After Kenneth Earl Cockrum died on the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor, people from his hometown unsuccessfully petitioned the federal government to name the new local airfield in his honor.
The resolution, approved by the American Legion post in Seymour, Indiana, is perfect in its description of Mr. Cockrum and his fellow sailors, nearly all of them what we might call “average” Americans.
“Kenneth E. Cockrum served his country without publicity and without high station in life — typical of those millions of Americans serving in the ranks — in uniform, in labor, in office and in the fields — and upon whom falls the greatests burden of our common defense. It is ‘we, the people’ whom he represented and ‘we, the people’ who now take increased devotion,” the American Legion motion said.
The Legion approved the petition in July 1942, seven months after Mr. Cockrum’s death.
The government decided to keep with its policy of naming airfields after airmen, and thus it was named Freeman Field in memory of a bombardier who crashed while testing equipment in the Nevada desert earlier in 1941.
Mr. Cockrum, a machinist’s mate and petty officer first class, was born May 16, 1916 in Brownstown in south-central Indiana, but soon moved 10 miles northeast to Seymour. Mr. Cockrum’s mother, Anna, was a homemaker, and his father, Charles, a railroad fireman and later a farmer. He attended Riley School and then Shields High, where he lettered in football in 1933. He enlisted in the Navy in August 1935.
Based on a letter home, it appears that Mr. Cockrum’s second enlistment had ended before the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “Seems like everything I plan goes haywire here of late, like getting out of the Navy and coming home,” he wrote. “Of course, we don’t know for sure, but the best dope we can get on it, we won’t be back on shore until around the first of January 1942.”
The Navy regularly kept on board sailors whose enlistments had expired. The men would be released the next time their vessel visited the mainland United States — thus saving the Navy money and transport resources. The men on the Arizona had hoped to visit their home port at San Pedro, California, in the fall of 1941, but during a training exercise in late October, the Arizona and the Oklahoma collided. The Arizona had to go into dry dock at Pearl Harbor for several weeks for repairs. The trip to California was rescheduled for mid-December, but there was intense speculation among the men about whether that would be postponed again.
At least one of Mr. Cockrum’s brothers, Robert, also served in World War II. He was an Army infantry private and fought at Guadalcanal. He survived the war.