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 James Alexander Costain
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Posted - 04/26/2016 :  13:17:18  Show Profile
James Alexander Costain was born in Moorhead, Minnesota, 29 March 1911, of middle class, Congregationalist stock. The four sons of his parents, Arthur Howard Costain and Anna Hart Costain, all saw service in World War II; two of them gave their lives for their country. Besides Jim, the brothers were: Lieutenant John M. Costain, Captain Arthur H. Costain Jr., and Captain Philiip M. Costain (United States Military Academy, Class of 1942). Phillip was shot down while a Liberator pilot over Vogelsburg, Germany, 24 February 1944. A sister, Mary Jane Olsen, resides in Moorhead, Minnesota.

As a boy, Jim was studious and sober-minded, an avid reader of any and all material that he could find. He graduated from Moorhead High School at fifteen, enrolled in Fargo Business College and taught penmanship there for three years. Motivated by a desire for the best college education, Jim was able to swap with a young man from a nearby district an Annapolis appointment for the United States Military Academy appointment he really wanted. His devoted mother sold her diamond ring to finance his preparation and travel expenses so that he could enter West Point in July 1930 with the Class of 1934.

As a Cadet Jim continued to manifest the studious bent that he had shown as a boy. He was driven by an insatiable curiosity, with particular interest in acquiring knowledge of the unusual. This inclination inevitably gave him a store of facts with which he was prepared to debate either side of almost any issue. His fondness for books led him to participation in their preparation. He worked with classmate, Bob Miller, in producing that Plebe Bible, “Bugle Notes,” and he was Photographic Editor of the HOWITZER. It was said in this latter connection that no one could recognize more faces of classmates than he.

Jim chose Field Artillery upon graduation and was assigned to the 84th Field Artillery Battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas. He met a lovely school teacher on a visit home and it was love at first sight; Jim asked for Martha (Moxie) Atkinson’s hand after thirty days acquaintance. They were formally engaged Christmas Eve 1934, and after their marriage in Moorhead on 1 June 1935 the young couple began life together at Fort Riley. Jim soon became an active horseman, and also an active father, for it was during this tour that the Costains’ first two daughters, Patricia Ann (1936) and Margaret Ann (1937), were born.

In 1937 Jim was ordered to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, initially assigned to the Field Artillery School, and subsequently to the Advanced Horsemanship Course there. He did so well in this course that his next orders to Fort Carson, Colorado, were cancelled at the last minute so that Jim could train for the Olympic Horse Show Team at Sill. During this tour at Sill two more children, Phillip (1939) and Paula (1940), were born to the Costains.

In June 1942, under war orders, Jim moved his family to Moorhead, and proceeded to Shelby, Mississippi, where he joined the 103d Field Artillery Battalion of the 43d Division. The unit embarked for the Southwest Pacific in July 1942.

In October 1942, while Jim's unit was preparing to disembark from the converted troopship, "President Coolidge," the ship struck Japanese mines and after listing radically for about an hour, rolled over and sank. This dramatic event was heavily chronicled in the press at the time. However, Jim was not to see combat in the Southwest Pacific; as the 43d Division lay off "some Pacific Island” waiting for a pre-dawn attack, orders for his reassignment arrived, and Jim was lifted off the ship, for return to the Zone of interior. Jim described the reaction to the Coolidge incident while on reassignment leave: "...I have never seen such a change come over a group of men...The next day they were a sober lot-the sinking of the Coolidge had brought home to them for the first time, what they were really in for. It made them better soldiers overnight.”

After his leave, Jim was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and assigned as Commanding Officer, 915th Field Artillery Battalion of the 90th Division, Camp Barkley, Texas. On completion of desert training, the 90th moved to England where they continued training for another year until D-Day.

Jim went in over Utah Beach and was leading his battalion during the breakout from the beachhead when he was killed. The setting in which he gave his life for his country is best described in the words of Brigadier General John M. Devine, his Division Commander: "On June 15, 1944, Colonel Costain was in command of his artillery battalion supporting the advance of the Infantry. The fighting had been fierce. One infantry battalion had advanced about 800 yards only to become separated from the rest of the outfit to the rear. The artillery forward observer with the forward infantry battalion lost his wire communications to the rear. Then Colonel Costain realized that if the infantry battalion was to receive artillery support, wire communications had to be re-established with its forward observer. The need was pressing as the forward infantry were receiving heavy machine gun fire from the flank, and needed artillery support. Colonel Costain, who was already at one of the forward infantry command posts, organized a wire patrol and led the patrol forward.

"The patrol advanced for some distance with Colonel Costain in the lead. About halfway across the open field an enemy machine gun opened fire. The patrol was pinned to the ground, and a friendly machine gun covering the advance was destroyed. Colonel Costain, with the utmost bravery, returned the fire of the machine gun and attempted to silence it. He continued to fire until his ammunition was exhausted. About that time a flank machine gun struck and mortally wounded him.”

The esteem in which his fellow-soldiers held Jim is expressed in extracts of letters to his wife:

...His quick intelligence, his ability to see the crucial point in a situation, his intolerance of bungling, either on his part or that of other people, and his willingness to fight anyone for what he thought was right, made him a man hard to forget. He died the same way he lived—trying to do his job better, when a lesser man would have been more than satisfied.” (Bob Moore)

"...Just one more thing I want to say and that is that every officer in the battalion wanted to go to war with Colonel Costain. We all knew he knew his stuff, and in the days of action we went through together we all found him to be considerate, responsive, and acceptive to suggestions, and understanding,

"One of the things that stands out in my mind and that I will always remember is that when we had a complaint, as junior officers always do, we always concluded our remarks with 'Well, Colonel Costain knows what he’s doing and I’ll be glad to go to war with a man like that.’ And every one of them meant it.” (John Klas for all the officers of the 915th Battalion.)

After the war, the Field Artillery School named an artillery hill at Fort Sill, Costain Hill. In 1947, Moxie married Jim’s brother, John. John adopted all the children. John and Moxie lives in, Minot, North Dakota.

Jim's surviving children are: Mrs. Robert E. Keller (Patricia), Albuquerque, New Mexico; Mrs. James Albers (Margaret), Dallas, Texas; Major Phillip A. Costain, United States Military Academy, Class of 1962; and Mrs. Jack Goodman (Paula), Fort Wayne, Indiana.

—Johnny Stevens ’34


Photo 90th Division Assn.

312 Posts

Posted - 04/26/2016 :  13:33:57  Show Profile
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Colonel (Field Artillery) James Alexander Costain (ASN: 0-19423), United States Army, for gallantry in action against the enemy in northern France as Commanding Officer, 915th Field Artillery Battalion, 90th Infantry Division. On 15 June 1944 the 915th Field Artillery Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Costain was in direct support of the ** Infantry. Two assault companies were cut off from the remainder of the Battalion and had no communications, consequently no artillery support. Colonel Costain realized that if the assault companies were to receive artillery support, communications must be reestablished and the location of German machine guns holding up the flank be determined. He therefore, and with no concern for his own safety, organized and led a patrol forward. The patrol was shortly pinned to the ground by enemy fire and a friendly machine gun covering his advance was destroyed. Colonel Costain with the utmost bravery returned the fire of the enemy machine gun in an effort to silence it. He continued to fire until his ammunition was exhausted. At this time he was mortally wounded by enemy fire.
General Orders: Headquarters, 90th Infantry Division, General Orders No. 20 (June 29, 1944)

Action Date: June 15, 1944

Service: Army

Rank: Lieutenant Colonel

Company: Commanding Officer

Battalion: 915th Field Artillery Battalion

Division: 90th Infantry Division

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