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Reader's Diary: Remembering Pfc. James Robinson
Pfc. James Robinson is seen in a family photo.
Monday, May 28, 2012
By DAVID KING -
I never knew my cousin, Pfc. James K. Robinson. He was killed in action during World War II, one of the 291,557 U.S. battle deaths in that war. In the 1960s a relative who knew of my interest in military history gave me a wallet-size photo of him in uniform, the flag sent to the family in his memory, and his Purple Heart medal. For years I knew very little about James Robinson except that he was buried somewhere in the Netherlands. The photo was probably taken during basic training because there is no insignia on his uniform to give me an idea of his unit or branch. I knew only that he was a soldier. His service and sacrifice in World War II remained a mystery to me for nearly a half century.
Around Veterans Day in 2010, I was able to find him on ancestry.com as a special opportunity to research veterans in the family. From that search I learned that he was in fact buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial near the town of Margraten. A search of the American Battle Monuments Commission website, http://www.abmc.gov/search, gave me his exact location: Plot B Row 5 Grave 18. That search also gave me his regiment, the 405th Infantry Regiment, and his division, the 102nd Infantry Division, the “Ozarks.” In a copy of the division history I found and purchased on the Internet, I located his name and his home address listed on the roster of Company E of the 405th Infantry Regiment.
The book also provided an account of the division’s operations in World War II. Like most U.S. infantry divisions in World War II, the 102nd was involved in some of the heaviest fighting in Europe. In fact, the Ozark Division was engaged in combat from September 1944 right up to the end of the war in May 1945. I learned from other sources that Echo Company is credited with being the first unit to capture a German ME262 — the first jet fighter used in combat. I’ve been told that jet is on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum with the notation that it was captured by Company E, 405th Infantry.
After so many years of wondering, I learned a great deal in a very short time about Pfc. James Robinson. I had learned the details of his unit’s service, but I never expected to find a person who served in the same unit and who had gone through the same experiences he had endured. In January 2011, I attended a conference for Army Junior ROTC instructors in Myrtle Beach, S.C. On a whim one evening, I did a web search on Company E, 405th Infantry. What I found was a real surprise. In a 2008 newspaper article titled, “Latta Veteran Receives Citadel Degree 64 Years Later,” I read about Leonard Cohen, a member of the Citadel Class of 1944, the “Class that Never Was.”
Cohen and his entire class were drafted in the fall of 1943. As a result, their graduation, which would have taken place in the spring of 1944, never happened. Ironically, I remembered passing signs on the way to Myrtle Beach for Latta, S.C. I looked up Leonard Cohen on the Internet and tried calling the number listed with no success. When I returned home, I sent a letter to the address listed for him. A few weeks later, I received a letter from his son telling me that he had moved his father to a retirement home in Atlanta, Ga. He arranged for me to talk to his father a couple of days later.
In March 2011, I was able to visit Leonard Cohen and his son, Robert, in Atlanta. Leonard Cohen’s memory was very clear. He could recall details about his service that coincided with what I had read in the division history. In fact, he could distinctly remember seeing the ME262 in the hanger the day it was captured, and he could remember the day the division made contact with the Red Army. He could also remember going into combat on April 15, 1945. That date stuck in his mind because it was the day he learned that President Franklin Roosevelt had died three days earlier, on April 12.
When the war ended, Staff Sgt. Leonard Cohen returned home to Latta to work in the family clothing store, but he never went back to the Citadel to earn his degree. In 2008, the members of the class of 1944 who did not graduate were given their degrees.
In early May of this year while I was attending a meeting at Fort Pickett, I passed by a sergeant whose unit patch caught my eye. Although subdued, I couldn’t miss its distinct design — an “O” surrounding a “Z” and an arc around the lower half of the Z — the patch of the Ozark division. I understood the unit had been deactivated right after World War II in 1946. When I asked him about the patch, the sergeant told me the 102nd Infantry Division had been reactivated in 2007. It is now headquartered at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. (“Ozark” country), as part of the 80th Training Command. The 94th Infantry Division at Fort Lee, and the 100th Infantry Division at Fort Knox, Ky., are the two other divisions that make up the 80th Training Command. After more than six decades, the Ozarks division is back.
On Memorial Day, I will take time to remember my cousin, Pfc. Class James Robinson. I will also remember Staff Sgt. Leonard Cohen, who passed away three weeks ago.
I realize I was very fortunate to meet Leonard Cohen. The opportunity to hear firsthand about his experiences in World War II and specifically Company E, 405th Infantry Regiment, gave me a personal glimpse into the life of someone I never knew. The odds of that happening were nearly impossible, but for some reason I was given that chance. It may be as a means to remember and help others remember the services of that generation and the veterans of all our wars.
April 15, the day Leonard Cohen remembers going into combat, also is the day James Robinson was killed in action. Born in November 1925, he was 19 years old. Three weeks later, Germany surrendered. James Robinson and Leonard Cohen deserve to be remembered on Memorial Day, as do all our veterans.
Editor’s note: Retired Army Lt. Col. David King was JROTC instructor at Martinsville High School for many years and now is JROTC instructor at Tunstall High School. He lives in Collinsville.