State Rep. Sheilla Lampkin conducted this interview of the late Olen Cockell as part of Veterans Oral History Project. Cockrell died March 29.
David Olen Cockrell was drafted and entered the US Navy on June 3, 1943. He recalled that he may have decided to enter the Navy because he had had a favored cousin, Oscar Miles, who had died on the USS Arizona when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Cockrell was sent to Little Rock for his physicals and then sent home for one week. After that week Seaman 2nd Class Olen Cockrell reported back to Little Rock and was sent to Rodd Field near Corpus Christi, Texas, for boot camp.
Cockrell spent 27 months in Texas preparing himself and working in a unit similar to an Army quartermaster unit that dealt with dispersal of clothing and operated small stores on military bases. The Navy selected this job for Cockrell because he had already had experience in the mercantile field having worked at The Leader in Monticello.
His job was to assign and fit clothing and supplies for the naval seamen. He also had to order, stock and store such clothing and supplies. Cockrell became a 2nd Class Storekeeper in the Navy. He earned $66 a month in this capacity.
Cockrell spent about two years in Texas and says he had lots of opportunities to visit places in Texas on his off-duty hours. He recalls visits to Houston and a Christmas spent in Brownsville, Texas, with a friend.
After 27 months in Texas Cockrell was sent to California thinking he would go overseas. However, he had too many “points” to go overseas because he had already been in the Navy 27 months. He was put in dispersal in the payroll department for the remainder of the war.
During his off-duty time in California, Cockrell had an interesting second job. He worked for the California Wine Advisory Board. His job there entailed stamping advertising materials to be placed into mail sacks.
After the war was over Cockrell was given a 30-day leave to come home. He recalls taking a slow train from Los Angeles to New Orleans. He remembers that he then hitchhiked the rest of the way home because it was faster. He met a fisherman in Louisiana who brought him all the way back to Monticello.
He reminisces that at that time hitchhiking was easier because everyone wanted to help the soldiers. You could easily be picked up by a stranger and taken as far as that person could go. Then you’d catch another ride as far as the driver could take you and so on. There was no fear of murder or mugging on either side. People were so willing to help the young soldiers that you could go anywhere you wanted to go.
When Cockrell returned to California from his leave, he was discharged from the Navy on April 7, 1946, after 32 months of service to his country.
Returning to Monticello, he went to college under the GI Bill that allotted him $65 a month for expenses. Cockrell also commercially fished one year and hauled tomatoes for farmers because he had a truck to supplement his GI Bill stipend.
Olen Cockrell married his wife, Sue, in 1950 and the couple went on to raise three beautiful daughters as well as own and manage a very successful business, Cockrell’s Shoes, now in the capable hands of daughter, Sarah Martin, and her husband.
Cockrell proudly served his country as it asked him to and came home to lead an active, useful business life.
When he retired, he had the joy of time well spent with friends and family in his historic home on Monticello’s South Main Street. Every day remained a new day and a new challenge to be met. Olen spent his life practicing duty and service to others. Those attributes give life purpose and abundance.
David Olen Cockrell died peacefully on March 29, 2012, after a lengthy illness. He left behind a loving family and a multitude of friends. Rest in peace, old soldier. Your battle has been won.