‘I Was Not A Hero'

Soldier ‘just did what came naturally'


Tobe Cogswell was at a football game when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

He and his brother were at the Polo Grounds in New York watching the Dodgers and Giants -- those names belonged to football teams in 1941.


Tobe Cogswell volunteered for the Marines because of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"The only thing out of the ordinary was a Captain Donovan was called over the loudspeaker," Cogswell said. "He later was in charge of the OSS. We didn't know anything had happened until we were out in the parking lot."

Cogswell and his brother went down to Times Square to watch the news line that went around the Times building.

Cogswell was 23 -- just shy of his 24th birthday -- and had a draft deferment because he worked in a machine shop that built materials that were sent to the British and Russians. The Monday after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he went down to the Marine recruiting office and signed up.

Cogswell went into the service on Jan. 6, 1942. He traveled by train to South Carolina.

"At every station we picked up a lot of guys," he said -- all were headed to Parris Island for basic training.

The training took only five weeks then, he said. It takes three months now.

When Cogswell completed basic he was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He was assigned to the First Marine Division First Regiment (First Marines First Marine Division).

"On the first of June, we were on a train to San Francisco. And on June 21, we left for New Zealand," he said.

They arrived at Wellington, New Zealand on July 7 to begin training with the Fifth Marines -- or so they thought. Instead of going into training, they were sent on a little hike around Wellington and then told to start unloading a troop transport and cargo ships, and then reload them with combat gear.

"It drizzled the whole time we were there," Cogswell said.

On July 21, Cogswell and his fellow Marines were sent to Fiji Island for practice landings. From Fiji they headed to Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.

"August 7 the Navy started shelling. It was a Friday, 1942. We hit the beach with no opposition. As we moved forward, we heard a lot of shooting ahead. We thought we were really going to get into it. But it was just our guys shooting coconuts out of the trees and drinking the green milk. Boy, did they get sick," Cogswell said, and laughed at the memory.


These are photos of Cogswell published in an article written by his officer in charge, George P. Hunt, who was managing editor of Life magazine.

"Then the Japs started attacking the landing ships in the bay," he recalled.

Cogswell and the rest of the Marines that had landed on the beach made their way to an airfield the Japanese had been constructing and set up headquarters. A Japanese fighter flew over the field to see what they were doing, but didn't attack, Cogswell said.

On Aug. 9, the Japanese Navy arrived.

"We lost three cruisers. The Australians lost one cruiser and we lost destroyers, too. There was very little damage to the Japanese."

The Allied fleet left the area and the Marines on Guadalcanal were on their own. Cogswell said that was between 4,000 and 5,000 men from the First and Fifth Marines and the Ninth Defense (an anti-aircraft gun unit).

Cogswell was with the Regimental Intelligence Section. He and three others were sent out to establish observation posts. The first was on the Lunga River, and then they were sent to the west bank of the Tenaru River.

"We put a seat up in a coconut tree and were able to see all the way across the sound with a spotoscope. I saw one of our B17s bomb the fantail of a Jap destroyer and I could see the Japs running around in their skivvies," Cogswell said.

He was on duty in the tree early in the morning of Aug. 21 and heard gunfire.

"I had a cheap tommygun. I climbed down and saw a bunch of Japs coming across the sand and started shooting. After eight shots the gun jammed, so I found a dugout where another Marine had an extra gun, but when his buddy came back, he wanted his gun back. I had grenades. I crawled back to where there were dead Japanese and picked up a sword and made my way to our guns."

Cogswell said he helped get the guns turned from the ocean to where the enemy was crossing the river and helped fire a 37 mm cannon. He and two of his team were wounded.

"I was not a hero. I just did what came naturally. We use the word hero too much today," he said.

Cogswell may not consider himself a hero, but his commanding officers did, and issued the following statements in support of recommended awards. And his friend Bill Sahno of Payson said, "He's my hero."

C.B. Cates, commanding officer, First Marines wrote: "These four men (Cogswell and his teammates), rather than withdraw toward the rear, as was warranted by their line of duty, took positions on the front lines and with those Marines already entrenched there, engaged in a furious hand-to-hand conflict with the enemy and drove them back ... In performing this, above and beyond their line of duty, these men acted with extraordinary heroism ..."

Cates was recommending Cogswell and the others be awarded the Navy Cross.

The actions also resulted in a recommendation for a meritorious and promotion from the rank of corporal to sergeant.

Admiral W.F. Halsey, the commander of the South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force, signed the letter awarding Cogswell a Silver Star.

Later, for the same efforts, he also received a Purple Heart, the Presidential Unit Citation ribbon and bar, an American Campaign Medal, an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze stars and a Victory Medal for World War II.

Cogswell and his wounded team members continued to fight until they were removed to the rear and then evacuated to a cargo ship. As he was being lifted aboard the ship, it started to leave to avoid a torpedo that had been fired by a Japanese submarine.

Eventually, Cogswell was hospitalized, but when he recovered he was sent back to Guadalcanal, then to Brisbane, Australia and then on to Melbourne, where he spent seven months before his next assignment.

In time, he was sent home and in July 1944 he and his wife, Roberta were married and took up residence at Camp Lejeune.

"I had to pass a test before we could get post housing," Roberta said. She passed it with the highest score ever awarded and went to work as a secretary for the base housing office.

The Cogswells' son, Brent, was born while they were at Camp Lejeune. The military made it into his blood. He retired as a major from the U.S. Air Force. The couple also has a daughter, Roberta. The couple has been in Payson for 28 years and resided in Arizona since the mid-1950s. Their children both live in the East.

Tobe Cogswell will soon be 90. He seems much younger. He is still active and a member of the local Marine Corps League #928.

"I enjoyed the war," he said. Roberta scolded him and he added, "It was a great adventure. I wasn't ever really worried about dying. I knew it would be the other guy, not me."

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