One of four brothers from a Greek-American Beaumont, Texas family who served in World War II, Brig. Gen. Mike P. Cokinos, a Purple Heart winner and noted athlete at Texas A & M University, died Aug. 9 in Houston. He was 98.
He was captain of his college’s basketball team and named an All-Southwest Conference point guard in 1943 as a senior and was known as the “darling of the court,” for his good looks, and “Iron Mike,” for his hustle and defensive skills, according to his obituary, the Houston Chronicle said.
After he was graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, he attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill in Oklahoma before going through advanced training at Fort Polk in Louisiana with the war raging and the patriotic family serving their country.
By 1944, he had been sent into combat to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s last offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II and said one of his proudest accomplishments was assisting the liberation of a number of Polish concentration camps after Germany surrendered.
He achieved the rank of General within two years and in 1946 was released from active duty and decorated with the Silver Star, a Legion of Merit, a Good Conduct Medal and three battle stars.
After the war, Cokinos returned to Beaumont and entered construction, real estate and insurance. He co-owned Cokinos Insurance Agency and was a second-generation Greek-American born to immigrant parents, Pete and Elizabeth Cokinos.
He was active in Beaumont and the Greek community there. He was president of the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Port Arthur and his survived by his wife of 66 years, Katherine; seven children, Maria Pappas, Michael, Paige, Gregory, Elyse Cokinos-Stevens, Kevin and Christopher; as well as 24 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“He was so proud of being a General and being able to serve his country. That, and his family,” nephew Andre Cokinos said.
Growing up in Beaumont, Cokinos was an outstanding athlete, excelling in basketball, gymnastics and swimming. He graduated from Beaumont High School in 1937 and worked for two years before entering college, where was also on the diving team and on the Fish Football team that scrimmaged against the 1939 National Championship Varsity Team.
He was elected captain of the Texas A&M basketball team in 1942 and 1943 and in a 1942 matchup he held the nation’s leading scorer, Johh Sebek to two points in a game against Southern Methodist University.
Lieutenant Cokinos was a forward observer during the Battle of the Bulge, serving in the 8th Armored Division, attached to General George Patton’s 3rd Army as a forward observer, a unit where casualties were high.
He won the 3d highest award for gallantry in action, the Silver Star, during heavy fighting near the Rhine River during the Battle of the Bulge, when he directed artillery fire for over 50 hours and organized medical evacuation.
When his commanding officer was wounded and lay unconscious, Cokinos gave him first aid and then put his helmet over his face and laid on top of him to protect him from mortar fire until the barrage slackened. For that and other action he was also given the Purple Heart, Legion of Merit, a Good Conduct Medal, and three battle stars.
When Germany surrendered, he commanded the headquarters of the 324th BN 83rd Division in Austria, where his primary duty was to supervise and control 100,000 displaced persons.
As a General, he later commanded number of military units over the years and was graduated in 1970 in the first Non-Resident U.S. Army War College course.
He was also a graduate of the Resident Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas in 1961, completed the Communist Strategy Course in Washington, D.C. and attended the Special Warfare Course at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
He was also active in civic work as a former Lt. Governor of Kiwanis International, Past President of the Metropolitan Y.M.C.A., Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, and Past President of the St George Greek Orthodox Church. The Governor of Texas appointed him as a Commissioner Battleship Texas Advisory Board.
He took great pride in his life and accomplishments outside the military too, especially in his family and love for his adored wife, Katherine Pontikes, whom he married in 1952.
He was instrumental in the formation of the Texas A&M Letterman’s Association and was acknowledged as a distinguished alumnus in 1996 and with the Lettermen’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, as well as other accolades, including being elected as a member of the Corps of Cadets Hall of Honor.
In lieu of customary remembrances, the family requests memorial contributions in honor of General Cokinos be directed to the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Expansion Fund at 3511 Yoakum Blvd, Houston, TX, 77006, or online at http://www.agoc2017.org/pledge/