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MENU SELECTION:  The Italian Campaign At The Front Books Armies Maps 85th Division GI Biographies Websites

Dated:  May 17, 2009

Sgt Newton F. Cole

 Staff Sergeant Newton F. ('N.F.') Cole Jr.
Battery B,
328thField Artillery Battalion
85th Infantry Division

   My webpage on the Italian Campaign began with research on my Dad's unit.  But this project didn't start because I had sat at my father's knee and listened to all of his war stories.  The opposite was true.  It wasn't until he finally decided to go to the 32nd Reunion of the 337th Infantry Regiment and Attached Units(i.e. artillery, military police, medical), that I began to learn of the events that impacted his life for those 2 years overseas.  When he returned from that reunion, he called up the local Greenwood, MS newspaper and they published an interview.  I gained more from that article than I had known up to that time.  I started my webpage with the stories I heard at this reunion and the small photos from his ole scrapbook.
Before the War
  Newton Cole left home with literally the clothes on his back to attend Mississippi A&M College.  His dad wanted him to stay on the farm.  So Newton was on his own, but later received financial aid from a supporter of the college.  As part of the cirriculum, N.F. went through ROTC training.  He had almost completed college in Agriculture, when the war began.  He volunteered and was allowed to leave for training before his graduation: his diploma was mailed to him.  N.F. was one of the earliest recruits to arrive at the re-activated 85th Infantry Division being formed at Camp Shelby, MS.  (Yes, I guess it was convenient to go to boot camp in your home state.)
  The 85th completed training at Camp Shelby and then went on what was affectionately referred to as "Louisiana maneuvers".  Then there was further training at southern California for desert warfare, as part of preparation for fighting in North Africa.  By the end of his training period, he held the rank of Staff Sergeant.  That was the highest rank he could attain in his position without transferring out of the unit.
   While in training, he married Lillibeth Hill and their first son was born in 1942.  Lillibeth made a cross-country train trip to visit N.F. in southern California while he was in training.  I remember stories she told about traveling with a small infant on long train rides across the country.

These photos show the "before" and "after" effects of boot camp.
Newton Cole at Mississippi State University
A student at Mississippi A&M (now M.S.U.)
He is probably a freshman in 1939.
He is standing in doorway of the Cafeteria.
Corp Cole ready for Guard Duty
Corporal N.F. Cole at Camp Shelby, MS, 1943. 
During the War
   Sgt. Cole entered the war with the 85th Division and stayed in the same unit until the war ended.  He had the hazardous duty as a forward observer, who were the eyes of the artillery. He radioed the positions of the enemy and directed the artillery firing missions.  Sometimes this was done from the lofty perch on a mountain but other times it was with infantry patrols in the forward line.  The 328th FA Battalion was usually assigned to support the 337th Infantry Regiment; Battery B in support of this infantry's 2nd Battalion.  But there were times that the artillery shifted positions.  For example, in December 1944, he was forward observer in support of the 92nd 'Buffalo' Division near Lucca.  He could never recall an occasion but I would think he probably shared observation posts with other divisions, including British & South African.
   The 85th Division embarked from Fort Dix, NJ in December 1943 and landed at North Africa.  They trained there before shipping to Naples, Italy.  They were moved up to the Cassino front lines in the Liri Valley in April 1944.  The attack on the Gustav Line began with a massive artillery attack at 2300 on May 11, 1944.
   Early in the attack on the Gustav Line in May, 1944, my Dad took a nice Zeiss camera from a wounded German.  He used this camera to take photos throughout the war. Many photos were censored but he was able to keep several that were taken of his buddies.  I've tried to put many of these photos on my webpage.
Photos of N.F. Cole taken in the Po Valley, April 1945.
Sgt Cole at Verona
Dad labeled this photo, "This is what my artillery could do".
Photo was taken in Verona during the last weeks of the war.
(Go to Vicenza for a description of fight for Verona/Vicenza.)
Sgt Cole at Verona
Another photo of Verona.  Later in 1970's, his son would be stationed in Vicenza, just to the east, and live in a house very similar to these.
   Sgt. Cole was decorated with the Bronze Star Medal during the hard fighting at the Gothic Line in the fall of 1944.  In his scrapbook, he referred to a photo taken at this time as "the hardest week of my life".   In an interview for the local newspaper, Sgt. Cole recalled how his forward observation post was almost over-run by Germans.  He called in artillery on his own position.  The commander of the battery refused to allow them to fire.  But Lt. Sullivan told the Colonel that Sgt. Cole was in trouble and he was going to fire the mission as called.  This was one of those situations where you either get a medal or get court martialed.  His citation only states that he earned the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service during the few weeks of combat in the mountains.
                     How Sgt. Cole earned the Bronze Star Medal---in his own words.
   
The following is an interview that Newton Cole made soon after returning from his first reunion. The newspaper article is quoted, below. 

   As an artillery observer, it was Cole's job to advance with front line troops and to relay target information to a battalion of six 105-mm howitzers located three to four miles to his rear. 
    One page in Cole's album was labeled "The Hardest Week of My Life". It was almost his last, since it was also the week Cole had to call in fire on his own position to stop a German attack. This action won Cole the Bronze Star. 
Cole's unit held a ridge that came under a Nazi ground assault Supporting Allied artillery was on the ridge behind Cole. 
    "It was about 9 o'clock in the morning. (The Germans) were coming up the hill. I called for artillery fire," Cole said drawing a map. As he explained it, U.S. shells would have to fall just forward of his position to have effect - that meant some shells were likely to fall on his
own troops. 
    "When I called the (U.S. battery), colonel called 'Unsafe to fire! Unsafe to fire!'.  He'd seen that if he fired, some would fall right there (on Cole's position). He wouldn't fire."

{Continued}

 
  "You don't cuss no colonel, but I said 'Gol-dang, if you don't fire they're going to kill us all'.  He kept on (refusing to fire) for 30 minutes. He said 'I'm going to reduce you (in rank) when you get back.' 

   "I told him I didn't give a damn if he reduced me. If he didn't fire I wasn't going to get back because those Germans were coming up and were going to get us," Cole said he told the fire base. 
   Cole's battery commander, hearing the radio conversation, finally interceded on Cole's behalf saying "You're going to have some more reducing to do. That boy's in trouble up there. I've been with him a long time. I've got my battery loaded and I'm going to fire." 
   Shells began to fall on Germans and Americans alike but the position was held. 
   The reluctant colonel later presided over the ceremony in which Cole and others were decorated. 

{The reluctant colonel was Colonel Burton. The battery commander was Lt. William Sullivan of Mississippi.} 

Quoted from Greenwood Commonwealth,
dated Aug. 10, 1986


   Lt. Walter Tanzer was also a forward observer for Battery B during this period of intensive fighting. Lt. Tanzer earned a Silver Star  his action on October 2 & 3, 1944.  Lt. Tanzer called in artillery support that halted 3 enemy attacks on their observation post.  The above incident that Sgt. Cole describes seems to be the same as that of Lt. Tanzer. 
(See Stories From the Front for details.)
 
Lt. Sullivan

Lt. William Sullivan of Mississiippi was an officer in Battery B.  Towards the end of the war, Lt. Sullivan was transferred to Headquarters Battery to serve as Communications Officer.  After the surrender, he served on the border of Yugoslavia with the peace-keeping forces.

Bill and my Dad became great friends after the war. He talked my Dad into going to the reunion, where they told many stories and laughed with each one.  Bill delivered a tribute to my father at his funeral.

See color photo, below.
 

Witness to Death of Mussolini
   Dad always told us about seeing Benito Mussolini hung in Milan.  He said they heard about Mussolini's capture and execution by the partisans.  Dad and some of his buddies jumped into a truck and went to see for themselves.  Here is where his version was a little blurred: for a long time he said it was in another city than Milan.  But he described seeing Mussolini strung up by his heels and he took a picture with his camera.  The Italian people became enraged and started hitting, spitting, and beating on the body of Mussolini.  They got so worked up that the authorities had to turn water hoses on the crowd.  That is when the soldiers left.   He always talked about his photo of Mussolini, but the only two photos I remember in his scrapbook were a newspaper article and a commercial photo.  We think his photo was lost at the reunion he attended.
   I have always had some reservation about Dad's story.  Some of it made sense, but other details didn't.  I searched through all the history books and found no mention of any Americans in Milan on that fateful day.  Then finally in 2001, I found a photo that showed about 8 soldiers at the scene.  It is exciting to think that one of them could actually be my Dad.
(From interviews with veterans and from email I've received, I am aware that many veterans claim that they were witnesses to Mussolini's death.  Not all of them could have been there.  The reason can vary.  Some soldiers bought souvenir photos and the family assumed he was there.  I've received an email that said a British MP was there and even had a photo of him on top of the girder where their feet were tied.)
American GI's at Milan
            Photo of 8 GI's who witnessed the death of Mussolini.
                 The Piazalle Loreto in Milan, April 29, 1945.
Click to read more about the Execution of Mussolini.


Photos taken soon after the war ended.
Rome July 1945
Photo "Me in Rome, July 1945"
I always wondered why he would be on leave in Rome after the war and wear his combat uniform.
The civilian's coats seem to indicate this was taken in winter.
Note: Soldier in back appears to be a black soldier.
Cole displaying captured Flag and Helmet
    Sgt. Cole displaying some of his war booty; a German police helmet and a Nazi banner. Yes, that is a chicken on top of the helmet.  Photo was taken after the announcement of the German surrender.


After the War
    N.F. returned to his home state of Mississippi and began working in the agriculture business. Then he was hired as a bookkeeper in Minter City at a cotton seed mill.  He lived in company housing where he raised his 3 children.  He also farmed cotton on the side and always had some really good crops.  Dad would talk about his experience, but usually only to those he knew had "been there".  Sometimes he would sit down with a special guest and show them his scrapbook of photos and throw out some Italian words like "bambino".
    One image of my Dad from when I was a young lad was him walking across a plowed cotton field.  You could not keep up with his stride.  He always walked fast and would run off without you.  He probably picked up this ability while hiking up the mountains in Italy.

Lillibeth & Son

  Photo of Sgt. Cole's wife, Lillibeth HILL and his first son, Newton III, taken during the war.  This photo was probably one that Sgt. Cole kept with him to remember his family back home.
  While in training in California, his wife traveled across country by train with their baby, which must have been a strenous task for both Mom and child. 
   While he was overseas, she stayed with her father and mother in Greenwood, MS, shown in the photo to the right.  She worked at the Greenwood Air Field.

NF Cole's father-in-law
  Photo of James S. Hill and his wife Maude, with their 3-year old grandson, Newton F. Cole, III.   Sgt. Cole's wife and son stayed at her parents home while he was overseas.  They appear to sitting on the steps, waiting for the return of their son-in-law from the war.
Events of 1945
  August 30 - Sgt. Cole arrived home.
  August 30 - his son's birthday.
  September 1 - His father-in-law*, James S. Hill, died.
* My Grandfather.
 

    In 1970's, his eldest son, Newton F. Cole, III, was an officer in the US Air Force and was transferred to Italy for 5 years, where their two sons were born.  N.F. and Mom flew to Italy to visit their 'Italian' grandsons in Vicienza.  While there, his son drove Mom & Dad around Italy to see some of the places he had been during the war.  This trip perked N.F.'s interest to contact some of his ole buddies.  One buddy that he had kept in contact with over the years was Lt. William (Bill) Sullivan, mainly because Bill was a fellow Mississippian and an officer in his Battery.  Eventually, Bill Sullivan and N.F. decided to attend the reunion of the 337th Regiment in 1986, because that year it was held nearby in Huntsville, AL.  So, Bill, Dad & Mom, Newton III, and myself loaded into Bill's van and drove to Huntsville.  The reunion was a time of re-telling stories and laughing and remembrances.  After the reunion, Dad was able to contact many of his buddies and re-establish old acquantices.  He made special vacation trips to meet those that lived in Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
   Lillibeth Cole died of a heart attack on December 31, 1989.  NF remarried about 11 months later and then soon afterwards he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  He had a successful surgery, however, it continued to cause problems until his death in 1992.  He is remembered by his 3 children and 6 grand-children.
Reunion in 1986
      Bill Sullivan, N.F. Cole and wife, Lillibeth, touring the NASA facility
    at Huntsville while attending the 1986 Reunion of the 337th Infantry Regiment and Attached Units.

  

Wearing his uniform for the last time - 1991
   After treatment for cancer, N.F. Cole
   was able to wear his uniform again.

The Medals were new ones issued to him when I ordered his records in 1980's.  They consist of Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal and 3 Campaign Medals.  About 3 years after this photo was taken, this uniform had been eaten by moths.


I recently found 25 old negatives from Dad's German camera.  I sent them out to be scanned into digitial file.
The quality of these new prints were outstanding.  I had never seen several of these photos.

Colorized photo of Sgt Cole
Digitally colorized photo of Sgt. Cole. 
Photo probably taken at his Christmas dinner at Lucca.

  
Sgt Cole at Lucca
Condon Davis and N. F. Cole at Lucca.
This is the best photo of my dad.



WW2 Service History of my Uncles and Hill relatives.

My mother, Lillibeth Hill had three brothers:  Joel Hill ,  Jimmy Hill,  and the youngest, Clyde Hill.
 
 
Jimmy Hill enlisted early into the 36th Texas Division and landed in the first wave of the invasion of mainland Italy at Salerno.  Go to Jimmy's biography.
  
  Clyde Hill could not enlist until he turned 18 in 1944.  He was sent to the 30th Infantry Division and was severly wounded by a German machine gun.  Go to Clyde's biograpy.


  Joee Hill
married Michie Ayres and worked at the Navy Ship Yard.  
Michie's brother, Rivers Ayers completed 50 missions as a B-24 tail gunner based out of Italy.   Go to biography of  Rivers Ayres.
  






Links on WW2 History
Photos from Italy
 Main Menu of photos related to the 85th Division.

Photos of Sgt Cole & his Buddies  More photos of Sgt Cole and other members of Battery B.
Battery B  
Roster of men identified in group photo.

German Camera  Info and Photos about the camera Dad obtained from a German.  Includes 2 Photos that were found in the camera. 
Stories from Italy As told by Sgt. N. F. Cole and Lt. W. E. Sullivan and other veterans. 
328th Field Artillery Battalion  
History plus group photos taken before they left for Italy.

Camp Shelby  History of the camp where he trained.
Desert Training Center  History of camps in California where he trained.
Execution of Mussolini
  Last week of Mussolini.  Caution: Graphic photos.


 
Dedication
     I  wish to acknowledge John Reagan of Revere, MA.  Mr. Reagan dedicated so much of his time on the newsletter and correspondence with members of the 328th FA Battalion.  He was a member of Headquarters Battery.   I met him at the Reunion in 1986 and called him on the phone on several occasions.  I'm not sure what feats he did during the war, but he was generous with his support after the war.

Return to The Greatest Generation biographies main menu.

Return to Photos from Italy top menu or Photos of Sgt Cole.

For my information and photos on Mussolini's death and execution, go to: Execution of Mussolini
Caution:  Pictures are graphic.

Return to CusterMen top menu.