truce for 48 hours to stop and pick up the dead and wounded.”
After the truce was over, some of the troops were loaded onto trucks to go on an rest and relaxation. Headed south, they passed through the beautiful village of Bastogne to bivouac in Luxembourg.
“Little did we know that area would become the blood bath known as the Battle of the Bulge,” he said.
For one night, Cole slept in a soft bed. The next morning, he and his friends found some sleighs and spent the day sledding. “We enjoyed being boys again,” he said.
But R&R was short-lived. Early the next morning “a tremendous gunfire of artillery that awakened us. It was the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge,” Cole said.
“There was no dream of it happening. The Germans caught us completely by surprise,” he added.
On Dec. 24th, trucks rolled in again with replacements so the men could have another break. The came to a village they had hoped to get a place to stay, “but there was no vacancy at the Inn,” Cole said.
Asleep in the hay at Christmas
Instead, he and some of the men moved to the farmland and ended up in barns, sleeping in the hay.
“As I nestled down into the hay, feeling sorry for myself — it totally hit me that Jesus was born on a barn on Christmas eve,” he said. “If the angels had ever ministered to me in my life, it was on that occasion. It was the most meaningful Christmas then and now that I have ever experienced.”
In fact, his Christmas experience is recorded in “Keeping Christmas,” written by New York Times and USA Today author Barbara Russell Cheeser in 2011.
Soon, once the war had ended, Cole returned home to Charleston, S.C.
His war experience and the fact that he survived led him to devote his life to others. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Baptist minister.
“Seeing young men killed on my right and left, I wanted to be my brother’s brother and not his keeper,” he said. “Throughout my experience, I had a lot of close calls, but by my survival, I determined I had a mission in life and that was to serve others.”
Cole married, did his graduate work at Baylor and later came to live in Hewitt. He also became emeritus vice president of the Baylor Alumni Association. His wife has since passed away.
“Voices of Valor,” which features stories about Central Texas veterans, runs on Sundays. To suggest a story about a Central Texas veteran, please email email@example.com.