Kay Kipling Cowan, 91, a retired Army colonel and former military assistant to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), died Aug. 29 at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital of respiratory arrest and complications of bladder cancer. He was a longtime Alexandria resident.
Col. Cowan was born in Altus, Okla., the youngest of nine children. He graduated from Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University) in 1938 and was commissioned in the Army Reserve. He received a bachelor's degree in 1947 and a master's degree in 1948, both in journalism from the University of Missouri at Columbia.
In 1938, he became a reporter and sports editor for the Altus Times-Democrat, a newspaper he had delivered on horseback as a boy. He stayed at the Times-Democrat until June 1941, when he enlisted in the Army. After basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, he underwent ski training in Wisconsin.
A company commander, he led his unit into combat as part of the Normandy invasion on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Wounded six days later while fighting in the French hedgerows, he returned in August to command B Company of the 2nd Division, 23rd Infantry, at Brest, France. He recalled the early days of the Battle of the Bulge in written accounts for his children: "My company was in fierce fights for several days holding off several German attacks, including tanks, with practically no antitank weapons, no artillery support and no air support -- cold, wet and snowing!"
Col. Cowan stayed in the Army after the war and served as a military observer supporting the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. After completing advanced infantry and paratrooper training at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1952, at 38, he served as secretary of the general staff at 1st Army headquarters on Governor's Island in New York. He also was chief of the public affairs division in Germany and commanding officer of the 2nd Battle Group, based in Bamberg, Germany.
He was deputy director of Armed Forces Radio and Television Service from 1962 to 1967 and deputy director of the Office of Information in the office of the secretary of defense in 1967-68. He retired in 1968.
His military awards included the Legion of Merit, the Purple Heart and two awards of the Bronze Star.
In 1968, he became military assistant to Thurmond, a position that allowed him to combine his devotion to the Army and concern for the welfare of its soldiers with his interest in journalism. During more than two decades on the senator's staff, he helped write legislation that benefited service personnel, including the Survivor Benefit Plan. He retired again in 1991.
Col. Cowan was a member of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria. His pastimes included tennis, golf and bridge.
Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Maxine E. Cowan of Alexandria; four children, Nancy C. Joseph of San Antonio, Carol A. Daly of North Augusta, S.C., Carmen J. Fielding of Fairfax City and Mark S. Cowan of Columbia, S.C.; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.