Pvt. James J. Cousins was born in Kittaning, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania in 1909. He lived in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and completed his Grammar School. James Cousins worked as a s emiskilled chauffeur and driver (bus, taxi, truck, and tractor). On June 11, 1942, at age 33, James Cousins enlisted in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Pvt. Cousins became part of the 102nd Infantry Division, 405th Infantry Regiment. Reviews, parades, by train to Ft. Dix, passes to Trenton and New York, last minute inspections amid the vari-colored buildings of Camp Kilmer, the staggering heavily-laden march to the ferries, "gang-plank fever," the fetid, cramped, blacked-out sleeping quarters of slow transports, sea sickness, Red Cross "thrillers," the lights at Weymouth, a windy and wet debarkation at Cherbourg, the rain-drenched orchards of "Area M," the roar of trucks on the Red Ball MSR, all formed a panorama moving swiftly, poignantly to the battle fields of Germany. Then another long train ride in sleepless baggage-crowded French cars, detouring fabled Paris, over the scarred beet fields of Belgium to the hospitable pastures and villages of Holland. There the 102nd Infantry Division assembled in late October 1944, far from the brave "good-byes," apprehensive but never doubting the future, poised on the threshold of its destiny.

After months of training, months of waiting, more months of sweating it out, the 405th Infantry entrained from the battle-soured Norman town of Valognes, bound for the Siegfried Line. The first train pulled out at the end of October. Five days later the weary, dirty, disgruntled troops emerged from baggage-laden cars only to face a long truck ride to Waubach in Germany proper. That helped a little, and morale took a turn for the better when the destination became known. Perhaps they'd get a chance at the Krauts after all, a chance that sometimes looked mighty slim back there on the dusty ranges of Camp Swift. As a matter of fact they were much closer to battle than they realized, for the following day the 405th Infantry Regiment, temporarily attached to the 2nd Armored Division, relieved the 41st Armored Infantry, thus becoming the first unit of the 102nd Infantry Division to see action.

The 102nd Infantry Division at the Roer River in 1944

About November 18, 1944, Pvt. James Cousins fought with the 405th Infantry Regiment in the Geilenkirchen area. A realignment of sectors and the return of elements placed the 102nd Infantry Division in full control of its units for the first time (November 24, 1944), as it prepared for an attack to the Roer. The attack jumped off, November 29, and carried the division to the river through Welz, Flossdorf, and Linnich.

On November 30, 1944, the men found out that the river towns were more difficult nuts to crack. Supplied by defiladed routes, dominating the muddy rolling fields to the west, they were truly fortresses. The 405th Infantry Regiment, with its north flank exposed, nevertheless managed to push ahead against tremendous concentrations of artillery, mortar and automatic weapons fire. The battle ground was honeycombed with emplacements (pillboxes, concrete shelters, L trenches, minefields) all tied together by a labyrinth of fire trenches. Seven German tanks appeared during the morning but were driven off by artillery fire. An unsupported infantry counterattack was also dispersed. Terrific skirmishes raged all day and after nightfall.

Men of the 102nd Infantry Division in Germany

The Ardennes Offensive (December 16, 1944) left the 102nd Infantry Division defending the entire XIII Corps sector with a front extending from the Wurm river, just north of the village of Wurm, east and south to Barmen, a distance of nearly eight miles. Service and supply units, even company cooks, were to get the feel of front-line defense. So ended the first phase in the battle for the Roer. The Germans had been cleared from the west bank up to and including Linnich. 425 prisoners had been counted, over 400 German dead were buried, 43 bunkers and pillboxes had been knocked out. 36 assault guns and tanks had fallen before GI guns and bazookas, and many personnel carriers were abandoned in the headlong flight across the river. A tremendous blow had been dealt the Germans in both strength and prestige. The 340th Division was reeling from its losses. A vaunted SS outfit, the 10th SS Panzer Division, had fled ignominiously, seeking to escape the American mercilessly accurate artillery. The 42nd German Airforce Battalion was virtually destroyed, never to rise again.

Many winter weeks were to pass before the second phase of the Roer battle ended in the reduction of the Brachelen salient. Secure behind the barrier of the Roer river the Germans frantically continued to improve their defenses on the hills from Korrenzig to Boslar. Civilians were herded out to help dig anti-tank ditches and foxholes. Their thinly spread troops enjoyed "rest periods" of three or four days away from the river bottom, "rest periods" during which minefields were laid and wire strung under the watchful eye of the SS. To the north 340th Volksgrenadier Division defended Brachelen, Hilfarth, and Randerath intent upon retaining at least a bridgehead west of the Roer. Although originally a slight threat, this Brachelen salient became more and more prominent in the American defense plans as von Rundstedt plunged through the Ardennes. It was not improbable that the Germans might make a similar sudden thrust southwest through the Wurm corridor in an attempt to retake Geilenkirchen and possibly link-up with their southern salient. Such tactics would imperil the entire Allied front in Germany. To the 102nd Infantry men then fell the task of guarding this seemingly quiet yet potentially explosive gateway.

During the early weeks of January 1945 the Germans continued to illuminate the American forward areas with a large assortment of flares of all colors and descriptions. One hundred flares were counted in a single night along a front of six miles. The big job in January was to eliminate the German salient at the Roer-Wurm confluence. This was a formidable piece of ground defended by a little stub of the old Siegfried Line. Plans were necessary and plans were made. Snow suits were issued. Assault teams, specially trained in attacking fortified positions, were organized. During the night of 24-25 January great explosions rocked the river valley. Dawn revealed the Korrenzig bridge and many others in ruins. No German traffic could be seen in the bridgehead. American patrols found the towns abandoned. The 1st Battalion, 405th Infantry Regiment, seizing Honsdorf and Flahstrass, discovered the pillboxes deserted but littered with booby-traps, time-bombs, and antipersonnel bombs. They pushed on through Randerath to Himmerich, rounding up nineteen prisoners enroute.

The first two weeks of February brought disaster to the Nazis. Von Rundstedt withdrew from his Ardennes pocket, desperately switching panzer battle groups to the 102nd Division’s area and that in a futile effort to bring his operation to a neat conclusion. Along the 102nd‘s front, German lines were stretched dangerously thin. The Germans had lost all semblance of initiative. They could only continue to labor on his defenses east of the Roer and wait for the allied attack which would sooner or later sweep him backwards to the Rhine. In this unhappy predicament, however, the Germans had two Allies; the weather, and the dams in the Hohe Venn highlands south of Duren at the headwaters of the Roer.

By evening, February 9, 1945, all plans were suspended while GIs gaped at the raging river. Already over its banks from normal Spring runoff it had suddenly leaped four feet in as many hours. And it continued to rise one foot, two feet and then ten feet, and there it paused. The key to this phenomenon lay, of course, in the dams. As First Army developed its attack south of Duren, and the Germans saw that capture of the headwaters was only hours away they had jammed open the floodgates. Efforts to control the flood were of no avail. Two weeks were to elapse before the stream subsided. On the other hand the enemy had now shot his bolt. If the flood was his best hope, it was also his last.

Rhine Battle 1945 - 102nd Infantry Division

At 0245 Hours, February 23, the 102nd Division Artillery opened up with a thunderous barrage that was to continue for 45 minutes. After months of planning, waiting, and training the push to the Rhine had started. During the crossing of the Rhine, while the GIs were paddling with their riflebuts in the swifty water, several elements of the 405th Infantry Regiment came under heavy German fire. (See the story of Pfc. Edward L. Souder, Company F, 405th Infantry Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division)

On February 25, 1945, the 405th Infantry Regiment screened the Division's right flank (the Boslar area) which was becoming more and more vulnerable. On February 26 Company I, 405th Infantry Regiment, repelled a counterattack by four Tiger tanks and fifty infantrymen in a flurry of excitement. Approaching south of Hauerhof the Germans threatened to upset the day's attack. But they lacked the strength to press their advantage against an open flank and the danger, such as it was, soon evaporated. Sometime on February 26, 1945, Pvt. James J. Cousins was Killed in Action at age 36, in the Erkelenz area (Germany).

ASN: 33269584
Awards: Purple Heart
Buried at: Plot O Row 7 Grave 12
Netherlands American Cemetery
Margraten, Netherlands

The adoptant of Pvt. James J. Cousins’s grave, Jo Wijnants, is searching for more information about Pvt. James Cousins. Every kind of information is more than welcome. You can contact Jo Wijnants at: jowijnants@wanadoo.nl

Battle information from:
With the 102d Infantry Division through Germany