85 years old from Delray Beach, Florida
506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division
Surrounded by family, feted by a U.S. congressman and a Veterans of Foreign Wars color guard, one of the few surviving members of the "Filthy Thirteen" was honored on October 8, 2006 in a backyard on Massapoag Avenue.
Robert S. Cone, 85, now of Delray Beach, Fla., finally received the 13 military medals he was due for his service on D-Day during World War II, including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, POW medal and 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 family barbecue that included a visit from U.S. Rep. Stephen F. Lynch.
Only a few members remain of the 101st Airborne Division's famed "Filthy Thirteen," an elite parachute and demolition unit that volunteered for a suicide mission on June 5, 1944, the eve of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
The Filthy Thirteen, who shared a Quonset Hut in England, were a group of "pretty bad boys," Edward Cone said, 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 unit's mission was to parachute behind enemy lines on the night before D-Day to blow up bridges and impede the Nazis.
Many were killed on the drop. The survivors found it difficult to reunite on the ground because the pilots had panicked when the Germans opened fire.
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, in Roxbury, received a telegram from the War Department saying he had been killed in action.
Cone 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, his son said.
Cone walked to freedom through Poland, Russia and Romania, journeyed by ship to Egypt and was eventually flow to Italy, finally making his way home.
All the medal ceremonies had taken place without him.
Cone married Ida, now his wife of 61 years; became a postal worker and plumber; raised three children in Hull; and spoke very little about the war, Edward Cone said.
About four years ago, Edward Cone 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, Edward Cone said.
The group reunited in Taccoa, Ga., the 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."
It was McNiece who mentioned that Cone was due a few medals. Edward Cone and his fiance, Kate Guthrie of Leominster, who works at the Statehouse, gathered documentation and contacted Lynch.
The result was the Sunday party, also attended by Cone's daughters, Ronna Townsend of Monroe Township, N.J., and Natalie Gaudet of Hampton, N.H., and most of his seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
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."
These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives
so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday.
For that, I am proud to call them Hero.
This post is part of the Wednesday Hero Blogroll. For more information about Wednesday Hero, or if you would like to post it on your site, you can go here.