John Cowley: A life of service, patriotism

WRENTHAM — When former Wrentham resident John W. Cowley died this month at age 92, his passing was marked by full police and military honors, including a large contingent from the U.S. Coast Guard.

They honored Cowley for his service in World War II as a Marine, his many years as a Wrentham special police officer and fire lieutenant, his volunteer service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and his pioneering role in training police dogs.

But above all, they honored Cowley as a patriot. A combat Marine who served as an aircraft armorer during the war in the Pacific, Cowley throughout his life maintained a contagious reverence for the American flag.

He made it a practice to present free flags to families and children, handing out more than 2,000 in his lifetime.

People sensed the sincerity of his red, white and blue personality, and they respected him for it.

“He was a well-loved man,” said retired police Chief Paul Schwalbe, under whom Cowley worked.

For Cowley, the Stars and Stripes were more than a flag to salute or a backdrop for a political advertisement. The flag stood for something more, and he wanted people — especially children — to know that.

Often he would encounter a family with children in a restaurant or other public place and ask permission to speak with the kids. He’d ask them to recite the pledge of allegiance with him, and then present them with a flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

“For my dad, the flag wasn’t about Republicans or Democrats or politics,” said Cowley’s son Chris, a veteran Wrentham police officer. “To him, it stood for a lot more.”

Born in 1924 in Revere, Cowley grew up in the Wollaston section of Quincy. He joined the Marines in 1941, just in time for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that initiated World War II.

Cowley was on Guadalcanal aiding the Marines’ desperate struggle with the enemy and continued to serve until after the conclusion of the war.

After returning to the U.S., he and his first wife Virginia, now deceased, started Nether-Lair Kennels in Wrentham. Their initial success in breeding and training dogs led them into the business of training police and tracking dogs.

Despite the demands of running a business, he still found time to contribute to the community, serving more than 30 years as a special police officer and as a member of the fire department. During the 1970s and ‘80s, he discovered the joys of boating. After his retirement in 1992, he moved to Falmouth on Cape Cod where he eventually lived aboard his 36-foot-long boat.Cowley also became a devoted volunteer with the Coast Guard auxiliary, often working in the office five days a week and spending the weekend patrolling the Cape waters.The former Wrentham resident’s respect for the flag was reflected in his volunteer service, part of which involved overseeing the daily morning colors ceremony at the Coast Guard’s Woods Hole base.In 2002, the Coast Guard station dedicated the flagpole at Woods Hole in Cowley’s name.At his retirement […]