Today marks the 92nd birthday of US Navy Veteran Robert Coles – Pearl Harbor survivor and Maine resident. Twice, this year, I have had the pleasure of meeting Robert Coles at the Maine State House, and I wanted to share his story.
At the early age of 17, Robert Coles witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. Coles recalls the moments just before the attack saying, “We were tied up at the pier and I was on the USS Bagley. I was coming back from the mess hall and chewing on a piece of toast. I noticed over Ford Island a group of planes with big red circles on them. I thought it was maneuvers for a moment, but as I stood there watching them and saw the bombs or stuff falling out of them. I quickly realized this was not an exercise, it’s not a drill. This is war.”
In a matter of minutes, Robert Coles went from being a young 17 year old radioman to a soldier manning a 50-caliber machine gun aboard the Bagley. According to Coles, “I made a u-turn, break open the padlock on the 50-caliber ammunition ready boxes on the main deck, load the number-two 50-caliber machine gun all by myself, and I–I swear before almighty God–I shot at and hit the first two torpedo planes that went by the Bagley. I am not claiming to have shot them down. I shot at and hit them.” Coles would go on to serve for 5 years in the navy, and would see action in 17 battles during World War II.
Robert Coles often reflects on his experience in World War II, and what it can teach us about modern day conflict. He serves as a powerful reminder of what the Greatest Generation did for our country, and the great value to be gained from asking our surviving veterans to share their stories.
In honor of Robert Coles birthday, I’d like to encourage all Maine Veterans to reach out to the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services to be interviewed for the Maine Veterans Legacy Project. As Governor Paul R. LePage has said, “It is our responsibility to ensure these memories are saved and shared with fellow Mainers and Americans.”