Monday, September 15, 2014

Lewis P. Fern- 504th/82nd ABN and Robert G. Cole- 502nd/101st ABN; Inextricably linked

Fern during training at Ft. Benning, 1941
I've been reading "Babe Ruth, the Bride, the Battle: The Remarkable Life of Paratrooper Lewis P. Fern" written by Cyndi Todd. 

Not only was Lew Fern the grandfather of friends I grew up with in the Philippines, but he was one of our nation's first paratroopers.  He was a jumpmaster, and  left the army as Captain Fern HQ/2/504/82nd Airborne.  His first combat jump was Operation Husky; Sicily, July 1943.  He then jumped at Salerno.  He earned the CIB, and his ETO ribbon bar has 4 campaign stars and 1 arrowhead.

This book is extraordinary because it includes many photos, maps, and the entire unit journal of the 2nd Battalion, 504th PIR, 82nd Airborne from pages 87-180. 

Lt. Col. Cole describing the June 10 battle of Carentan, 1944
What got my blood pumping was on page 44 when I discovered that Fern's recruitment and training officer for a short time at Fort Benning in 1941 was none other than First Lieutenant Robert G. Cole.  Both Cole and Fern were in the 501st during this short period.  Cole rose quickly in rank, and ended up a Lt.-Col. in the 502nd/101st Airborne Division; Lew Fern a 1 Lieutenant in the 504th/82nd Airborne Division. 

Colonel Robert G. Cole is a personal hero of mine.  Many people know about his Medal of Honor citation for his charge to take Ingouf farm in Carentan during the Normandy campaign.

This discovery and connection is particularly poignant as it is the eve of the 70th anniversary of the  Market
Garden drop (Sept.17, 1944).  Cole would lose his life 1 days later on September 18, 1944, hit by a German sniper with a kill shot to the head, from a distance of 300 yards.  Cole had raised his head momentarily out of a tank to scope his position in order to place orange identification flags for a pilot asking his position.  

"Cole affirmed Lew's belief about being a parachute soldier, by telling him it was going to be the best experience of a young man's life." - pg. 44
Later on, when Fern had been trained and he was at the door of an A-23 Transport for his first jump out of a plane on the way to earn his wings "he was not nervous because he had confidence in what he had been taught by Lt. Cole, who was a man of faith."  (pg. 51).  Fern was one of 5 men chosen to take this jump, and he was ready. 

Although he was jumpmaster, Lt. Fern jumped first instead of last on the Sicily mission, as "a few of his men were hesitant to jump out of the airplane".  Fern went on to lead his men through "the jaws of death" as his C.O. Lt. Col William Yarborough described it after they jumped into Salerno. 

The men who fought, bled, and died during Market Garden are particularly on my mind.  Cole lost his life, and Fern made it through.  And while Fern and Cole were never in combat together, Cole had an indelible influence on Fern's leadership and combat abilities. 

Here are  two  YouTube videos of Cole recounting the attack on Carentan

Attached is a photograph of Lew Fern at Ft. Benning while in training under Cole, (pg. 45).  (Fern is wearing the A-2 cloth helmet, which was replaced by the Riddell plastic helmet later in 1941.)  The next photo is of Lt. Col. Cole recounting his experiences in the battle for Carentan.  It is a still from the YouTube video linked above. 

Purchase "Babe Ruth, the Bride, the Battle: The Remarkable Life of Paratrooper Lewis P. Fern" by Cyndi Todd HERE

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