It was 1941, just months before the attack on Pear Harbor thrust the United States into the throes of World War II, when young Jack Cowley first raised his hand in Quincy, Mass. and committed to serve his country as a United States Marine. He wanted to travel and, at 17, was anxious to commence his adult life. Above all, young Cowley was driven to be Semper Fidelis, and the years since are testament to his achievement of loyalty to country and lifelong service.
Cowley served valiantly as a member of the Marine Corp in the Pacific Theatre and at the famed Guadalcanal campaign, the first major offensive and a decisive victory for the Allies in the South Pacific. The island was also where, during a small engagement near the Matanikau River seven weeks after the initial landings, Coast Guard Signalman First Class Douglas Munro, died while rescuing a large stranded group of Marines under enemy fire near the river. Although Cowley was not personally serving at that location during the three-month-long battle, he knew well of Munro’s sacrifice and of his posthumous Medal of Honor, the United States' highest military award. Monroe is the only member of the Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor and it seems fitting that he earned it for rescuing Cowley’s Marine Corps brothers.
Cowley served in the Marines throughout the entirety of WWII and until 1947. Following his enlistment, he returned home to Massachusetts, yet his commitment to serve was far from over. He joined the police force, and Cowley along with his wife Virginia, opened Nether-Lair Kennels. In the decades that followed they expanded their kennel to serve both law enforcement and the community; training dogs for show, as well as offering specialized training of police dogs for law enforcement units throughout New England. Cowley was instrumental in developing the K-9 corps program for the city of Boston and the Massachusetts State Police. In 1984 Cowley retired from the K-9 unit, then completely from Wrentham Police and Fire in 1989 at the age of 65. A few years later he sold the kennel, and moved full-time to Cape Cod so he could spend more time in his retirement boating off the coast of New England.
His former work with K-9 units tracked lost and missing persons, and after his retirement from the K-9 force, he parlayed that service into Coast Guard Auxiliary work, supporting a service that finds and rescues people in trouble on the water. Cowley initially joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary in 1986 when he bought his boat and started to spend more time on the water. When he was twice retired at 65, he made his voluntary Coast Guard Auxiliary work his “full-time” job. He continued to conduct patrols for Group Woods Hole/Sector Southeastern New England in his boat, Spindrift, until 2006 and was even given a small dedicated office in the building, as he was a reliable fixture at Coast Guard Station Woods Hole in Massachusetts for decades.
In January, Cowley was honored for his lifelong service at a Coast Guard Auxiliary retirement ceremony at Station Woods Hole.
“I was told to show up for regular Thursday Quarters in ODUs [Operational Dress Uniform] the week after my end of tour,” Cowley explained. “ I expected the Captain to say a few words about Papa Jack but was overwhelmed when I glanced at the man next to me in formation; it was my Marine brother, Everett from Connecticut. The ceremony also included many old friends from all over New England.”
Cowley’s family, friends, and shipmates had all gathered at the station to wish “Papa Jack” fair winds and following seas. During the ceremony, Captain Schultz, Commander of Sector Southeastern New England, awarded Cowley the Coast Guard Auxiliary Achievement Medal for his 30 years of honorable volunteer service in the Auxiliary.
Though retired three times over, his commitment to our country continues to fly high each morning at Station Woods Hole. The station’s flagpole was erected because of him and was dedicated to him as he personally oversaw the daily flag raising and formal morning colors during his time at Station Woods Hole. The ensign of our country has evolved over the years from the 48-star flag Cowley saluted in WWII to the standard we honor today. Old Glory has truly become the symbol of his life of expanding service. Displaying never-ending loyalty, Papa Jack still carries American flags around with him in a red bag with a marine emblem ironed on the front.
“Once a marine, always a marine,” Cowley clarifies.
With honor, courage, and commitment, at 92 he still chooses to use a large portion of his social security check each month to purchase and distribute American flags when he sees a tattered flag atop a flagpole or simply a face that needs a smile. To date, he has purchased and distributed more than 1,800 flags. Along with each box containing a flag, he also includes a copy of the constitution, a card of gratitude, and a reminder:
“Everyday that you can wake up free, it’s going to be a great day.”