Private Jack R. Cousins
F Company, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
Jack Randolph Cousins was born in June of 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri. His father, the president of a successful home appliance startup, was able to support his family well allowing Jack and his two siblings to grow up comfortably in a large home nestled into an old neighborhood on the south side of the city. Despite the onset of the Great Depression during his early years, his family was able to maintain their home and he spent the latter parts of 1930s attending Southwest High School. He performed well and was able to graduate early in 1941 at only the age of 16. Not one to hold back, he immediately applied and was accepted to begin his collegiate studies at the University of Kansas, arriving there in the fall of 1941. Only a few months into his freshman year, however, Jack’s world was shaken by the entry of the United States into its Second World War. Still too young to serve at only 17, Jack was able to continue on in his education, joining the Sigma Nu fraternity on campus and spending his youthful years with his college buddies. Unfortunately, this time would not last long for Jack, and in the fall of his junior year, only three months after turning 18, he received notice that he had been drafted into the United States Army. Jack, barely able to vote, shipped off for basic training at Fort Leavenworth in October of 1943 and graduated as a rifleman. In April of 1944 his time stateside was spent as 5’5, 140 lbs Jack sailed for England to join the growing American force preparing for the mainland European invasion.
Although he had been stationed in England for two months, Jack was not selected for participation in the amphibious assault on the Normandy beachhead. Rather, he was put into a group of soldiers intended to replace and replenish the landing divisions following the battles to secure the beachhead. On June 13th or 14th he and many others finally stepped foot on Utah Beach intended as replacement for the 4th Infantry Division which had landed there only a week before. For his permanent assignment he was moved to F Company, 2nd Battalion, of the 22nd Infantry Regiment. At this point the regiment was in reserve after a week of harrowing combat, however, the rest did not last long and Jack encountered his first combat when the regiment set off towards Cherbourg on June 19th. While many other American divisions were encroaching on Cherbourg proper, the 4th Division was tasked with securing the eastern perimeter of the encirclement. The 22nd Regiment, on the farthest point of the line, was given the daunting task of holding the flank of the entire corps. Although the advance was successful for the first few days, by the afternoon of the 24th the regiment was suffering constant harassing attacks from a German force located nearby around Maupertus-Gonneville. These Germans had been cut off from the main Cherbourg group and had made a fortified base on a nearby airfield.
Jack and the 2nd Battalion spent a few days fighting over the village of Digosville along with divisional armor support. The attack turned out ill-planned and went poorly for the GIs, but not long afterward the 22nd Regiment was given orders to finally quash the Germans operating out of the Maupertus Airfield. This force had been engaging with the regiment for nearly a week, cutting off supply lines, attacking supply trains, ambushing GIs, and more. The regiment finally turned its head towards the threat and at 1100 hours on June 26th, began moving to finally rid the division of the problem. The Germans were set up primarily around the airfield and had positioned dozens of anti-aircraft guns and 88mm batteries all throughout the area creating a heavily armed bastion of enemy strongpoints. No longer concerned with Allied planes, the guns were trained towards ground targets and upon attack, caused massive damage to the infantry companies of the 22nd Regiment. The 2nd Battalion, tasked with assaulting the western edge of the airfield, became pinned down by the fire, unable to further advance. Jack and F Company were on the farthest flank of the battalion, meaning they held the flank for the entire regimental assault on the field. During the afternoon of that first day Jack’s platoon was ordered to reconnoiter further into the field to locate and notate German gun batteries which could then be sent back to battalion headquarters for artillery targeting. After some time his platoon did in fact find many gun positions, but had lost the location of their company. Unable to raise radio contact, the platoon sent two runners back to try and warn the rest of F Company and to give the coordinates of the platoon and enemy positions. This unfortunately gave away their position and before long numerous flak and artillery guns began firing directly upon the platoon. Neither of the two runners made it very far. With the guns still pounding the platoon as well as holding down the entire battalion’s assault, Jack volunteered to make a third attempt at reaching the rest of their men. Grabbing his rifle, he “ran the gauntlet of enemy fire” dodging artillery rounds and anti-aircraft fire as he dashed his way through the trees and cover scattered around the airfield. Despite the hail of rounds attempting to stop him, he made it across the open ground unscathed. Upon reaching the company command post he delivered his message, updating the CO on his platoon’s position and the location of the enemy guns. Less than fifteen minutes after he left Jack made his way back to the platoon with new orders and information about the rest of the company and led his comrades onto their next objective. Using the coordinates provided by Jack, the company CO was able to call in successful artillery fire from the nearby 44th Field Artillery which resulted in the destruction of multiple gun positions, allowing the attack to continue and F Company to seize its objective on the far end of the airfield. For his valorous actions critical in his company’s success without heed for personal safety, Jack was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor. He was only 18.
Although his actions directly influenced the success of his company that day, the battle for Maupertus raged for another day before nearly 1,000 German soldiers surrendered on the evening of June 27th. Around the same time in Cherbourg the final scraps of resistance were falling. The great port city and a large swath of Normandy were finally secured. The 4th ID was given some time to rest and recuperate from their actions but the German army was not one to give up quickly. As they rested other allied forces approached critical points at St. Lo and Carentan and support was needed to ensure the objectives could be taken. In early June the division moved southwest of Carentan and on July 7th began their own assault on the hedgerows surrounding the city in attempts to push back the fresh, young SS troops and seasoned Fallschirmjager who were holding down the area. Fighting was brutal, from bush to bush and field to field with casualties all over. The 2nd Battalion specifically was successful during their initial push but a July 8th German armored counterattack left them stuck. During the day’s fighting Jack and F Company were hit particularly hard when they were dialed into the sights of German forces with extremely heavy mortar, artillery, and small arms fire. It was one of these artillery rounds which made its way to Jack, landing near him and causing a large explosion that left him with shrapnel in his shoulder. The wound was notable but not life-threatening and Jack was evacuated in time. He spent the next month recovering but returned to the division in August.
For the next few months, the 4th ID tore through France, liberating Paris and pushing back German forces deep into Belgium. Fighting was tough but Jack and the other GIs made it through. In November of 1944, however, the fighting reached a new level of intensity. Approaching the German border of Belgium, the 4th ID took over for the 9th ID in the region known as the Hurtgen Forest. Full of intense German defensive positions and battle-hardened troops, the battle for the forest had already been going on for several weeks and showed no signs of stopping. With temperatures well below freezing and constant snow and rain turning the forest into a mud-filled bundle of logs, the Hurtgen proved a new type of challenge for the veteran Ivy men. On November 16th the 22nd began its first assault in the Hurtgen with great success. Driving successfully into the forest alongside the other 4th infantry regiments, the battle appeared well in hand. Within two days, however, the casualties began to take their toll. By November 19th all battalion commanders, many company commanders, and even more platoon leaders were killed or wounded. Intense artillery fire combined with a lack of armor support left the infantry extremely vulnerable, only worsening the damage. The 2nd Battalion was hit especially hard on the southern part of the regimental line while holding positions near a large ravine. On November 19th the battalion had dug in to wait out the heavy fire and recon nearby German positions. The enemy refused to hold up and sent down their strongest artillery barrage yet, striking up and down the battalion line. It was during this barrage that Jack was struck yet again by enemy shrapnel, this time hitting in his back, putting him out of the fight and back into the hospital. This wound proved less serious, thankfully, and he was out within only a few weeks.
Now a double recipient of the Purple Heart and a distinguished soldier of valor, Jack went on to face the Germans countless times as the division fought the head-on assault of the Bulge, pushed through the Prum River, and made their way across Germany. Not long into the assault on the heartland, however, it appears as though Jack was given some reason to leave his spot on the line. Whether it was personal, physical, or whatever it may have been, he was removed from his company sometime in late March and given one of the first slates to head back home to the United States, leaving in early April and arriving just a week before V-E Day. A decorated and well-seasoned veteran of some of Europe’s most brutal combat, from Normandy to the Bulge, Jack came home to Kansas City a 19-year-old who had sacrificed much while seeing some of the worst that humanity had to offer.
After a year spent at home recovering from the conflict he had experienced, Jack decided it was time to continue on and made his way back to the University of Kansas where he graduated in 1947. At the same time, his family back in Kansas City started up a new venture producing furniture which he joined upon his return from school, beginning a six-decade career, with the last two spent as the company’s president. Between his fruitful family and booming business Jack never forgot his time with the Ivy Division and maintained a lifetime membership with the division association. He passed peacefully in 2009 having lived a full life dedicated to his family, his country, and the countless brothers who fought alongside him.