Courage Under Fire
Crossing the Waal River, Battle of Nijmegen, Market Garden, September 1944
October 2014, Dieter Stenger, Curator
Operation MARKET-GARDEN was a daring Allied plan in September 1944 to place Allied troops across the Rhine and capture the Ruhr, but also to trap remaining Germans forces in western Holland, outflank the West Wall, and position Allied forces for a subsequent drive into northern Germany. The 82d Airborne Division dropped near Nijmegen to capture the bridges over the Waal (Rhine).
"How could this operation succeed? At least three quarters of the battalion would be killed and the rest would drift downstream. It was a humanly impossible undertaking. However, it had to be [done] soon and quickly; the bridge must be taken; the road to Arnhem must be opened up."
Captain Henry B. Keep, Staff, 504th PIR
Parachutes open overhead as waves of paratroops land in Holland during operations by the 1st Allied Airborne Army. September 1944. Image: National Archives
Major Julian A. Cook, commander of the 3d Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
On September 20, 1944 the Allies renewed their attacks against Nijmegen from the east against the northern sector of the city after additional forces, consisting of tanks, artillery, and engineers, were brought forward. While German units mounted a bitter defense, Allied Typhoon fighter aircraft bombed and strafed the northern banks. British preparatory artillery and tank fire, along with heavy white phosphorus smoke, allowed the first of two battalions from the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, to conduct a diversionary assault across the Waal River, west of the city, and secure a foot-hold on the northern bank. The Chaplain of the 504th, Captain Delbert Kuehl, requested permission to join the men in the assault, stating "We were on a suicide mission and my men didn’t even have the choice to volunteer. Since they had to go, I chose to go too."
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), the nation’s second highest award for valor
Major Julian A. Cook, commander of the 3d Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, led his battalion with unparalleled bravery in the initial assault wave during the daring daylight crossing of the Waal River. Although his boatload suffered heavy casualties as a result of the incessant enemy small arms and artillery fire which raked the 250 yard wide stream, he guided the barge safely ashore. Although still under heavy fire, Major Cook remained on the river bank directing the remainder of his battalion coming ashore. On several occasions he plunged back into the river to pull damaged boats ashore and to care for the wounded. During the crossing heavy casualties were suffered, but Major Cook quickly reorganized the remainder of his battalion and led it successfully from objective to objective during the 4000-yard attack, until the north end of the Nijmegen bridge was reached and seized. Major Cook's thoroughness in effecting rapid reorganization and consolidation after the seizure of each intermediate objective was highly instrumental in the success of the entire operation.
For his courage under fire, Major Cook was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), the nation’s second highest award for valor. The DSC and accompanying Militaire Willeme-Orde of the Netherlands are part of the U.S. Army historical collection held at the 82d Airborne Division War Memorial Museum at Fort Bragg, NC.
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