Michael Cokinos grew up in Beaumont, Texas. During the Great Depression, life was pretty strict for him. His parents made sure that they lived modestly. He went to the local public schools and was offered a scholarship to play basketball at Texas A&M University. After graduating from OCS [Annotators Note: Officer Candidate School] on 11 November 1943 Cokinos was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana where he joined the 8th Armored Division as a forward observer for the infantry. From Fort Polk they left for France. They landed in France in late October 1944. There they trained a lot of British soldiers. By December they were supporting the Battle of the Bulge. They were surprised because intelligence had indicated the Germans were too weak at that spot in the line. The intelligence proved to be wrong and the Germans counterattacked. Around 24 December they attacked German units from the Nennig area. Cokinos was directing artillery fire with his commanding officer, Colonel Parnier, when an 88 German tank [Annotators Note: a German tank armed with an 88millimeter gun, probably a Mark VI Tiger tank] came around their flank and made them retreat. Another time Cokinos was cited for directing artillery fire for over two and a half hours on a German strong point. Eventually the Germans raised the white flag. Over 200 of the enemy were killed. Cokinos lost Colonel Parnier one day when he was up on the line. He came back to get orders and two men pointed into a courtyard where he had been shot, along with the two medics who ran out to save him. The Germans had snipers covering the courtyard. He was able to commandeer a half track and roll it on top of his friend and pull his body up through the bottom of the half track. He had never heard so many snipers in his life. As Cokinos applied first aid to Colonel Parnier, the artillery worsened. He covered Parnier's body so as not to let him get hurt any worse than he was. About five weeks later Parnier came up and hugged Cokinos for helping save his life.
Michael Cokinos and the 8th Armored Division moved toward the Rhine River after the Battle of the Bulge. Their orders were to move back into France to resupply. As Cokinos was resupplying he found a dog in the bushes that was in a sorry state. He took him with him, fed the dog and got him warm. One day in April they were asleep in a house. There were nine people in the house. The dog slept at the foot of his bed every night. The dog jumped on his chest that morning and woke Cokinos up and alerted him of a fire. He was able to bring the dog home; he smuggled him in an airplane. The pet dog's name was Fritz. Cokinos crossed the Rhine River as an artillery observer with the 83rd Infantry Division. They assigned him to that unit to conduct artillery fire. The Rhine was completely fogged over with smoke grenades. They crossed in a pontoon boat under sporadic artillery fire. He was also a part of the Ruhr Pocket battle during which he called in artillery that helped to decimate the German positions. He was in a three tiered observation post where he was able to call in artillery effectively to strike dug in German tanks. The Americans let some of the remaining Germans in the Ruhr Pocket out through a crack in the lines because they did not want to slaughter anyone. Cokinos was one of the lucky few people who encountered the Russians when the two lines met up at the Elbe River. After that encounter his unit was sent back to the lines in order to train for the inevitable fight against Japan.
The Hartz Mountains [Annotators Note: also referred to as the Harz Mountains, Germany] contained many Hitler Youth holdouts. Michael Cokinos had to go there and direct artillery fire on the young kids. He made sure to be short on his fire because he did not want to be responsible for blowing up a bunch of young kids. It eventually scared them into submission. They surrendered shortly after. During the Battle of the Bulge however the soldiers that Cokinos went up against were hardcore soldiers. Those soldiers kept on fighting and it took a while and a lot of casualties for them to lay down their arms. Consequently he and his outfit lost quite a few men. During that action a mortar landed near a command outpost and killed about three men. One of the shell fragments went through the map Cokinos was holding. After the Bulge the German resistance was stiff, but eventually after putting up a scrap they would pull back. The Germans were employing delaying tactics. Cokinos and the men could sense the end of the war because they saw Germans pulling guns with horses. As a forward observer Cokinos, on more than one occasion, had to relocate because of incoming enemy fire. In order to obtain accurate artillery fire he had to be close to the enemy in order to pinpoint their exact position.
For the remainder of the war Michael Cokinos was a company commander in the 83rd Infantry Division. He served as a company commander until early May [Annotators Note: 1945] when he had to return home because his mother was dying. He went home right before the war ended. Cokinos was the first person into one of the concentration camps in Germany. He got the medics and the MP's [Annotators Note: military police] to administer help to the people. They were of Polish descent and they were suffering from extreme malnutrition. He ordered his men to open up the food warehouses the Germans had. The medics came up from behind and tried to do what they could. He got word weeks later that all of the men who he had helped to free, died shortly after from malnutrition. Cokinos came across another camp and freed those men too. They immediately dispersed into the country side looking for food. As the war calmed down so did Cokinos and his men. They never let down their guard however because they had a lot of respect for the Germans. He remembers at one point feeling sorry for the Germans. He did most of his occupation duty in Vienna, Austria. The Austrians at the time were not interested in helping the soldiers. Cokinos and other people were in charge of raids in order to acquire information. Many civilians denied being Nazis, however they would check city hall records and prove otherwise.
Michael Cokinos was only in charge of Russian prisoners for a short amount of time. The Russians were prisoners of the Germans at one point but now they were free men. They were essentially refugees who had no place to go. As soon as they were captured he was required to organize them and put them into a prisoner type setting. Sometimes they would try to escape but Cokinos and his men were good at rounding them up. They were eventually shipped back to Russia however Cokinos was not in charge of putting them in boxcars. Cokinos was the first man in his division to be awarded the Silver Star. He was injured badly when he threw his body on top of the colonel to save his life [Annotators Note: see Segment 1]. Cokinos joined the reserves when he got back to the United States and actually helped form a company of reserves called the 36th Division [Annotators Note: probably the 36th Infantry Division Association]. They are still currently active. Cokinos became a brigadier general in 1960. He credits his time at the war college with his quick ascent up the ranks. World War 2 changed his life because he got married as a result of it. After he got married he got into the real estate business in Beaumont, Texas. He and his wife had seven children together. Cokinos believes that there were some negatives associated with World War 2 however war is inherently filled with negatives. One of the big things for him was that men got separated from their families at a very young age.
Michael Cokinos had to let the people know that the kids' stomachs were too small to eat certain food at that point. Cokinos believes that the National World War II Museum is a great thing because it reminds Americans what occurred during the war. Most people do not think about the struggle that the typical American GI went through during World War 2. He feels that the soldiers brought back a good attitude and feels good about the interview because he was able to talk about certain things that he has not shared well throughout his life. [Annotators Note: Cokinos's wife begins to talk about him and his service, particularly how young people are interested in the war.] Cokinos enjoys the fact that young people today are beginning to show an interest in World War 2. He understands that the war he fought in is completely different from the kind of war that the soldiers are fighting today. He believes that America is a great country and that a lot of people do not appreciate the country like they should. Cokinos ended up helping to tutor a soldier who has been to Iraq three times. Cokinos says there are also people who do not give a damn about things and that is alright too.
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