Arthur F. Van Cook, 86, who held top intelligence positions at the Pentagon, founded a consulting firm and recounted his experiences as an Army officer landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day, died Dec. 7 at Inova Fairfax Hospital of complications from an abdominal aneurysm.
Lt. Col. Van Cook, who served in the military for more than 25 years, was a young officer in an artillery division that was in the first wave of U.S. forces in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. On the 50th and 60th anniversaries of D-Day, he was quoted in news accounts describing the battle that ultimately led to the Allied victory in World War II.
His role, as a lieutenant with the 29th Infantry Division, was to coordinate an artillery battery supporting soldiers on foot. But his landing craft capsized, and a second vessel he clambered aboard also was sunk.
"My battalion had the distinction, if you can call it that, of landing without any guns," he told The Washington Post in 1994. "All our field artillery pieces were sunk, out in the water, gone, except one."
Col. Van Cook and his men were ordered to fix bayonets and storm the shore as infantry soldiers, dodging wreckage, bodies and cascades of enemy fire.
"The beach was like a junkyard," he told The Post last year. "There were jeeps on fire, and all manner of equipment strewn, like gas masks and rifles, and bodies. It was raining lead. It was all we could do to try and find cover."
After his unit had scaled the seaside cliffs and driven into the interior of Normandy, the jeep in which he was riding ran over a land mine. He was wounded by shrapnel, and the three men beside him were killed.
On the 50th anniversary of D-Day, he returned to France for the first time since the war and received a number of decorations from the French government. In 2003, when the French criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the octogenarian Col. Van Cook mailed his medals to the French Embassy in protest.
"I know firsthand," he told The Post, "what we sacrificed for France. What I sacrificed for France. I think they owed us more than that."
The French ambassador returned the awards to Col. Van Cook. He was later invited to attend a 60th-anniversary observance of D-Day in France. At that ceremony, held next to Napoleon's tomb, Col. Van Cook walked down a red carpet and was presented the French Legion of Honor, the country's most prestigious award.
Before his flight to France, Col. Van Cook quipped, "If this ambassador finds out I'm the guy who sent back his . . . medals, well, when this plane gets to 30,000 feet, they're going to turn to me and say, 'Hey, pal, why don't you step outside and grab a smoke?' "
Col. Van Cook was born in New York City and entered the National Guard, with his parents' consent, when he was 16. He attended Officer Candidate School in 1942 and was promoted to first lieutenant June 1, 1944 -- five days before D-Day.
After World War II, he served in Korea and West Germany, became an intelligence officer at the Pentagon and attended the University of Maryland. By the time he retired in 1964, Col. Van Cook had received the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and two Army Commendation Medals.
For the next 18 years, he worked in the Defense Department as a security specialist, retiring in 1982 as director of information security in the office of the secretary of defense. He also served as chairman of the National Military Information Disclosure Policy Committee and as U.S. representative to the NATO Security Committee.
In 1982, Col. Van Cook founded Avanco International, a McLean consulting firm specializing in defense issues and policy analysis. After his retirement in 1988, he worked as an independent consultant.
He was a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, the U.S. Field Artillery Association, the American Legion, the 29th Division Association and Lions Club. He lived in Springfield.
Col. Van Cook often appeared in local schools, speaking of military life and D-Day.
His wife of 47 years, Jane T. Van Cook, died in 1988.
Survivors include two children, Jane C. Capers of Pensacola, Fla., and James F. Van Cook of Woodbridge; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.