Becoming a Soldier

Deployment to England

Segment stub for 11236

Segment stub for 11237

German Guards and POWs Bonding

Liberation and Homecoming


Meeting His Wife


Francis J. Cook was born in August 1924 and grew up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. His father was a barber and Cook became a licensed barber at 17 while he was still in high school. He worked in the barber shop after school. He went to Abington High School in Abington, Pennsylvania. Growing up in the Depression, the highest value on the shop cash register was one dollar. Gasoline was 20 cents per gallon. The family home had a three car garage but they never had a car. Food was not to be wasted. Dinner today was lunch tomorrow. Cook was 17 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was drafted in March 1943. He was working during the day in a steel mill and in the afternoon in the barber shop. He worked seven days a week. The money he made from work was given to his father to go toward paying the mortgage off. Cook entered service at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He was one of the original members of the 106th Infantry Division when it was formed. He was 18 years old at the time. The first sergeant was from the old Army. He would have the new troops force march with full field pack in extreme heat. He pushed them hard. The division also went to Chattanooga, Tennessee for maneuvers. From Tennessee, the 106th went to Camp Atterbury, Indiana where the division remained until going overseas. Cook was assigned to the 106th after basic training. In basic training, troops got into good physical shape, partly because it was extremely hot in South Carolina. The heat and humidity made a big impression on Cook. He spent time on maneuvers, the rifle range and basic training at Camp Atterbury in late 1943 or early 1944. From Camp Atterbury, Cook went to Camp Myles Standish for overseas transport to Europe. He was assigned to a heavy weapons company, Company H, 2nd Battalion, 422nd Infantry Regiment. His company had .30 caliber water cooled machine guns and 81mm mortars. Cook was a staff sergeant. The Chattanooga maneuvers were tough because they were in the mountains. He learned about swimming at that time with full field pack, including an extra pair of shoes. Some guys tried using an empty can instead of the shoes, but the shoes were checked and KP [Annotator's Note: kitchen police or kitchen patrol] was the result if they were not in the pack. He did not have that problem because he was a staff sergeant. He moved up in rank quickly because the 106th was being formed up. He got a furlough at Christmas 1943 and went home and surprised his family. While the 106th was in training, they were losing individuals early to fill gaps in other outfits. Unit cohesion was suffering. This was the time of the ramp up for the invasion [Annotator's Note: the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944]. The ASTP [Annotator's Note: Army Specialized Training Program] supplied many of the new replacements for those transferred out of the 106th. The ASTP individuals had trouble adjusting to carrying a rifle and marching on long hikes. Cook personally carried an M1 Garand rifle. He knew it weighed exactly nine pounds as a result of the long marches. At Camp Atterbury, he knew he would be going to Europe at sometime. He just did not know when. Knowing what happened to prisoners in Japan, he is glad he went to Europe. Diseases like malaria were particularly bad in the Pacific. Cook deployed to Europe in September 1944. Prior to the deployment, he heard about the Normandy invasion while he was in Indiana and felt like they would be headed that way shortly.


Francis J. Cook went over to Europe on the Queen Mary without escort because the ship was so fast it did not have to worry about submarines. Nevertheless, the troops did worry even though they were told it was safe. Accommodations for a staff sergeant were not too bad. Cook became the officers' barber and made good money while he was in the Army. He refused to be the company barber because it did not pay like he received by cutting officers' hair. Landing in Clyde, Scotland first, the 106th [Annotator's Note: 106th Infantry Division] then went to England for a couple months before going to France and then Germany. The V-2 rockets were falling on London when Cook was there. The putt-putt of the engines cut out and the rocket would drop. Cook experienced the V-2s first hand as they assaulted London. The subways helped protect the citizens of London. The V-2s never worked in bombing England into submission. Wernher von Braun did not want to be captured by the Russians so he came here [Annotator's Note: the the United States] to work on the space program. Even though some objected to use of German rocket experts, Cook supported using those scientists. The 106th did minor maneuvers in England but nothing compared to that done in the states. Physical training in England was needed because they never knew when the unit would go into combat. Cook went to local pubs and shot darts against the citizens. There was no way the US troops would win a dart game over the locals. Even though the British said the US soldiers were over paid, over sexed and over here, the British citizens treated the US troops very well. Marriage between GIs and Europeans was fairly common. In terms of the 106th leadership, company officers were not always good. Cook's lieutenant was the worse officer he ever had. He did not know him until 20 years after the war. He remembered that the unnamed officer wrote him up because he would not order his troops to dig a fox hole for him. Cook told him that digging fox holes for officers was not in the book. Cook was saved when another lieutenant went to bat for him with the major. Cook's rank was not busted to PFC [Annotator's Note: Private First Class] as the lieutenant had requested. The lieutenant was not liked by other officers either. Cook and his men never told the son of the lieutenant how bad his father was. This was to protect the son rather than any show of loyalty to the bad officer. His other officers were good. As far as the troops that served under him, Cook's men still stay in contact with him. Being in the Army for three or four years at 18 or 19 years old helped establish good relationships that are still maintained today. When the 106th reached England, the loss of troops to replace those in other units slowed down significantly. The invasion had already occurred and the 106th was then largely kept intact. The individuals trained on the machine guns and the mortars could be maintained. The individual relationships and confidence in performance could be maintained. This would be important for the combat ahead.


[Annotator's Note: Francis J. Cook served in the Army as the Company Sergeant of Company H, 2nd Battalion, 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division. He and much of his regiment were captured by the Germans on 16 December 1944 during the opening phase of the Battle of the Bulge.] The German guards who were mean to the prisoners took off before Patton [Annotator's Note: US Army General George S. Patton] arrived. The prisoners were going to be put on the road to walk to another camp but liberation came before that could happen. Most POWs [Annotator's Note: prisoners of war] were too weak for the walk so liberation came at a good time. One bad German guard did not take off and he was killed by the POWs. Some of the guards came from Poland and Czechoslovakia. They attended mass with the POWs but fled before the Germans came near so they would not be killed. The guards who had not harassed the Americans stayed when the liberators came close. They hoped for food since they had not gotten much from the Germans. They surrendered to the Americans. One guard was Polish and had a brother in Detroit. One of the POWs was from Detroit and the guard would bring him extra food. The POWs never received any Red Cross packages. The local citizens may have stolen the packages. Cook would have done the same under similar circumstances. When a loaf of bread came in there would be six to eight guys to share it. They would alternate cutting the bread and then draw cards to see who would have first pick. It was important to cut the bread equally because you might draw the low card. There was straw, saw dust and even chips of glass in the bread. The only entertainment was with the deck of cards they had. There was an open latrine in the back. There was no fraternization allowed with other nationalities. Even so, there was some at night, particularly with cigarettes swapping for bread. The camp had six rings of fences, each separated by 20 yards or so. Though they talked about escape, Cook never attempted it. Some that tried were shot. The major talk was about food. Cook still has recipes they came up with in camp. The recipes sound crazy now but they were great ideas when he was 18 or 19 in camp. Daily life in the camp was boring. Germans came through every morning to count off 50 members in the barracks. The thing Cook missed the most as a POW was food. He learned about New Orleans and the food there and other parts of the country during that time. The war helped young men learn all about the other parts of the United States.


Francis J. Cook heard very little news in the camp [Annotator's Note: after being captured on 16 December 1944 during the opening round of the Battle of the Bulge, Cook was sent to the prisoner of war, or POW, camp Stalag IX-A in Ziegenhain, Germany]. The French went into town and they relayed news. That way, the POWs knew Patton [Annotator's Note: US Army General George S. Patton] was on the way. The POWs were lined up in groups of 50, under machine guns, to prepare for exit from the camp but Patton crossed the Rhine before the Germans anticipated. The Germans fled and the GIs were not marched out of camp. Liberation was a day to remember. Unexpectedly, a vehicle with a white star came into the camp. Tanks came later. Cook has a vivid memory that cannot be described of how he felt to be liberated. He did not know if he would make it out of the camp. Hitler [Annotator's Note: German Dictator Adolf Hitler] had instructed that the POWs be killed before they were freed. The early arrival of Patton prevented that. Food came in but some POWs overdid it. One fellow ate 22 donuts and died because his stomach burst. The doctors put out the word to watch out how much was given to the POWs. It would cause medical problems because the POWs' stomachs had shrunk. After liberation, Cook was taken to Camp Lucky Strike then shipped back to the United States. POWs either went to Miami or, in the case of Cook, to Lake Placid in New York for a two week medical checkup. They tried to get them to sign up for the reserves. Cook was told he could become an officer in the infantry reserves. Instead, he went to work for the Ford Motor Company and made 250 dollars per month. Two of the guys that worked for him tried to get him to sign up for the reserves, but he said that if he needed extra money, he would cut hair on Saturdays instead of joining the reserves. One month later, both of those guys were headed to Korea. Cook was not recalled for duty in Korea, but had he been in the reserves he would have gone with them. Liberation from the German POW camp was on Good Friday in March 1945. After two or three weeks they were moved to Le Havre and then the states. Hearing of Franklin Roosevelt's death [Annotator's Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945] hit the GIs very hard. FDR was the president for all of Cook's early life so he seemed like the Lord. After departing Le Havre, the trip back to the United States was very comfortable and relaxed. No worries about submarines. Lake Placid was like Seventh Heaven. V-J Day [Annotator's Note: Victory Over Japan Day, 14 August 1945] was very nice. It was nice to know that the war was finally over. Cook's only regret was about Douglas MacArthur not getting pay for American POWs in Japan for their forced labor. POWs in Germany did get compensation for their forced labor. Cook’s discharge was December 1945 at Fort Indiantown Gap. He left the service as a staff sergeant.


Francis J. Cook used the GI Bill and finished college in a little over two years. Going to class year round, Cook was married so he wanted to get out as quickly as possible. World War 2 changed Cook's life by expanding his ability to get along with 50 people in one room. You get along or get your ass kicked. Two years of service would do the young people in the United States today a lot of good. Cook could see himself as one of those young people had he not gone into the service. People have to get along or keep their mouths shut. Cook planned to go into engineering before he went into the service. After he was discharged, he decided to take up marketing and business instead. With or without the GI bill he would have made his way through college. Cook fought in World War 2 because he was asked to serve his country. He did not volunteer but he would serve because he owed it to the country. America means freedom. You can succeed if you persevere. You have to work to accomplish your goals. He has always had a positive attitude. His message to a young person in the future would be to volunteer and serve two to four years and learn a new way of living, including how to get along with people. It teaches responsibilities, including time management. The most memorable event of the war for Cook was riding in that box car for five days, being strafed by their own planes and not knowing if he would survive. Cook feels it is important for museums like The National WWII Museum keep the message alive of what it was like during the war. Cook would like for the young people today to have the responsibility and restraint that his generation had during the Depression and the war.

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