Thursday, May 12, 2016

Eddie Cox: 'The Kid' who didn't come back

(First of a three-part series)
     Eddie Cox loved his family -- especially his younger brother -- and loved fast "muscle" cars and drag racing, and loved girls, girls, girls.
     He volunteered to serve his country, and it was a dangerous time to do so because the Vietnam "conflict" -- a way to avoid saying war -- was raging.
     So when he left Woodlawn High School in Shreveport in the spring of 1967 to join the U.S. Army -- being drafted likely was imminent -- it was a fateful decision.
     A year and a half later, he was on the ground in Vietnam, a handler of bomb-sniffing dogs.
     On Feb. 15, 1969, Edward Erlin Cox Jr. -- a specialist 4  (infantry operations/intelligence) for the Army -- was the victim of a tripped mine that blew too soon.
     He was 20 (27 days short of his 21st birthday). He was the last of the four Woodlawn High students to die in action in Vietnam, and he was the youngest of the four.
     His page on the web site lists his military ID number as 15980388, and the site of his death is listed as Hau Nghia Province in South Vietnam.
     His name on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., is on Panel W32, Line 36.  
     He was a namesake son. Edward E. Cox Sr. -- a "jack of all trades" but mainly a mechanic -- and wife Thelma had six older children when Eddie was born March 14, 1948, and he was going to be the last, thus the Junior name.
     And then Dale was born 3 1/2 years later. Before long, the older kids had moved out and moved on, so -- as Dale remembers -- "Eddie was the only one I grew up with.
     "I couldn't have asked for a better brother, as far as being considerate and taking care of me," adds Dale, 65, who still lives in Shreveport. "I didn't need much help, but there were a few times when kids were bothering me and Eddie stepped in and stopped them."
     After several moves -- from Forbing and Wallace Lake Road (just south of Shreveport) -- the Cox family settled into a house on West 76th Street, just off Linwood. That's Cedar Grove, the familiar neighborhood for so many Woodlawn kids, a one-time town of its own before it was annexed by Shreveport in 1927.
     So the Cox boys went through the schools in that area -- Atkins Elementary, Linwood Junior High and then Woodlawn, where in 1966-67, Dale and Eddie shared a science class.
     They also shared the kid adventures, hanging out a lot on Cedar Grove's east side, where the stores and establishments along the "main drag" -- 70th Street -- had a certain notoriety for wilder times.
     Then, in their teenage years, two passions developed: (1) girls; (2) cars.
     "Girls came along," Dale recalls, laughing, "and there was lots to bug us. They came along to deter and distract us."
     The other main distraction: fast cars and street drag racing. When he was old enough, Eddie -- with help from Dad -- bought a 1966 Oldsmobile 442, a "muscle car"  perfect to challenge anyone behind the wheel of a car that wanted to race.
     "Eddie had this little circle of friends," says Dale, "and one (Dennis Jimes) he looked up to, but others looked up to him. So when Dennis got this GTO [for racing], Eddie got the 442." 
     And, if someone pulled up next to them at a red light, if the location was right, so was the time for a drag race. On weekends, they'd head to places south of town -- down Mansfield Road, on Stagecoach Road -- where 30-35 cars might be part of the (informal) racing community.
     Happy times for the Cox boys. But they wouldn't last.
     OK, school was not exactly a priority. So before graduation, Eddie decided to join the Army. So did one of his best friends, Tommy Craig; they went together on a "buddy plan."
     When their friend Tommy Medlin heard what they'd done, he also hurried to the induction center and signed up as another buddy.
       "We were best friends, we were just like brothers," said Tommy Craig of Eddie. "We went through training together," and they both wound up as Army Rangers, highly trained special forces, in particular -- in Vietnam and other places -- known as "Lurps" (Long Range Patrol companies).
       The Army also provided them a chance to earn equivalency degrees for high school graduation.
        Meanwhile, Eddie left the girls behind. This is pertinent because, Dale noted, "by the time he went into the service, there were several that wanted to marry him."
         But he declined. "He didn't make any commitment to any girl," Dale said, "because he didn't want to leave a family behind. ... He said, 'I don't want to come home half a man. I don't want to come home with one leg, or be disabled.' "
         An ominous thought.
         The dogs he handled were trained to find the mines or mine fields that are so much a part of war, and they were all over South Vietnam. Eddie lost one dog when a mine exploded, and now he had a second dog.
     On the web site, a page for Eddie created by Billy M. Brown includes Eddie's photo in military uniform -- the same photo that is on several Vietnam deaths-related pages -- and this description of his final moments ...  
     "The black and white photo is of Eddie and his tracking dog, Rigger (4A56), of 76th IPCT (Infantry Platoon Combat Tracker). The photo was taken a few days before he was killed in action. (Photo is used with permission from Combat Tracker Team and the information below of Eddie's last day is courtesy of Tom Verhelle of 76th IPCT.)
     "Eddie was Rigger's handler at the 76th CTT (Combat Tracker Teams). He was one member of two complete teams assigned to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. During 1969 the 199th Light Infantry Brigade was responsible for the security of the region North and East of the Saigon capital. This included Bien Hoa, Long Binh, Bear Cat, and Vung Tau.
     "Tom Verhelle, of 76th IPCT attached to the 199th LIB, was tracking when he and Eddie came upon a small base camp. Eddie gave Tom Rigger to hold while he covered Bill Stockell when Eddie tripped a booby trap. Eddie died instantly; Stockell's arm was broken and had injured his leg as well. Tom always felt that Eddie had saved his life that dreadful day."

     Dale saw the National Guard officer standing in full uniform at the front door of the Cox home ... and he knew.
     He opened the door, went to get his parents, "and I had to get out of there," he remembers. "I could not deal with my mother crying."
      Thelma Cox, who worked at Confederate Memorial (charity) Hospital, was -- Dale said -- "the most religious woman I've ever known. She prayed every day. She prayed for all the kids, their families, other kids' families, the prayer list for church. She prayed for everyone."
       But that day when they were told of Eddie's death, "It was the only time I ever heard my Mom ask God 'why.' You know you're not supposed to do that," Dale said."
       And so, "It was a tough time for a long time," he added. But, "I really believe that as religious as my Mom was, it helped pull her through."
       Eddie's death didn't deter Dale from also joining the military a few years later after his Woodlawn years. He chose the Coast Guard and -- despite his parents' objections -- got close to the action in Vietnam, manning riverboats off the coast.
       Meanwhile, Tommy Craig -- in February 1969 -- was with the U.S. Army near Da Nang, far north of where Eddie had been. He remembers hearing that a close friend of his had been killed, but wasn't given a name.
       "I said, 'Please, Jesus, don't let it be Eddie, don't let it be Eddie.' " The reality shook him.
      He asked his company commander if he could take a leave and go home to Shreveport to visit with Eddie's family. Told that wasn't possible, Tommy went to the division commander, who did approve the leave."
      (Dale and others thought Tommy had accompanied Eddie's body home on a military transport, but Tommy said that wasn't the case.)
      Unshaven, without a bath for 15-20 days -- "I looked horrible; I came straight out of the jungle" -- he made a harried trip home, apologizing to folks along the way for his appearance. But the journey and visiting with his close friend's loved ones felt like a calling, and Tommy Craig soon returned to Vietnam -- and would have taken a third tour there, if his new wife hadn't convinced him he had done enough.
       He would settle in Mansfield, La., 40 miles from Shreveport, where he has been on the DeSoto Parish School Board for 26 years, worked for the U.S. Post Office for 30 years and 10 years at Community Bank.
        "He [Eddie] was a great guy, great personality," he said last week. "All the girls liked him.
        "... He was smart as hell. He could have been anything he wanted to be. He could have been a doctor ... "
       The Oldsmobile 442 stayed in the family for years, a sentimental reminder of Eddie. Dale said his mother wouldn't let his father drive it, and it remained parked by the house. Dale finally bought it and drove it, until the high-powered engine began faltering, and he gave it to a friend.
        Eddie's Vietnam "Wall of Faces" page includes a note posted by Dale last Sept. 25:
     " ... You're the one that I grew up with, looked up to, and respect (to this day). I'll miss you forever, Tell Mom, Dad and Harold hello for me and that I love them all. I 'will' see you again one day. Bye for now. Your loving brother."
      And also this note, posted Feb. 25, 2014, by Deb:
      "You continue to be on my mind often, never forgotten, your memory will never fade. I still miss you even though it has been 45 years. I still talked to you 'in my head' and guess I always will. I still wonder what life would have been like if you had made it home. I know you are in heaven and much happier than those of us you left behind, but I still miss your laugh, your smile and your fun personality. You are still 'The Kid.'  I love you and I miss you."
     Billy M. Brown's tribute to Eddie on, begins with this: 
     "Eddie was my high school classmate. He was two years ahead of me, but we shared several classes together at Woodlawn High School in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was a 1967 graduate and entered the Army shortly thereafter. I graduated in 1969 and can still recall the pain of his loss -- the day after Valentine's of that same year.
     "Our school mascot is a knight on horseback and our colors are patriotic -- scarlet, white, and royal blue - Woodlawn Knights. With Barksdale Air Force Base next door to Shreveport, this area has always given huge support to our troops, even in those dark days of Vietnam. To be honest, our school spirit and patriotic pride were foremost, followed by our studies.
     "Eddie was a light-hearted, fun-filled guy. Oh, how he could laugh and play the typical schoolboy pranks. He was a friend to all. Eddie's smile was brilliant; it could light up an entire room. I can still hear the ring of his laughter."
      The message ends with:
       "The world lost a sweet and wonderful, bright, brave young man the day he was taken from us. The entire school grieved over Eddie's loss.
      "We (the students) pooled our money and had a monument erected as our gift to our school and our brave classmates who fought and died in Vietnam for the defense of freedom. Eddie's name is the fourth down, the last WHS Vietnam casualty. (Please note that the date of his loss is engraved incorrectly on the monument; it reads 1967, should be 1969.)
      "Our Eddie, forever lost to us, forever young, forever in our hearts."
      It adds the inscription on the Woodlawn monument, and near the bottom of the page, the inscription on Eddie's headstone at his grave at Forest Park East Cemetery in Shreveport:
      "Everything works together for good to those who He has called."
      Next: Harold O'Neal Jr., U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal


  1. From Stan Tiner: Your blog posts are terrific. You are writing something that is far deeper than the first draft of history. Your love of Woodlawn, Shreveport, Tech and those who were a part of that world shines through. We are fortunate to have you as our guide.

  2. From Gene Land: Thanks for those who gave the ultimate so we may be free. Let us always remember them.

  3. From Mickey Lowe: Great history lesson. Too many of our guys are forgotten. Keep up the good work.

  4. From Jimmie Cox: Even though we were not related (as far as we could tell) I had several classes with him and we would say we were brothers from different mothers. Haha. RIP EDDIE, you are missed and always be remembered in my side of the Cox family.

  5. From Joyce Craft Bridges:... Thank you to the family of Eddie Cox for their ultimate sacrifice for our country.