France honors Florala native for WWII service

Published 12:02 am Saturday, June 6, 2015

Florala native Jack Cox was recently awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honor. |                AP Photo

Florala native Jack Cox was recently awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honor. | AP Photo

Florala native Jack Cox was among the 10 veterans awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honor by the consulate General of France in Atlanta on Thursday.

The veterans, all current residents of Georgia, were recognized for their service in World War II.

“It took me by surprise,” Cox said of the honor. “I was glad to get it, of course.”

Today marks the 71st anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II that led to the liberation of France from Nazi control. D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history.

Cox, now 89 and living in Decatur, Ga., joined the Army at 18.

“I went pretty quickly over to Europe and France,” he said, adding that he joined the U.S. Army 36th Infantry Division.

“They’re the ones that fought down in Italy so much,” he said. “They were in France when I joined them. I was in the infantry, on the machine gun, and a rifle. Basically, we dug holes and fought the Germans.”

While his arrival in Europe was after the Allied invasion, there was plenty of war left to fight.

“I can only tell you it was bad,” he said.

Cox and a comrade received a commendation for crawling 500 yards under heavy machine gun, mortar and artillery fire to rescue a wounded soldier left lying in an open field during an enemy attack.

“I guess I didn’t know any better,” he said. “I don’t know why they didn’t get us.”

He remained with the 36th Division until the war was over. They were in Austria by that time. And there was no getting home.

“They had so many people in Europe, they had to take turns with the ships,” he said.

He learned of a school set up for GI’s by the American government in Biarritz, France.

“They had several million people in Europe, and room for 2,500 students,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”

He enrolled and began studying to be an engineer.

Some of his friends went to the nearby University of Bordeaux on the weekends. He decided to join them, and met the woman who would become his wife, Jeannie.

After he returned home, he wrote her for more than a year. She eventually sailed to New York City, where he met her and they were married.

Jeannie returned to France for the birth of their first child, and Jack sent the young family back to France again when, as a member of the Army Reserves, he was called to Korea for the first year and a half of the conflict.

Cox learned to speak French fluently, a skill that came in handy when he received the call about his latest honor.

“He was speaking English with a very bad accent,” he said. “I started speaking French, and we got along fine.”

The Legion of Honor is the highest distinction France can award to a citizen or foreigner, and President Francois Hollande nominated the latest recipients.

“There’s only one thing that kept bothering me,” Cox said Friday of the ceremony. “The guys who truly won this medal were dead.”