Purple Heart presented to nephew of WWI hero - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Purple Heart presented to nephew of WWI hero

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BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) -

It took nearly a century, but a fallen World War I hero been awarded the Purple Heart for his valor in battle on the Western Front in France.

Brig. Gen. Peyton Cole (USAF Ret'd) accepted the honor on his great-uncle's behalf in a ceremony Friday in Bossier City, 94 years after Lt. George P. Cole led a charge on a fortified hill under heavy fire from the Germans during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

George Cole was a soldier with Company A in the 360th Infantry, serving in the 90th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces.

It was a heartfelt letter written from the front lines of that battle to Lt. Cole's father less than 2 years after the soldier's death that finally helped clear the way for the military decoration to be awarded 9 decades later.

U.S. Senator David read that letter Friday, before presenting the medal to Gen. Cole. Written in 1920 by 1st Lt. Preston Northrup, the letter describes Lt. Cole's bravery in a harrowing battle on November 1-2, 1918, as their battalion attempted to take "Hill 321" under heavy fire.

"I talked to your son about 30 seconds before we were to make the leap over the top and capture this hill," Northrup writes, detailing the deadly line of sight the long sloping hill gave the Germans on the Americans.  "All of us realized that many of us would be sleeping on the hills of France before the hill was captured, for the task was a supremely difficult one."

"Your son in answer to my query as to what he thought his chances of surviving the attack were, and he answered, 'Troop, I know they are gonna get me, but I am man enough to face it. I will die on the front line, leading the advance.' I buried him the next morning, by the side of his captain.

Along with hundreds of others of the 1st Battalion, he went down under the withering rifle and machine gunfire with a bullet through his lungs and died during the night, refusing to be evacuated to the advanced first aid station before others he considered more seriously wounded than he had received treatment. During the night, he passed into the realm of those who now sleep on the hills France, with the red poppies eloquently bespeaking the brave and courageous manner in which his supreme sacrifice was made.

The entire regiment mourned the loss of your son, for we know that a real man and a real soldier had gone from us. 

You, the father of such a soldier and such a gentleman are to be congratulated for giving to the country a boy of his qualities and character. I salute you. Sincerely, 1st Lt. Preston Northrup."

Northrup had written the letter to H.P. Cole in response to a request for information on his son's record, and now it serves as a vivid first-hand account of the kind of sacrifice soldiers like Cole made for their country.

"That pretty vividly paints the picture, and that is why we're all here today," Vitter said. "That's why we're allowed to have wonderful lives as doctors and lawyers and Indian chiefs and the freedoms we all enjoy because of the sacrifices of this brave American and so many others."

The Purple Heart in its current form is the oldest military award still given to U.S. military members. It is awarded in the name of the President to those who are wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917.

It was originally established by George Washington in 1872, but according to Gen. Cole, a military historian himself, it was dropped for a number of years before it was re-established around 1939.

That meant "all those who fought in WWI did not receive the Purple Heart unless their family members knew how to pursue it," explains Gen. Cole. He says it was his cousin Rosston that did most of the "spade work" in researching George Cole's military service.

Rosston Cole and his brother, Chris, were unable to make it to the ceremony, thanks to a round of winter weather that closed major roadways out of New Orleans on Friday. 

In accepting the award, Gen. Cole thanked Sen. Vitter for his work in helping to get the medal approved.

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