William Milford Cox Jr. was born Dec. 9, 1919 in Harlan County in southeast Kentucky. His mother, Leona Maze Cox, was a homemaker, and his father a carpenter foreman. They had nine children.
Tragedy first struck the family in 1936 when the oldest daughter, by then married, killed herself. Two years later the father, the lead carpenter at the Little Creek coal mine, drowned.
By the time of the spring 1940 Census, finances were dire. The widow and five children, ages 11 to 24, were still living together at the small town of Ages-Brookside. The only one employed was the eldest, Harold, who worked at a coal mine, earning $500 for 20 weeks of work in 1939. That’s equal to $9,300 in 2020.
William Jr., who completed high school, enlisted in the Navy on March 26, 1940. He was a coxswain and petty officer third class on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
Sources: U.S. Veterans Affairs; Census; Navy muster roll; Kentucky death certificate; Middlesboro (Kentucky) Daily News; the Daily Sentinel of Woodstock, Illinois. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.