BY JOHN ARMSTRONG, JR.
Alvin Chester Cockrell, Jr., was killed by Japanese gunfire on September
24, 1942 in the South Pacific Island of Guadalcanal. Many of you remember his younger sister, Jim Alice Cockrell Perkins, wife of Dr. Peter B. Perkins, long time dentist in Hazlehurst. Even older members of
the community may remember A.C. Cockrell, Sr., who was a dentist in Hazlehurst until his death in 1948, and his wife, Annie Cockrell, who often served as a substitute teacher in high school in the 1950s.
Chester Cockrell was born in September 1918, attended high school in Hazlehurst, played football and tennis and became interested in boxing. He was an active member of First Baptist Church.
After graduating Chester enrolled in the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1936. He was in the Delta Psi Fraternity and during his sophomore year was made a member of the Cardinal Club, a leadership
organization. Chester joined the Ole Miss Boxing Team. A boxing contest between Ole Miss and LSU occurred in late January 1939, and in the February 1, 1939 edition of the Memphis Commercial Appeal the sports
columnist, Walter Stewart, captioned a section of his column, "A Red Badge of Courage for Chester Cockrell." While an undergraduate at Ole Miss, Chester enrolled in the Marine Corps Reserve and on June 20,
1940 became a 2nd Lieutenant. One of Chester's classmates at Ole Miss was John Med Miller, also of Hazlehurst, who had a distinguished career in the US Navy. After graduation Chester enrolled in medical
school but his first term was interrupted by a call to active duty in the fall of 1940.
Very few people in the US had ever heard of Guadalcanal before the summer of 1942, when the
Japanese military started building an airfield. The United States was determined to stop Japanese movement toward Australia, and between August 1942 and February 1943 US soldiers were locked in a continuous,
deadly battle in which the Japanese were defeated with much loss of life on both sides. Before Guadalcanal the Japanese army in World War II had not been defeated. After Guadalcanal Japan never had a
victory, and allied forces moved steadily across the Pacific to defeat Japan.
Chester Cockrell left the United States for the last time on April 10, 1942 from Norfolk, Virginia. By
the summer of 1942 Chester, now a 1st Lieutenant, was in command of Company B First Battalion 7th Marines (B-1-7). He was first deployed to British Samoa and on September 18 was moved to Guadalcanal
along with 4200 other troops. On September 24, 1942 Cockrell led his men on a patrol to the west of the vital airstrip, Henderson Field, and was killed. Chester Cockrell was awarded the Navy Cross which is
the highest US Navy medal and second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. The citation for Chester Cockrell is as follows:
"For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous devotion
to duty in action against enemy Japanese forces near Mambule, Guadalcanal, Solomon Island, on 24 September 1942. In the face of hostile machine gun and rifle fire, First Lieutenant Cockrell, with utter
disregard for his own personal safety, led his platoon in an assault against a strongly held enemy position, inflicting extremely heavy losses and contributed in a large pat to the defeat of the Japanese in
this engagement. First Lieutenant Cockrell's outstanding courage and aggressive fighting spirit reflect great credit upon himself, his command and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave up his
life in defense of his country."
As a memorial to Chester Cockrell, on August 8, 1944 the United States Navy commissioned the USS Alvin C. Cockrell (DE 366) a destroyer escort
constructed at Orange, Texas. The ship was active in patrol, escort and rescue duty and took part in several Pacific campaigns including Okinawa. The USS Cockrell remained in active duty until August 1962
when it was decommissioned. In 1995 a history of the USS Alvin C. Cockrell was written by George L. Clark, Jr., of San Francisco. A copy of that history is in the Hazlehurst library.
Today, more than 65 years after the death of Chester Cockrell it is difficult for us to realize a time when Nazi Germany controlled most of Europe, and the Japanese military was moving
unchecked across the South Pacific. It was only through the valor and sacrifice of countless allied soldiers in Europe, the Pacific Islands and elsewhere that World War II was brought to a successful
conclusion. We can look at the Courthouse Military Monument in Hazlehurst to reflect on the names of those gallant young men who gave their last measure of devotion, their very lives.
From Copiah County Courier (http://copiahcountycourier.com/) 5/22/2008