WWII US Navy Corpsman Arnold Cole: A Rock and A Twist of Fate Saved His Life


Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s iconic picture of the raising of the US flag on Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945. It was the first time during WWII that the American flag flew on Japanese soil.


“Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”    Fleet Admiral Chester A. Nimitz


Iwo Jima, known as Sulfur Island in Japanese, is eight square miles in size and 660 miles south of Tokyo, Japan.


The American invasion of Iwo Jima, designated Operation Detachment, took place from February 19 – March 26, 1945.  The island was of critical importance as a staging area for attacks on the Japanese main islands.

Arnold “Arnie” Cole was born to homesteaders in Beulah, North Dakota, on October 9, 1924.  The family later moved to Wyoming and then to Billings, Montana, where he lived when he heard about the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.  He was only 17 years old.  His father signed a consent form, so he could enlist.  Arnie joined the United States (US) Navy.

After military basic and specialty training, Arnie was assigned to the 5th Marine Division, 26th Marine Regiment, as a hospital corpsman.  In a 2007 interview with the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, he said, “They assign you to a company of men, and you have to take as good care of them as you can.”

The first day of the Battle of Iwo Jima, February 19, 1945, Arnie landed on the island.  

US Navy corpsmen were issued a .45 caliber pistol, and Arnie managed to “grab” a .30 caliber M-1 Garland rifle also.  He explained in his interview the danger corpsmen face.


Interviewer:  Did you get an opportunity to use your weapon or your forty-five or anything or were you just tending mostly wounds?

Mr. Cole:  No, both ways.  I had picked up a little .30 caliber rifle, and I took all my stuff that identified me as a corpsman, threw it all away, and got me a bag and put all my stuff in a bag.

Interviewer:  Did they single out corpsmen trying to shoot them?

Mr. Cole:  They got corpsmen first.

Interviewer:  Is that right?  Is that because he’s supposed to take care of the others?

Mr. Cole:  When they got one corpsman, they got 25 marines.


Arnie moved with the marines from the southern Mount Suribachi area of the island up to the Japanese airfields in the middle of the island and then beyond.  His 33rd day on Iwo Jima he was shot.


Interviewer:  Oh, you say you got hit?

Mr. Cole:  Oh, yes, I got shot.  An Arisaka got me.

Interviewer:  Where were you hit?

Mr. Cole:  Got me in the chest.

Interviewer:  Oh, right in the chest.

Mr. Cole:  I’m a company aid man.  I do what the hell has to be done, so I immediately stuck a rock in the hole in my back and laid back on it.  I had a sucking chest wound, so I had to lay back, and I held my hand over the hole in the front so I could breathe.  The hospital corpsman is a god, you know, we’re treated like kings by the Marine Corps.  They immediately grabbed me and threw me into a poncho and took me out of there.  That was back to a battalion aid station.  


Then his life was saved again by a twist of fate.


Interviewer:  Did you go to a hospital ship when they took you offshore?

Mr. Cole:  Yes.

Interviewer:  They had one there?

Mr. Cole:  No, I went back to a battalion aid station, and then they put me on the USS Queens which was a converted transport ship to a hospital ship. From there, they took me back to Guam.  I was bleeding so bad and was losing so much blood that the doctor dumped two of us off at Guam.  He didn’t want to bury us at sea.  He dumped us off on gurneys.  They rolled the gurneys into the morgue.  What happened with me is somebody, I’m told, heard me groan or grunt or something, and they grabbed me and hauled me back in.  When they found me, I had a green tag tied to my toe, dead.


Arnie stayed on Guam for a time and then was transferred to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and on to San Diego, California.  He spent two years in US Navy hospitals recovering from his wounds.

Arnie was 20 years old when he was shot on Iwo Jima.  He lost his right lung, eight ribs, and shoulder girdle.  And during his interview with the museum he said, “I lost three companies of men” [that he could not save].




Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded for the Battle of Iwo Jima.  Fourteen of the Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously.

US Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal, was on the island on D-Day plus four (February 23, 1945) and witnessed the raising of the US flag on Mount Suribachi.

The US military occupied Iwo Jima until 1968 when it was returned to Japan.

Arnold Cole’s full interview can be found in the digital archives of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.  The link is http://digitalarchive.pacificwarmuseum.org/cdm/search/searchterm/Arnold%20Cole/order/nosort

Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery (Part 1): And A U.S. Marine’s Long Journey Home


Burials at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, began in 1926. The cemetery encompasses 154.7 acres with over 150,000 burials.  Photograph S.R. O’Konski Collection.


SSgt William J Bordelon 12980_jpg[1]
Staff Sergeant William James Bordelon, United States Marine Corps, WWII. Hometown: San Antonio, Texas.  Photograph mysanantonio.com.


December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested from the United States Congress and received a declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941.

December 10, 1941, a young man named William James Bordelon from San Antonio, Texas, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.  A graduate of Central Catholic High School in San Antonio, he and two other graduates of the high school would lose their lives in the Pacific Ocean on an atoll known as Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands during the 76 hour Battle of Tarawa which took place from November 20 – 23, 1943. 

On November 20, 1943, Staff Sergeant (S/Sgt) Bordelon was aboard the United States Ship Zeilin awaiting the order to begin the assault on Tarawa. The assault began just after 5 am.  The Japanese had occupied Tarawa Atoll since 1941.  It was heavily defended and fortified with pillboxes, bunkers, and barbed wire.  Ocean tides and a coral reef caused extreme difficulties during the landings.  

For his action during the Battle of Tawara, S/Sgt. Bordelon was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. 


For valorous and gallant conduct above and beyond the call of duty as a member of an assault engineer platoon of the 1st Battalion, 18th Marines, tactically attached to the 2d Marine Division, in action against the Japanese-held atoll of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands on 20 November 1943. Landing in the assault waves under withering enemy fire which killed all but 4 of the men in his tractor, S/Sgt. Bordelon hurriedly made demolition charges and personally put 2 pillboxes out of action. Hit by enemy machinegun fire just as a charge exploded in his hand while assaulting a third position, he courageously remained in action and, although out of demolition, provided himself with a rifle and furnished fire coverage for a group of men scaling the seawall. Disregarding his own serious condition, he unhesitatingly went to the aid of one of his demolition men, wounded and calling for help in the water, rescuing this man and another who had been hit by enemy fire while attempting to make the rescue. Still refusing first aid for himself, he again made up demolition charges and single-handedly assaulted a fourth Japanese machine gun position but was instantly killed when caught in a final burst of fire from the enemy. S/Sgt. Bordelon’s great personal valor during a critical phase of securing the limited beachhead was a contributing factor in the ultimate occupation of the island, and his heroic determination throughout 3 days of violent battle reflects the highest credit upon the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

S/Sgt. Bordelon was initially buried in Lone Palm Cemetery on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll.  After WWII ended his remains were moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.  In 1995, 52 years after his death on Tarawa, at the request of his family he was returned to his hometown of San Antonio, Texas.  

Prior to his burial at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, S/Sgt. Bordelon received an honor granted to only four people before him.  He laid in state inside the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas. 


Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas.  Photograph S.R. O’Konski Collection.



Gene Seng, Jr. and Charles Montague were the two other graduates of San Antonio, Texas, Central Catholic High School to lose their lives during the Battle of Tarawa.

Four Congressional Medals of Honor (MOH) were awarded for the Battle of Tarawa.  In addition to S/Sgt. Bordelon, First Lieutenant Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman, Jr. and First Lieutenant William Dean Hawkins were posthumous recipients of the MOH.  Colonel David Monroe Shoup survived the Battle of Tarawa and was also awarded the MOH.  He later became the 22nd Commandant of the Marine Corps.

The other individuals who have lain in state inside the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas, were MOH recipient (Philippine-American War 1899 – 1902) Major General Frederick Funston, MOH recipient (WWI) Private David B. Barkley, Mrs. Antoinette Powers Houston Bringhurst (daughter of Samuel “Sam” Houston, the first President of the Republic of Texas), and Mrs. Clara Driscoll (philanthropist and historic preservationist who provided the money to preserve the Alamo Mission).

Thank you to Leslie Sitz Stapleton, Director, Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo.


Midway Atoll: WWII and Present Day



Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean is comprised of Sand, Eastern, and Spit Islands. It is approximately 1,300 miles northwest of the island of Oahu, Hawaii. In the 1930s Pan American World Airways used Midway as a refueling base and passenger rest stop for their Flying Clipper seaplanes that flew from San Francisco, California, to Manila in the Philippines. The United States (US) Navy established a base there in 1941.

After learning the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Midway prepared for a possible attack. About 9:30 in the evening on December 7 two Japanese ships, Sazanami and Ushio, began shelling the islands. During the barrage First Lieutenant George H. Cannon was seriously wounded in the Power Plant/Command Post when a shell came in through a window. He refused to leave the Command Post until communications were reestablished. Communications were restored, and he died soon after being evacuated from the building. First Lieutenant Cannon was the first Marine in WWII to be awarded the Medal of Honor.


Photograph taken on Midway in 2005


The Battle of Midway, June 4 – June 6, 1942, was the first major naval victory against the Japanese in WWII and is considered a turning point of the war in the Pacific.  US Navy cryptanalysts at Station Hypo in Hawaii had broken Japanese communication codes and knew the Imperial Japanese Navy was planning to attack Midway on June 4 or 5, 1942.  

During the Battle of Midway, TBD Devastator torpedo bombers and SBD Dauntless dive bombers flew off the carriers USS (United States Ship) Yorktown, the USS Enterprise, and the USS Hornet. Four Japanese carriers, the Akagi, Soryu, Hiryu, and Kaga, were sunk. Those carriers were four of the six that took part in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The US lost the USS Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, and over 100 aircraft. 



Midway 2005
Midway 2005


Today Midway is a National Wildlife Refuge. In 2000, the US Secretary of the Interior also designated Midway as the Battle of Midway National Memorial.

On a 2005 WWII in the Pacific cruise our first stop after leaving Pearl Harbor was Midway Island.


Power Plant/Command Post in 2005.
WWII Power Plant/Command Post in 2005


Midway Memorial on Sand Island 2005
Battle of Midway Memorial on Sand Island in 2005


Albatross on Midway Sand Island 2005



At a Doolittle Raiders Reunion luncheon in 2007 I met a WWII veteran who fought at Midway. He was wondering what Midway looks like today. This post is for him.

In 1949 the Chicago (Illinois) Municipal Airport was renamed the Chicago Midway International Airport in remembrance of the Battle of Midway.


Mexico’s 201st “Aztec Eagles” Fighter Squadron WWII

201st Fighter Squadron pilots after their first combat mission in the Philippines


After Germany declared war on the United States (US) on December 11, 1941, the German Navy expanded the area patrolled by its submarines and increased their activity along the Canadian and US Atlantic Ocean coastline and in the Gulf of Mexico.  In May 1942 a German submarine sank two Mexican oil tankers, the Potrero del Llano and the Faja de Oro, which were carrying crude oil to the US.  After those two incidents, Mexico President Manuel Avila Camacho formally declared war on Germany, Italy, and Japan on May 22, 1942.

President Camacho, after meeting with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Monterrey, Mexico, in April 1943, formed the 201st Mexican Expeditionary Air Force Fighter Squadron which became part of the Allied war effort.  It was thought that the historical and cultural connections between the Philippines and Mexico, with the sharing of the Spanish language, would make the unit valuable in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

The 201st Fighter Squadron (FS) was composed of pilots and ground crew.  Over 300 men volunteered to be part of the unit.  Training of the FS and equipping it for combat operations was accomplished under provisions in the US Lend-Lease Agreement of June 11, 1942.

Formation of the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron at Randolph Field, Texas

The 201st FS arrived at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas, in July 1944 for their initial phase of  training.

Pilots were sent for flight training to Foster Field in Victoria, Texas, Pocatello Army Air Field, Idaho, and Majors Field in Greenville, Texas.  They were trained in various aircraft including the T-6 trainer, P-40 Warhawk, and the P-47 Thunderbolt. Training for the ground crew took place at a number of military installations across the US.

It was during training in the US that the 201st FS got the nickname “Aztec Eagles.”

The 201st FS graduated at Majors Field, Greenville, Texas, on February 20, 1945, and was presented with its battle flag.  Colonel Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez was the unit commander.  Captain First Class Radames Gaxiola Andrade served as squadron commander.

In March 1945 the 201st FS left San Francisco, California, by ship and arrived in Manila, Philippines, on April 30, 1945.  The unit was assigned to the US 5th Army Air Force, 58th Fighter Group, based at Porac near the Clark Field complex on the island of Luzon.  After initially flying borrowed P-47 Thunderbolts, the 201st received 25 P-47s painted with both the insignia of the US and Mexico.

The 201st FS fought in the Battle of Luzon with the bombing of Japanese targets in Luzon and Formosa and provided ground support for the US Army 25th Infantry Division.  The unit flew an estimated 59 combat missions between June and August 1945.

The 201st Mexican Expeditionary Air Force Fighter Squadron returned to Mexico November 18, 1945.  They were welcomed back with a parade in Constitution Square in Mexico City.  During the parade, Mexico President Manuel Avila Camacho was presented with their battle flag.


Thank you to Dr. Mario Longoria for his invaluable assistance in providing information for this post.  The photographs are from his Mexico’s 201st Fighter Squadron Collection and are used with his permission.