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James Cox

Submitted by: James Lacombe {grandson; son of Mary (Cox) Lacombe, daughter of James Cox}

James Cox 300

James Cox was born around 1894. James Cox served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The enlistment was in 1917 and the service was completed in 1919.

Story of Service


The Military Service of American Doughboy James Cox


America entered into the First World War in April, 2017. James Cox registered for military recruitment on the 1st date designated by the Wilson Administration to do so, June 5, 1917. James, still an Irish citizen at the time and living and working in New York City, was 23 years old. James was inducted into the United States Army on Sept 21, 1917 and ordered to Camp Upton on Long Island, NY for military training in the newly formed 77th Division.

The 77th was the first of the many so-called National Army Divisions that would eventually swell the roughly 200,000-man U.S. regular and reserve soldier army to a fighting force of over 2 million men.

James Cox was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, of the 308th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division. He would serve in Company L for the duration of his military service. James was promoted from the rank of Private to Private 1st Class on Nov 01, 1917 and promoted again to the rank of Corporal on Dec 05, 1917.

Cox’s 3rd Battalion shipped out of New York for England, along with the rest of the 308th Regiment, on three British troop transports on April 06, 1918. The trans-Atlantic voyage was uneventful, with drilling and submarine lookout watches breaking the monotony. Corporal Cox celebrated his 24th birthday during the crossing (Apr 12). When land, the southern coast of Ireland, was finally sighted on April 19th, Corporal Cox may have reacted in the manner alluded to in the official History of the 308th Regiment; “many a wistful glance was cast toward those green shores where not a few of the 308th had been born”.1

James CoxFigure 1. Corporal* James Cox circa Dec 1917/Early 1918 (*later promoted to Sergeant). Cox’s battalion and the rest of the 308th Regiment disembarked in Liverpool on the morning of the 20th. (Three months later, Cox’s ship, the Justicia, would be torpedoed and sunk by two German U-boats off the northern coast of Ireland.) The 308th Regiment immediately crossed England by train to Dover, from which, over the next few days, the entire regiment made the short cross-channel trip to Calais, France, with Corporal Cox’s Company L arriving in Calais on the 21st. From Calais, the 308th Regiment deployed to a British controlled section of the Western Front north of Saint-Omer in northwest France. Here it received extensive Trench Warfare training from members of the British 39th Division. This included machine gun training, which Company and Regimental records show Corporal Cox receiving in the village of Lumbres from Apr 28 to May 12. On May 13th, the 308th Regiment departed to a support position close to the Front near Arras, France. Here, along with the rest of the 77th Division, it was formally attached to the British 2nd Division, and suffered its first casualties from enemy artillery fire.

Training continued and plans were made for the Division’s deployment with British forces. The latter planning was done in piece-meal fashion however, with battalions, and in some cases, individual companies scheduled to be scattered and absorbed into British units. It became apparent that the identities of the 77th Division and its individual regiments would be eroded if the plans went forward. Orders were issued on June 4 for the Division to deploy to the Front, but these orders were countermanded on the 6th, likely due to the intervention of the American High Command.

Instead, on June 6, the entire 77th Division headed off on a series of long marches and train rides, taking it west and then well south of Paris and finally far to the east. The 77th would not be thrown into the fight to halt the latest German push toward Paris, but instead, would relieve another more experienced American Division, the 42nd, which was deployed with French forces in Lorraine, France, just northeast of the City of Baccarat.

The 308th Regiment entered the front lines in the Baccarat Sector on June 21st, anchoring the right flank of the 77th Division’s section of front-line responsibility, American Doughboys deployed side-by-side with French Poilus. The Germans knew that a new American Division had entered the line and provided a royal reception the night of June 23-24 involving a sudden and violent attack by soldiers from a local Division (35th Landwehr), reinforced by a battalion of “Storm Troops”. The German attack was supported by bombing and strafing aircraft and heavy artillery, firing high explosive and poison gas rounds. The 308th Regiment subsector appeared to absorb the worst of the attack, with a few front-line platoons, both French and American, suffering heavy casualties. Corporal Cox’s 3rd Battalion was unscathed during this attack, as it was in a “reserve position” at the time.

Following the June 23-24 attack, nothing comparable was experienced in the 308th Regiment subsector and things remained relatively quiet. During the next 5 weeks, Corporal Cox’s 3rd Battalion rotated through the “Front-Line”, “Support” and “Reserve” positions in alternating fashion with the other two battalions of the Regiment. While on the front line, there were frequent patrols into “No Man’s Land”, and while in the rear Reserve position, constant drilling accompanied by random enemy shelling.

By late July, word had spread of great doings in the west around towns with names like Chateau-Thierry and Soissons. “The Boches are on the run!” their regimental commander told them. The 308th Regiment and the rest of the 77th Division began preparations for departing the Lorraine and heading into a new fight elsewhere. On
Aug 4, the 77th Division was relieved by the new American 37th Division and the soldiers of the 308th Regiment began the long march to the nearest rail head, where they would board trains heading west to participate in the great Allied counteroffensive against Germany. James Cox was now Sergeant Cox, as Regimental Records show him
receiving a field promotion to the rank of Sergeant on Aug 1st, along with two other Company L corporals, Charles Christie and Fred Sexauer. (Note: All three men would survive the war, with Jim Cox and Charlie Christie remaining good friends.)

On Aug 8, the 308th Regiment detrained about 45 km south of Chateau-Thierry, a day later passing through this city in a convoy of French cambions headed toward the Front. From the sights and smells left by months of bitter fighting in and around Chateau- Thierry, the soldiers of the 308th could tell they were about to “really get into it”.
The great Franco-American Aisne-Marne Offensive (also known as the 2nd Battle of The Marne) launched on July 18 had eliminated the large German front-line salient, or bulge, that had extended as far south as Chateau-Thierry. By Aug 6, a new German resistance line had become established at the base of the former bulge, which, in the area that the 77th Division was headed, ran along the north side of the Vesle River. On the evening of Aug 11-12, units of the 77th Division relieved the entire U.S. 4th Division and elements of the nearby U.S. 28th Division along a front-line sector extending from just west of the town of Bazoches to just west of the city of Fismes. Within 3 days’ time, the 308th Regiment would take over a roughly 3 km sub-sector length of the 77th Division sector.

Figure 2Figure 2. 77th Division Front Line Sector, with 308th Regiment Sub-Sector also noted, along the Vesle River, France - Aug 1918.

Over the next 3 weeks, the Doughboys of the 77th and 28th Divisions (the latter occupying the 77th’s right flank in Fismes) would suffer heavily in bitter fighting with the Germans, who occupied superior defensive positions on the heights north of the Vesle. This fighting included a German attack on Aug 22 - preceded by an extensive artillery bombardment of high explosives and poison gas - against the 3rd Battalion of the 308th Regiment. Sergeant Cox’s Company L was in a front-line position at the time. It was a brutal affair, with the ranks of the German attackers including “flame thrower” (Flamenwerfer) teams. The Regimental History cites the fighting that day as some of the severest the Division experienced in France. Much of the fighting occurred within the ruined grounds of an old chateau and its surrounding woods. The chateau had the appropriate moniker Chateau Du-Diable, or “Devil’s Chateau”.

One of the horrors of the First World War that Sergeant Cox experienced first-hand during his time on the Vesle River was the widespread use of poisonous gas. By this point in the war, the major European combatant nations were all using various forms of deadly artillery delivered gas. The Germans north of the Vesle had plenty of the so- called “Blue Cross” (Diphenylchlorarsine) and “Yellow Cross” (Mustard Gas) artillery shells, and used them without restraint in a methodical shelling of the 77th and 28th Division positions throughout the month of August and into September. The 77th Division would end up suffering about 2000 gas casualties during this period.

At the start of September, the Germans were again in retreat due to a successful large- scale attack 30 km to the northwest by the French 10th Army and the American 32nd Division. This retreat included a controlled pullback of all nearby German forces, including those opposing the 77th Division. These German troops would end up withdrawing to a defensive line near the Aisne River. The Americans caught wind of the retreat on Sep 3. The following day the 77th Division Commander ordered all four of his infantry regiments to immediately pursue the enemy. Sergeant Cox’s 3rd Battalion, at that time in a rear “reserve” position, was tapped to be the “attack battalion” for the
308th Regiment.

On Sep 4, Cox’s battalion marched through the devastated area of earlier fighting along the Vesle and continued beyond the old front line positions into what had been “No Man’s Land” the day before. The soldiers halted and dug in for a brief period at dusk and then, in picket-line formation, made a tense nighttime cross country advance several kilometers north to a position just east of the town of Blanzy-les-Fismes, pausing here early in the AM on Sep 5. There was little time for rest, as the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion were moving again just before dawn.

As the sun began to rise on what would be Sergeant James Cox’s last day of fighting, his 3rd Battalion advanced over the French plain about a kilometer, passing a narrow gage railroad track and halting on the southern edge of a steep valley west of the village of Serval. Up to this point the battalion had advanced unopposed, but the sounds of small and heavy caliber weapon fire from fighting on their flanks and the knowledge that the main German defense lines could be no more than a few kilometers distant, must have raised concerns in the mind of the Battalion Commander, Captain Harrington, about the possibility of a German rear-guard encounter. Scanning the terrain ahead, Harrington would have perceived that the opposite wooded slopes offered good concealment for the enemy. Nevertheless, he organized his four infantry companies into two waves, Cox’s Company L and Company M in the first wave, and Companies I & K in the second. Harrington then ordered the first wave to proceed down the steep slope, followed by the second. One can imagine that the junior officers and NCOs (such as James Cox), leading their assigned squads and platoons, must have stood out to the hidden German machine gunners patiently holding fire on the opposite slope…

According to Miles2: “The first wave, slipping and clambering slowly from rock to rock, had reached the bottom and had begun the upward ascent when they were met with fire from unseen machine guns. In the words of one observer present, “the first line began to fade.” Sergeant Rappolt of M Company was killed, and there were a number of other casualties. It was a rough and disorganizing experience. Those who were not hit dropped to the ground, and the second wave which had not yet finished the descent, was ordered back to the top of the slope to be immediately joined by the first. A number of men were lost as prisoners following this repulse.” One of the “other casualties” noted by Miles was Sergeant James Cox, seriously wounded in the abdomen by a machine gun bullet. Those “lost as prisoners” included Sergeants Christie and Sexauer, who were likely pinned down along with their men by the point-blank range machine gun fire. (Both Christie and Sexauer would be interred in a German POW camp and released one month after the end of the war.)

Figure 3Figure 3. 3rd Battalion action at the steep valley west of Serval, France on the morning of Sept 05, 1918.

Again, according to Miles2: “Soon two German aeroplanes appeared, and their red flares were promptly acknowledged by the enemy artillery, which poured an intense fire into the ranks of the Battalion, now holding a position on the sunken road and on the railroad which had been crossed a short time before. For several hours this artillery fire, of all sizes, as well as the fire from the machine gun nests, prevented any forward movement.” In the meantime, while all this was happening, Sergeant Cox lay helpless where he had fallen, waging a desperate battle to stay alive, wrapping his military equipment webbing around his wound to staunch the bleeding. It would not be till very late in the day, that a replenished and reorganized force from Companies L & M reentered the valley and recovered Sergeant Cox. Cox received medical treatment as well as Last Rites of the Catholic Church, the latter administered by the 308th Regimental Chaplin, Father (1st Lieutenant) James Halligan.* The war was over for Sergeant James Cox. He was sent to a System of Supply hospital and eventually recovered from his wounds. That he was able to survive on the battlefield for an estimated 12 hours and eventually make a full recovery was miraculous.

(* Note: 33 years later, James Cox and Monsignor Halligan reunited for a much happier reason, this time in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York. Together, they celebrated the ordination of Msgr. Halligan’s nephew and James Cox’s son as Catholic priests. Neither of the latter two, long-time friends and seminary classmates, had any previous knowledge of the remarkable relationship between uncle and father. J)

Little is known at the present time about the details of Sergeant Cox’s hospitalization and recovery, but it appears that he was able to return to active duty and rejoin Company L prior to the 308th Regiment’s return to America in late April 1919. Sergeant Cox was honorably discharged from the Army on May 9, 1919, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1920.

Figure 4Figure 4. Photo possibly taken in France prior to the 308th Regiment's return to America in April 1919. From right to left: Sgt James Cox, Corp Joseph McGovern, Sgt Charles Christie (speculated); identity of individual on extreme left is unknown.

On Nov 5, 2017, the 77th Infantry Division Reserve Officers Association conducted its Forty-First Annual Ecumenical Memorial Service at Ft. Totten, N.Y. to honor the memory of deceased members of the 77th Division and its successor units. Sergeant James Cox was included in the list of soldiers remembered and honored. Sergeant Cox’s eulogy included a beautiful prayer by his last surviving daughter, Sister Hannah Marie Cox, of the Presentation Sisters. 

Figure 5Figure 5. Sr. Hannah Marie Cox offers a prayer at the Nov 5, 2017 77th Div. Memorial Service, Ft Totten, NY. Standing alongside her is one of her nephews, a grandson of Sgt James Cox.

1 Miles, L. Wardlaw, History of the 308th Infantry 1917-1919, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1927, pg 27.

2 Miles, L. Wardlaw, History of the 308th Infantry 1917-1919, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1927, pgs. 101-102.


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