I never met Kenny Cox (left photo above). He died nearly a year before I was born, on his final combat mission over China before he was to return to the states where he was to be reunited with his wife, my Aunt Phyllis (right). But I’m thinking of him on this Memorial Day.
Although I never met Kenny, I’ve often wondered what his life with Phyllis would have been like. He was a motion picture photographer; she had that girl-next-door beauty that was so popular in Hollywood at the time.
For starters, I’d sure like to know how they met. Kenny was nearly five years older than Phyllis, was born in Riley, Kan., and had attended Omaha South High School before accepting a job at Armour, one of the big meat-packing plants in Omaha. Phyllis was just a year out of high school when they married in Long Beach, Calif., on June 10, 1943. She spent that year teaching at tiny McClelland, Iowa, just a few miles outside her hometown of Council Bluffs.
I’m also curious how a kid goes from working at a meat-packing plant to an aerial combat photographer, Kenny’s service trade. He entered the service on Aug. 3, 1942, and was an Army sergeant in the 14th Air Force at the time of his death in January 1945.
Assigned to a motion picture unit at Culver City, Calif., Kenny was returning from his last Pacific mission, over Chiniang, China, when his plane went down. There is speculation among family members as to whether he was killed in the crash or later. When his remains were returned to the U.S. more than two years later, Chinese officials also returned a battered and scorched suitcase he had with him on that mission.
Although a Memorial service for Kenny was held at Gospel Tabernacle in Omaha on Feb. 25, 1945, an even larger service took place in late October 1947 when his body was returned to the United States.
Kenny’s casket arrived by train and was given a military escort through streets lined with flags at half staff before he lay in state at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Omaha. He and Marine Pfc. Darwood B. Smith were the first repatriated war dead to be returned to Omaha. An estimated 2,000 people attended a memorial service to honor Douglas County's war dead before a graveside ceremony was conducted by the American Legion at West Lawn Cemetery.