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First Name: Robert

Last Name: Cone

Birthplace: Portsmouth, NH, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: S.

Date of Birth: 1892

Date of Death: 29 June 2010


Years Served:
Robert S. Cone

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Robert S. Cone
U.S. Army

Robert S. Cone was born in 1892 in Portsmouth, NH. He grew up in Roxbury, MA.

World War II Service

In WWII, Cone fought as a member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Within the Division, he was a member of an elite parachute and demolition sub-unit that came to be known as the Filthy Thirteen. The Filthy Thirteen, who shared a Quonset Hut in England, was a group of "pretty bad boys" renowned for hard-living and fierce fighting. They are believed to be the inspiration for the 1967 movie "The Dirty Dozen," although none of the Filthy Thirteen was a convict.

The Filthy Thirteen's mission was to parachute behind enemy lines on 5 June 1944, the night before D-Day, to blow up bridges and other targets to impede the Nazis. Most of the unit was killed during the drop and the survivors found it difficult to reunite on the ground because the pilots had panicked when the Germans opened fire on their aircraft and hurriedly dropped them outside their drop zone.

Cone said he spent two days in a hedgerow battle and was shot in the right arm. When he escaped to a French farmhouse, the owner turned him over to the Nazis and he became a prisoner of war. His unit and his family thought he was dead. His mother received a telegram from the War Department saying he had been Killed in Action.

Robert spent 11 months in three POW camps in Germany before being liberated by the Russians near the Polish border. He fought alongside the Russians as they made their escape. Cone walked to freedom through Poland, Russia, and Romania; journeyed by ship to Egypt; and was eventually flown to Italy, finally making his way home.

All the medal ceremonies for his unit had taken place without him.

The Post-War Years

After returning home, Cone married Ida (to whom he would be married for 65 years); became a postal worker and plumber; and raised three children in Hull, MA. His son, Edward, said his father spoke very little about the war.

Upon Robert's retirement, he and Ida moved to Delray Beach, FL, where he enjoyed golfing, exercising, and walking.

The Filthy Thirteen (Post-War)

In 2004, Robert's son, Edward, decided to find out whether any of his father's Army colleagues were still alive. He found the Filthy Thirteen's leader, Jake McNiece, in Oklahoma, and put his father in touch by telephone. Their conversation was recorded by the BBC and played on the anniversary of D-Day.

Later, the History Channel filmed its own segment on the pair, which still airs. The group reunited in Taccoa, GA, the legendary home of their jump school. "My Dad and I drove from here to Georgia. I heard everything on that trip," Edward Cone said. "Three were alive from the unit. They talked and drank and told stories for days."

Three years ago, McNiece published a book, "The Filthy Thirteen: From the Dustbowl to Hitler's Eagle's Nest: The 101st Airborne's Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers." Excerpt:

Since World War II, the American public has become fully aware of the exploits of the 101st Airborne Division, the paratroopers who led the Allied invasions into Nazi-held Europe. But within the ranks of the 101st, a sub-unit attained legendary status at the time, its reputation persisting among veterans over the decades. Primarily products of the Dustbowl and the Depression, the Filthy 13 grew notorious, even within the ranks of the elite 101st. Never ones to salute an officer, or take a bath, this squad became singular within the Screaming Eagles for its hard drinking, and savage fighting skill--and that was only in training. Just prior to the invasion of Normandy, a "Stars and Stripes" photographer caught U.S. paratroopers with heads shaved into Mohawks, applying war paint to their faces. Unknown to the American public at the time, these men were the Filthy 13.

After parachuting behind enemy lines in the dark hours before D-Day, the Germans got a taste of the reckless courage of this unit - except now the men were fighting with Tommy guns and explosives, not just bare knuckles. In its spearhead role, the 13 suffered heavy casualties, some men wounded and others blown to bits. By the end of the war 30 men had passed through the squad. Throughout the war, however, the heart and soul of the Filthy 13 remained a survivor named Jake McNiece, a half-breed Indian from Oklahoma - the toughest man in the squad and the one who formed its character. McNiece made four combat jumps, was in the forefront of every fight in northern Europe, yet somehow never made the rank of PFC. The survivors of the Filthy 13 stayed intact as a unit until the Allies finally conquered Nazi Germany. The book does not draw a new portrait of earnest citizen soldiers. Instead it describes a group of hardscrabble guys whom any respectable person would be loath to meet in a bar or dark alley. But they were an integral part of the U.S. war against Nazi Germany. A brawling bunch of no-goodniks whose only saving grace was that they inflicted more damage on the Germans than on MPs, the English countryside and their own officers, the Filthy 13 remain a legend within the ranks of the 101st Airborne.

It was McNiece who mentioned that Cone was due a few medals. Edward Cone and his fiancée, Kate Guthrie of Leominster, who works at the Statehouse, gathered documentation and contacted U.S. Representative Stephen F. Lynch.

The result was a backyard party on Sunday, 8 October 2006, to honor Robert S. Cone, one of the few surviving members of the Filthy Thirteen. Surrounded by family, feted by a U.S. Congressman and a Veterans of Foreign Wars color guard, Cone finally received the 13 military medals and awards he was due for his service during the Normandy Invasion in World War II. These included the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, POW Medal and a Presidential Unit Citation.

"To tell you the truth, I never expected it. I'm very honored to get it and really feel good about it," Cone said. "He's finding it an honor, and he's a little embarrassed, to be honest," said Cone's son, Edward R. Cone, 45, who hosted the barbecue.

Cone admits he never talked much about the war before. "I really didn't," Cone said. "But they insisted I tell the grandchildren and the great grandchildren. So I talk to them. I tell them stories. I tell them true stories. They all enjoy it."

Over the next few years, Cone enjoyed traveling with the last few remaining survivors of the Filthy Thirteen attending Military Events across the country.

Death and Burial

Robert S. Cone died on 29 June 2010 after a brief illness; his beloved wife of 65 years, Ida, was at his side. He was 88. Cone is buried at Sharon Memorial Park in Sharon, Norfolk County, MA.

Besides his wife, he is survived by his children; Natalie Gaudet and her husband, Robert, of Hampton NH; Ronna Townsend and her husband, Robert, of Monroe Twp., NJ; and Edward Cone and his wife, Kate, of Easton, MA. He also has 7 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.

Honoree ID: 3269   Created by: MHOH




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