Going to Work
The Trip to Camp Lejeune
Platoon Honor Man
In the Pacific
Islands and atolls
Reach for the Stars
Edgar Marion Cole was born in Dallas, Texas in 1925. His parents were poor and he had to help the family financially starting at the age of nine. He had a newspaper route and worked for a grocery. At the time his family did not have running hot water. The seven kids took their baths around a single wood stove. They did not have breakfast in the mornings when they got ready for school. Of the seven children Cole believes that he was the most ambitious. He did not see himself staying in Dallas. After high school he tried to get a scholarship but was turned down. He was confused but not discouraged. He immediately went to the Dallas employment office. The lady in charge asked why he was not in college. When he replied that his parents could not afford it she told him that she would try to do something for him. She called him a few days later and told him that her brother would take him to Prairieview. When the bus got to the main street connecting the campus with the highway he stopped it and Cole got off. Cole quickly got onto the campus and waited for the sun to come up. He spoke to the registrar who told him about the NYA, the National Youth Administration. Cole told the registrar that that was what he wanted to do. He was shown to the bungalows where the NYA students stayed. Cole enjoyed math so he enrolled to take courses in the machine shop. He was paid six dollars per month and trained all day from eight to four then in the evening he would tutor even though he was not a student at the university. Cole stayed with the NYA program until he completed then signed up for advanced training. He was sent to San Louis Obispo. He was the first African American the people of the town had seen. At first there was a lot of fighting but that soon changed. After completing his advanced training he went up to San Francisco. All of the people who took care of him were Anglos. It was a different but pleasant experience for him. When Cole received his draft notice he was excited. His country was at war and he wanted to go fight for it.
[Annotators Note: Edgar Cole served in the US Marine Corps in the 52nd Defense Battalion.] The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to lace on a Sunday. The Japanese knew that early on a Sunday morning most people would be at church. Cole was at home getting ready to go to church when he heard about the attack on the radio. He could hear the anger in the voice of President Roosevelt and it really affected him. Cole knew that he would have to fight. When he got home he told his father that he was going into the service. His father replied that when he was needed he would be called. Cole returned to California and applied for a job in a naval shipyard. He was told that he had to be a member of the union. When he went to join he was told that there were no colored people in the union. He returned to the shipyard superintendent and explained to him what had happened. The superintendent called the union office and got things straightened out. When Cole returned to the union office the man at the window asked him if he could speak Spanish. When Cole replied that he could the man told him that he was now Cuban. That upset Cole. He had to be someone else in order to serve his country. Cole spent most of his workday as an interpreter. He had learned Spanish when he worked as a janitor at a hospital in Dallas one summer. One day a man arrived at the hospital who required major abdominal surgery. An announcement went out over the PA system asking for anyone who could speak Spanish. After translating for them he never went back to work as a janitor. An office was set up for him at the hospital and he worked as a translator and interpreter. Cole was working in the machine shop at the shipyard when he got his draft notice.
After receiving his draft notice Edgar Cole went down on the appointed day and time. He was standing in a big room where someone was calling off names. At one point there was only Cole and three others left standing there. Then Cole was the last one. When he was finally called to the desk Cole was given a large brown envelope and told that he was now in the Marine Corps. That did not mean much to Cole. He had never heard of the Marines. Cole went home and opened the envelope. Inside there were instructions for him to report Camp Lejeune and how he was to get there. The first part of his trip was not bad but when he got to Washington DC it was. There were only two coaches for Negroes and they filled up fast. There was room in the other coaches but they were not allowed in them. By the time Cole got to the train it was moving. He saw an SP and ran up to him. When he explained that he had been drafted into the Marine Corps and was on his way to Camp Lejeune but was not allowed on the train the SP called him a liar. When Cole tried to hand the man his orders the man slapped them out of his hand. When Cole was finally able to get the man to look at his orders the man was shocked that the Marine Corps was taking African Americans. The man stopped the train and Cole got on it and walked up to the Negro Coach which was right behind the coal car. Conditions were cramped and there were women crying and babies crying. When the train stopped Cole was told that it was his stop. He got off in a small town in the Deep South. He was told to stand by a street lamp and that he would be picked up by a truck. After an hour and a half he was approached by two police officers. The police officers did not believe him that he was there to be picked up and told him to leave. When the truck arrived to pick him up the truck driver had the same attitude as the police. That was a possibility Cole had not given any thought to.
[Annotators Note: Edgar Cole had been drafted into the US Marine Corps and was on his way to Camp Lejeune for basic training.] When they got on base the driver just got out and left. Then a man with a rifle approached and yelled at him. As soon as his feet hit the ground he was being undressed and had new clothes given to him. The moment he hit the ground he was a Marine. After putting on his dungarees he was taken to a mess hall and fed a breakfast of cold spaghetti. He was then taken to a barrack. He was assigned to Platoon 286. PFC Young was his drill instructor. At the time the training was 13 weeks. When it was over the drill instructors who had platoons graduating would present the platoons to four or five generals who would then give a thumbs up or thumbs down. If they did not pass they had to start over with a new drill instructor. After drilling in front of the generals Cole was called out and brought to the front of the platoon where he was presented to the general as the honor man of the platoon. That honor still makes him cry. He was the honor man in a military organization where he was not wanted. During their training they got up at five and were outside training a half hour later. During that 30 minutes they had to make their bunks and have them pass inspection. Once outside they drilled and drilled. Some guys dropped out. In those days the Drill Instructors could do anything they wanted to. Three guys from Coles platoon did not make it. The training took 16 weeks. At the end of it was when the platoons were presented. When they went out on the field for the final inspection all he could see were young Marines. At the time the Honor Man selected from each platoon became a drill instructor. At the time the Marine Corps was staring up the 52nd Defense Battalion. Because Cole had scored very highly on his tests he was selected to go to communications school. Cole was sent to school to learn to communicate using the key, signal flags, and blinker lights.
Edgar Cole went to communications school and finished at the head of his class. He was automatically assigned to headquarters [Annotators Note: Headquarters, 52nd Defense Battalion]. He then had to go back to high speed radio class. His assignment was to monitor Japanese radio frequencies. The Japanese were monitoring the American radio frequencies. Each side had to communicate in a way that minimized the chance of anyone copying it. When the Japanese would send a rapid message Cole would get it and pass it on to headquarters. This was the job he had when he was overseas. At the time he was deployed Cole was very young and everything was an adventure. The most negative impact on him was not going overseas but how they were treated when they were going overseas. After they completed their training at Montford Point they got their orders. They loaded on trains on which they were told to pull the shades down. The year before when the 52nd shipped out it was attacked. The train pulled to a siding and waited until nightfall to pull out. They had cleared the South. The train took them to California. When they got there it was the same thing. There was racism, prejudice, and bigotry. They were sent to Oceanside and put in tents. That did not bother Cole. What bothered him was the knowledge that the Marines did not want them to be American citizens. The Marines wanted to use them as manual labor but Congress demanded that the Marine Corps administer a test to determine if any African American troops could be trained for combat. That is how Cole was selected to go to communications school. Cole was overseas for 24 months. When the war ended everyone was happy. At that time they were loading up to go to Okinawa. Then the bomb was dropped. After the war they were ordered to stand down. Since the war was over they began to prepare to go home. Their first assignment was Kwajalein. The battalion was split into the 52nd and 52nd Detachment A. Cole and the 52nd were assigned to the Marshall Islands first. They did what they were supposed to. They dug in and prepared to defend the airstrip against Japanese attack. Cole’s job was to monitor the frequencies to see if he could pick up anything that would alert them that they might be planning something. They went from Kwajalein up to Guam to prepare for forward assignment. They exchanged out their gear, took physicals, and got shots. Cole was then sent to Saipan. On Saipan they did the same thing they had done on Kwajalein and Guam. They were a specialized unit. They had 90 millimeter and 40 millimeter guns and machine guns. Wherever they went Cole knew they were going to defend an airstrip. The air group they were assigned to was Marine Air Group 31, or MAG31.It is interesting to Cole that the current Marine Corps general commanding MAG31 invited them to Washington DC he stated that there were no more white Marines and black Marines, just Marines. That was very significant to Cole. The general’s name is General Amos.
[Annotators Note: Edgar Cole served in the US Marine Corps in Headquarters, 52nd Defense Battalion.] In the Pacific there were islands and there were atolls. The atolls were just large enough for the airstrip and there was no one on them. The islands were different. They were populated and the Japanese had been there a long time and were dug in. Although most of them had been killed there were still a number of them hanging around. They presented a danger so the Marines had to go out on night patrols to capture them. They were not allowed to kill the enemy soldiers. They had to be taken alive so they could be interrogated. Often when they captured some Japanese soldiers they were happy because they knew they would get a meal. Since Cole was not infantry he had people protecting him. When the war was over the point system was put in place. The most points they could have was 30 or 31 but they needed 32 points just to get on the list to be sent home. That meant that they were left overseas for a long time after the war had ended. The Marines had the job of retaking the whole Pacific from the Japanese. The doggies were over in Europe with the French and the British. At that time Marines would always question themselves after an action as to whether they had done the absolute best they could have done. When the Marines went aboard ship they took over communications from the sailors even though the sailors could most likely have done it better. The memory Cole has of his time overseas in the Marine Corps is almost like a dream. He cannot visualize what those islands were like. He can recall the highway on Saipan and the mountains and the Japanese yelling at them. Guam was about the same. At the time he was so focused on his job and did not stop to take pictures. His job was not to look at the scenery anyway. His job was to win the war.
Returning home and being discharged from the Marine Corps was bittersweet for Edgar Cole. At the time prejudice was everywhere. When he got off the ship in San Francisco someone yelled at him that the war had been over for some time and that he should take off his uniform. By that time America was tired of war. Cole came back in through San Francisco then was sent by ship to San Diego where he was discharged then returned to San Francisco. About a month after he got out of the service he visited his family. His parents were very poor and trying to raise seven kids. The first thing his mother asked him was if she would get an allotment [Annotators Note: when he went into the service]. She was more focused on that than on what would happen to her son. She did not get an allotment. Cole had been giving his parents money so he did not need the government to motivate him to do that. Even though he continued to send his mother money every month it was not an allotment and Cole believes that his mother resented him for that because she thought it was his choice. [Annotators Note: The interviewer asks Cole where he feels his place in history should be.] Cole has reflected on this question from time to time. He has considered writing a book that he would title First One and Only because that summarized his life. He came along in a generation where if someone tried to do something they would probably be the first to do it because they would have to fight so hard for the opportunity to do it. Once they did it they would be the only one for a long time because a lot of people were not willing to struggle to be in the mainstream. It was a constant struggle in those days. Cole always saw himself in the mainstream. He has always been very competitive. He was fortunate because he comes from a family of professionals. He had that psychological advantage over someone who came up in a cotton patch. Cole came from a family in which he had high expectations of himself. He always tried to do his best.
[Annotators Note: The interviewer asks Cole if he felt serving in the Marine Corps prepared him for the rest of his life.] At the time he went into the service Edgar Cole had to fight the Corps to keep from being used just for work. Cole's family expected him to be a college professor. He had already picked his schools. The members of the generation before his were college professors and high school principals in a segregated America. He saw it as his job to get an education and take the next step. Cole used his GI Bill benefits to attend Fisk University for his bachelor's degree then to Howard University for his master's. After that he went to work. Cole believes that students need to learn about World War 2 because it is a part of our history. If they do not need to learn about it then they do not need to learn about any war. Museums are important institutions because it gives people the ability to see the things they are learning about. To anyone who may watch this video in the future Cole would have two messages. To those who come from a privileged back ground he would tell them that there is something that is God given that cannot be taken away. For him it was being born into a family that was education oriented. For those who are not so fortunate he would say that there is always someone out there ready to help. For him it was the lady who helped him and the bus driver. Cole was given an assignment to design and build two telemetry transmitters for space applications. One Sunday morning America woke up to Sputnik. The next morning when Cole went to work he was reassigned. He was told to design a pair of telemetry transmitters even though he had never done it before. The group he worked with were all stretching their abilities. One year later they were all in south LA at work looking at a big TV screen at a huge missile with smoke coming out of the bottom. At the top of the missile was the payload. In the payload were Cole's two transmitters. This was America's first launch into space. It was the Explorer series of shots. Cole's transmitters would let them know if the rocket had achieved orbit. They worked. That is Cole's most important contribution. The second contribution he cannot talk about because it is highly classified and has to do with how the stealth bomber is stealth. Cole ends the video with a message to his family.
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