My wife’s beloved father and granddaddy to our daughters. Born December 6, 1911 at Refugio, Texas.
The Brownsville-Mexico Railroad sent his father to the station at Woodsboro in Refugio County in 1908. The town, not yet platted, had a population of just over two hundred people.
Studied petroleum production engineering at Texas A&M University. Member of the Aggie Corps of Cadets, 1929-1932 (The Cadet Corps at Texas A&M sent over 20,229 former cadets into World War II, 14,123 of them as commissioned officers – more than the combined totals of West Point and Annapolis).
Owned a rig and derrick construction company, working out of Refugio, Texas in the oil & gas business from 1938 onward. By 1941, Woodsboro had a population of more than one thousand four hundred, related to an oil boom in the county. The infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place on the day after Harry’s thirtieth birthday.
Enlisted in the army on January 31, 1942. Stationed at Foster Field in Victoria, Texas then at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas. Accepted to Officer Candidate School. Commissioned a second lieutenant in Ordnance on October 3, 1942 at Aberdeen, Maryland.
Assigned to 45th Air Depot Group at Brookley Field in Mobile, Alabama. Temporary assignment to Wright-Patterson Air Base in Ohio to lend oilfield experience in designing systems to unload and load trucks. Returned to Brookley and promoted to first lieutenant in February 1943.
Mary Durrett traveled from Texas to Mobile and they married at Government Street Presbyterian Church on June 12, 1943. Left by train for New York on July 19. Harry shipped out to England on July 23 aboard the Queen Mary in July to prepare for the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. The crossing took five days. The Queen Mary carried 18,600 fighting men aboard.
21 months as Ordnance Supply Officer in Headquarters, Air Service Command, IX Tactical Air Command (TAC), responsible for furnishing ordnance supplies in preparation for war.
Harry was at Wantage, England through December. He recalled spending Christmas with his buddy Al Scripture (Fort Wayne, Indiana) at the home of an English major with his family. They served roast goose. Mary had mailed some marshmallows to Harry and he showed the English how to roast them over the fire.
Temporarily assigned to General Omar Bradley’s 1st Army (specifically regarding IX TAC’s support of 1st Army in France after the landing). Trained with 1st Army for six weeks, running up and down the hills of Wales.
Promoted to Captain, Combat Liaison Officer on May 1, 1944 on the eve of the invasion and assigned to 1st Army’s war room for planning. Was in the inner circle of those in the know that the landing was to be at Normandy and not at Calais.
On June 1, Captain Cummins boarded a vessel that put out to sea. They moved to just offshore of Omaha Beach, Normandy on the night of June 5. On the morning of June 6, Harry witnessed firsthand the greatest invasion in the history of men. He went ashore on Omaha Beach amid the wreckage and carnage on D-Day+2. He lived in a pup tent and a foxhole just off the beach for seven weeks with 1st Army HQ, coordinating supplies for IX Air Force and air support for1st Army.
General Elwood “Pete” Quesada commanded IX Tactical Air Command. Under Quesada’s vision and leadership, IX TAC with speed and precision provided close air support to combat troops on the ground.
After the Allied breakout from the Normandy beachhead, Captain Harry Cummins Jr. accompanied frontline units in the race across France toward the Rhine River and Germany. His mission was to identify potential forward airfields and what was needed to prepare or repair them so that tactical fighter-bomber groups of IX TAC could be continually kept in the air as close as possible to the rapidly advancing front. He also was involved in air support for ground troops engaged in combat. He recalled one (at the time) top-secret tactic in which from time to time they called in coordinates for the dropping of one-thousand-pound bombs on key ridges to form foxholes for combat infantry troops in anticipation of German counterattacks.
The United States Army awarded Captain Harry Cummins Jr. the Bronze Star “for exemplary meritorious service from 6 June 1944 to 19 October 1944”. His citation reads in part:
With complete regard for his personal safety, Captain Cummins traveled day and night immediately in the rear of the front lines, making personal contact with maintenance and supply points, with which was impossible to communicate in any other manner. His untiring efforts in maintaining close relationship … insure that efficient Ordnance Service to the Air Force was immediately available for all arriving units. This was accomplished in spite of rapidly changing tactical situations, extremely bad communications and the general confusion attendant to the large-scale operations. His services were of the utmost benefit not only to the Air Force, but also to Units of the First Army with whom he associated …” Harry Cummins Jr., 0-1549691, Bronze Star Citation, Awarded per General Orders 186, HQ IX Air Force Service Command, 12 November 1944,
One of his recollections of this period: The slower guys did not survive long in the field. When someone heard the distinct click of a German machine gun and yelled “Down!” those who did not instinctively react did not make it.
IX TAC Headquarters recalled Captain Cummins from the front in late October with the ground troops on the verge of entering Germany. He and all of IX Air Force worked night and day during the time of the surprise German Ardennes Offensive, which began on December 16. The first priority was to gain air superiority. During the first three days of the German offensive, IX fighters claimed one hundred and thirty six kills. Inclement weather precluded flying from December 19 until December 23. During this time, the German penetration of the Allied lines (“The Bulge”) reached a distance of fifty miles. When the weather cleared on December 23, IX TAC was ready. Allied planes flew more than sixteen thousand sorties in the next five days. They targeted German armor and interdicted the German supply lines.
Somewhere along the path to victory, Captain Cummins saw firsthand the horrors of a Nazi death camp. When he spoke of the experience, he was much older and it seemed to be an emotional response to something that triggered him. We never asked him and he never spoke of it again.
He was stationed in Bad Kissengen and, later, in Fritzler, Germany after V-E Day. He spent two months in Rheims, France and then three weeks in Marseilles, at which time he boarded the freighter New Amsterdam and headed home.
Separated from active duty in the service on January 26, 1946 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The US Army sent him a letter offering him a promotion to major or $300 cash. As he was broke, he took the money instead.
Honorably discharged from the U.S. Army Reserves on April 1, 1953
He returned to work, building derricks in the oil field. After a bad injury in 1947, he went into the insurance business and built Harry Cummins Insurance Agency in Woodsboro, Texas. He sold the agency and retired in 1981.
He endured the tragedy of his wife preceding him in death. Harry died on September 17, 1996. He was eighty-four years old at the time of his passing.
Harry Cummins Jr. is buried alongside his beloved wife, Mary Durrett Cummins, in a small cemetery outside Refugio, Texas. The graves are adjacent to those of Harry’s parents.