I enlisted a day after I graduated from high school. I chose the Army because I knew if I went in the Navy, I would get seasick. My vision wasn't good, so flying was not for me. I believed enlisting was the responsibility of anyone physically able to serve his or her country.
Joining the Army was an opportunity to get away from my hometown and see what the rest of the world was like. Thankfully, my parents were very supportive. When I was in combat, my dad sat down every night and wrote me a note. It was tough when the mail came, especially when we received the mail in combat. I received so much mail, but some of my buddies did not even get one letter.
I don't think I would call my time in the service "fun" but what I learned about life was really worthwhile. Throughout the rest of my life, I learned that I needed to handle someone's instruction and not try to fight it. Being a team player was more important, and you learn to accomplish more than being solo.
My first combat was on June 12, 1944, in the Cherbourg Peninsula in France. Our battalion had landed on Utah Beach with our artillery guns to help the infantry in its move forward to take the city of Cherbourg.
I reported to the field artillery forward observer officer and my job was to radio back information he gave me to the field artillery. This made it possible for the artillery to effectively aim their guns where the Germans were located.
On Oct. 21st, 1944, I was awarded the Bronze Star medal for heroic achievement in action against the enemy and the Purple Heart for wounds suffered at the time. The citation reads … “with complete disregard for his own safety he traversed an open field under intense machine gun fire in order to rescue two soldiers lost from the main body of troops. Although he received a painful leg wound, he continued his mission and successfully guided the two lost soldiers to their proper areas. The courage and devotion duty displayed by Corporal Cotton reflects great credit on the armed forces of the United States.”
The German machine gunner shot me in the calf of my right leg. The bullet entered and exited the fat part of the calf. The medics were able to patch up my leg and then I was able to go forward and rejoin the infantry company.
Sixty-nine years later, my youngest son, Guy, and his family, traveled to Europe for vacation. They were interested in the places I was involved in WWII, so they traveled to France - their first stop was the Cherbourg Peninsula.
Find out about how Corporal Cotton became known as "Santa Claus" in the French town of Dauendorf in Part 2 of this blog.