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Morning Sun
  • WWII vet Cook gets French Legion of Honor

  • Nearly 68 years ago, Pfc. James G. Cook and other soldiers of the Allied forces defeated the Germans in World War II Europe.



    On Friday, the French government thanked him for his role in liberating France from the Nazis by naming him a Knight of the French Legion of Honor. The presentation ceremony was held in the Columbus Unified High School auditorium.

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  • Nearly 68 years ago, Pfc. James G. Cook and other soldiers of the Allied forces defeated the Germans in World War II Europe.
    On Friday, the French government thanked him for his role in liberating France from the Nazis by naming him a Knight of the French Legion of Honor. The presentation ceremony was held in the Columbus Unified High School auditorium.
    Established in 1802 by Napoleon to recognize French military service, its scope has been expanded, and U.S. veterans who risked their lives during World War II to fight on French territory qualify for the honor.
    Cook, 93, served as a combat infantryman in the 38th Regiment, Second Division, U.S. Army. He noted that there were 16.3 million in uniform during World War II, and only 14 percent, or 800,000 served as combat infantrymen.
    “I’m one of the few surviving combat infantrymen,” Cook said. “I was in two major battles, Rhineland and Central Europe, and we had 65,000 casualties in those two battles.”
    He wore an authentic World War II uniform for the occasion.
    “My uniform wore out long ago, and I picked this one up at an auction,” he said.
    On the Eisenhower jacket were his other decorations, including his Combat Infantryman Badge, a three-inch badge with a blue field on which is superimposed a War of Independence-era Springfield Arsenal Musket, along with his two Bronze Stars, Sharp Shooter Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Good Conduct Medal, Army of Occupation Medal and World War II Victory Medal.
    Cook said he’d learned two or three weeks ago that the French Legion of Honor was coming.
    “I believe the paperwork had been sent in a year or year and a half ago,” he said.
    There was an exhibit in the auditorium lobby of Cook’s war memorabilia, including a Bible his mother had given him that he always carried in his left front shirt pocket and a piece of shrapnel that struck the heel of his shoe as he was fighting to take a hill from German troops.
    “If it had been any closer, I would have lost my foot,” Cook said.
    There was also a banner that his parents, Lee and Imogene (Stauffer) Cook hung in their window while he was away at war.  His time, from 1944 to 1945, coincided with some of the most intense fighting of the war in Europe, and Cook spent many days on the front lines.
    He said that prayer helped many get through those days and nights.
    “There weren’t many atheists in the fox holes,” Cook said.
    The award ceremony opened with presentation of the U.S. and French flags by Charlie McColm and Jerry Hudson, then the Star Spangled Banner and the Marseilles played by the CUHS Brass Choir.
    Page 2 of 2 - Lt. Col. Micheal Skahan gave the welcome and introduction, while Sgt. Steve Jamison read the citation from French Ambassador Francois Delattre, thanking Cook for “your personal and precious contribution to the United States’ decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II.”
    “The Story of Jim Cook,” a video prepared by Buddy Derfelt, was shown, and Skahan presented the award.
    “I was supposed to give him a French kiss on each cheek, but we decided to do away with that,” Skahan said.
    Cook had some comments of his own to make.
    “I feel the combat soldiers who sacrificed their lives deserve this honor more than I do,” he said.
    Cook noted that he turned 93 in December.
    “There was a time I thought I would never see another birthday,” he said. “There are times when I have nightmares, but  I won’t go down that path.”
    Instead, he thanked those present for attending.
    “I’ve got relatives who came from all across the country to be here,” he said.
    Two of them were seated with him onstage, Sgt. Jordan Parker and Sgt. Ryan Boyd. Both said their great-grandfather was a great influence and role model for them.
    “I actually joined the army because of that man and I followed the same career path and became a combat infantryman,” Boyd said. “I hope I’m as good as he is when I’m half his age.”
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