Medal of Honor recipient to finally be honored in Wichita’s Veterans Memorial Park

10/12/2013 3:32 PM

10/12/2013 3:32 PM

About 1,500 bricks have been purchased to honor World War II veterans since their memorial was established at Veterans Memorial Park in 2011.

For the most part, family members gathered the information on their veteran and bought the bricks that were used to pay for the memorial and pave a walkway around it.

But Dick Cowan — the only Wichitan to receive the Medal of Honor during WWII — doesn’t have any family members still living in the area. He also doesn’t have a brick at memorial.

That will change Saturday when a brick honoring Cowan, who was killed in the war, will be quietly placed at the memorial.

Bob Rogers, a WWII vet and member of the war memorial’s board, realized Cowan had been overlooked as the spaces for bricks were being filled up. He was well aware of Cowan’s heroics because they both went to North High School.

“His brick really needed to be there with the rest,” Rogers said.

So about 11 a.m. he and Skip Ward, another board member, will go to the park northwest of downtown and along the Arkansas River’s east bank. The public is invited to join them in laying the brick.

“We like to think that there’s no World War II veteran any more important than the other,” Ward said. “But this gentleman is the only CMH winner at the World War II memorial, so it means a lot.

“We wanted to make damn sure that he had a position in that memorial.”

It’s also fitting that laying the brick will be done without much fanfare.

“He was always very quiet,” said Rogers, who was two years younger than Cowan.

Cowan, who was born in Lincoln, Neb., made straight A’s at North and attended Friends University. He was drafted by the Army in September 1943 and was soon fighting in Europe.

Dick Ayesh, a WWII vet, graduated with Cowan from North High in 1940. They also attended school together at McCormick Elementary and Allison Junior High.

“He was a great guy,” said Ayesh, 90. “We pulled funny little jokes on each other. I can still see his smiling face. He was a regular fella.”

On Dec. 17, 1944, Cowan was in Belgium when his company was attacked by an overwhelmingly superior force of German infantry and tanks, according to Cowan’s award citation.

Pfc. Cowan, a heavy machine gunner, almost single-handedly protected retreating U.S. troops during what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. He held his position despite being rocked by a shell fired by a German tank and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire while killing or wounding about 40 German soldiers, the citation said.

“That doesn’t go with the Dick Cowan I grew up with,” Ayesh said. “He was quiet. But that just goes to show you what kind of a man he was. He was a common Joe who did uncommon things.”

Cowan wouldn’t see any fanfare for his heroics or in receiving the medal.

After surviving the attack, he and other soldiers went into a barn late that night on Dec. 17 to catch some sleep. A German tank fired a shell into the barn and killed Cowan.

He was less than two weeks past his 22nd birthday.

Cowan is buried along with other family members at Wichita Park Cemetery.

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