If you accept death’s gauntlet—and forward go To meet Him in His hour, you are, my son, Of the calling to which only the bravest rise, A SOLDIER!
For no one are the above lines more appropriate than for Captain John H. Featherston, Jr., who was killed in action in Germany on March 24, 1945. Jack, as he was familiarly known to all his family and friends, loved the army and military life almost to the complete exclusion of anything else. Those of us who knew Jack so well find it hard to believe that he is no longer with us. Yet, we also realize that he lived and died as he always wanted to do. No finer compliment could be paid to a real soldier than to meet his Maker on the field of battle. Fortunately for us all. however, life is not measured in so many years but rather in our accomplishments and the pleasures that we derive and give to others during whatever span of life God allots to each of us. It may seem tragic that Jack’s life has been cut short just when he was enjoying living to the fullest extent. Each of us, however, has a specific mission on this earth and we cannot question God’s will and decision to call unto Him those He needs—when he needs them.
Jack was born at Portsmouth, Virginia, on May 27, 1922 to Margaret Hunter Featherston and Colonel John H. Featherston, U.S. Army. The oldest of four sons, he lived the life of a typical “army brat” following his family in and out of the United States from one army post to another. During his travels with his family he lived in Hawaii and the Philippine Islands but spent most of his early boyhood years at Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he met, as children, the men who later became his closest friends both at West Point and in the service.
As a youngster Jack wanted to go to the United States Naval Academy from whence his father had graduated in 1919. Yet as he grew older, he leaned more and more toward the Army for his future career.
After graduating from high school Jack went to the U.S. Army West Point Prep School at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, where he competed for a Presidential Appointment to West Point. By now, Jack was definitely more desirous of going to West Point but he could not completely give up his first ambition of going to Annapolis. In the meantime, while waiting news of an appointment to either Academy he returned to the United States and was in Chicago when he received word that he had an appointment to both Academies. Recalling his first ambition to go to Annapolis, his father’s Alma Mater, on the one hand, and then his whole life spent in the army, on the other hand, Jack finally decided to the joy of all his close friends to go to West Point to follow a military career—as his great hero, Stonewall Jackson, had done before him.
During his stay at the Academy Jack’s chief desire was to take all that West Point could give to him in making him a real soldier so that when his Alma Mater needed his services he could give back to her all that he had learned in her hallowed halls, plus the interest of his personal experiences and knowledge. In repaying his Alma Mater he, with many of his classmates and friends, paid the maximum by giving his life that those who follow after him may go on to uphold the traditions and high standards that West Point demands of her sons.
Jack’s roommate wrote thus of him in the Howitzer for January 1943. “Jack came to West Point with the firm resolve to become a good soldier. Super spoonoid, conscientious in duty, he pursued with characteristic determination his chosen work. Weekends, when other men were out dragging, Jack could be found at home studying Napoleon or Clausewitz.”
With the advent of war, Jack’s stay at West Point was cut short and his class graduated in January rather than in June 1943. His chosen branch was the Field Artillery and, after a brief leave at home, he proceeded to tho Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. There, after finishing the basic course, he became interested in airborne troops and tactics. With little persuasion he decided to go to a Field Artillery Glider Battalion and consequently wont to Camp Mackall, North Carolina, a glider training center, where he was assigned to the 17th Airborne Division which had just been newly created. There, he immediately dug in and worked to see his unit grow from a mass of green recruits to one of the finest fighting units of our Army. After months of training his unit moved to a maneuver area in Tennessee, and at last the big day came when, no longer a green outfit, the 17th Airborne Division got orders to go overseas. For Jack and many others this was the day for which they had patiently waited all during their training.
When the unit went overseas, Jack went as a Battery Commander in the 680th Field Artillery Glider Battalion of the 17th Airborne Division. He was as proud as he could be of his unit and in his letters written in combat highly praised his men and their equipment. Although life was hectic in the face of battle, Jack was happiest when the going was toughest—when the valuable lessons he had learned were being tested.
His Division entered combat on December 24, 1944, in France, Belgium and Luxembourg to take part in stopping Von Runstedt’s counter-offensive in the Ardennes. In this action, the Division’s baptism of fire, the enemy was repulsed and pushed back into Germany. After a short rest the 17th Division made an Airborne landing near Wesel, Germany, east of the Rhine. It was in this action that Jack met his untimely death. For his valor in this action he was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart posthumously.
Jack’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Paul F. Oswald, U.S.M.A., 1936, in a letter to Jack’s mother wrote: “I was about fifty yards away from John when he met his end. A small group of us were cleaning out scattered snipers and an enemy strong point. John had organized his sector and was moving with a few men to flank the strong point when he was hit by small arms fire. He received a penetrating wound of the left chest and died almost instantly”.
Again Col. Oswald wrote: “His unfortunate death grieves me deeply, not only because of his outstanding professional ability, but because I consider myself among those privileged to be his friends. You have the deepest sympathy of all of the officers and men of this unit in your bereavement. John was an outstanding officer and set the highest standards for both officers and men to emulate. Personally I rated him Superior, and feel that I shall never be able to replace him entirely. He was held in high regard by all of the members of this command and possessed a host of friends. He was a splendid soldier and a true gentleman”.
Jack is survived by his parents; three younger brothers, Frank Hunter Featherston, Robert Keith Featherston, and Edward Wilcox Featherston; and a host of friends and acquaintances throughout the army.
Jack is buried in the United States Army Military Cemetery at Margraten, Holland, surrounded by his friends and associates who also gave their lives that those of us left behind might live to enjoy the things for which they fought and gave their lives.
For those of us who loved Jack, we feel an irreplaceable loss. We can only find solace and consolation in knowing that he died when his life’s cup was full. He was a true son of West Point and lived by and for his Alma Mater’s motto of “Duty, Honor, Country”.
Good-bye Jack—Those of us who knew you so well only hope that we can carry on some small part of your way of life and live up to the high standard you set for us.
—J. T. deC., Jr.
- Class of 1943 January