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Elkins veteran took part in two WWII invasions

ELKINS — A lifetime Elkins resident and retired United States Marine Corps veteran said he is lucky to be alive following his involvement in two invasions during World War II.

Ninety-four-year-old Ward Cox served the country from 1943 to 1946, including his involvement in invasions of Peleliu in 1944 and Okinawa in 1945.

“That was two of the tough ones. We had Okinawa secured, all of our equipment was ready and Tokyo was our next stop. The first wave at Peleliu and Okinawa were both 40 percent casualties,” Cox said. “I was one of the lucky ones. This guy would go down, then this guy would go down but I was lucky. Just wasn’t my time, I guess. We didn’t have to go to Tokyo because President (Harry) Truman, that is when he dropped the big bomb. We didn’t have to go and that saved a lot of lives.”

Cox said it took approximately two days for United States troops to secure the island of Peleliu and approximately three days to secure Okinawa.

“Peleliu was just a small island but they were taking their airplanes off of it so we had to take it so they couldn’t land their planes and still bomb us,” Cox said.

A graduate of Elkins High School in 1942, Cox immediately joined the United States Marine Corps after seeing the devastation caused by the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. He served as a member of the infantry division.

“Our job was to go in there and take the island – whichever one we were going into,” Cox said. “I was a senior in high school when they bombed Pearl Harbor. I graduated in May (1942) and joined the Marine Corps. I went to Clarksburg to the recruiter and said ‘I’m here to join the Marine Corps.’ He said ‘I can’t send you to Parris Island,’ I said ‘Why not?’ and he said ‘They’re full,’ so he said ‘I can send you to California, San Diego,’ and I said ‘I’m here to go, send me.'”

“(What prompted me to serve) was what they did when they bombed Pearl Harbor. They killed all those innocent people,” Cox said. “I’ve always thought this, that they made their mistake when they didn’t come on in and take the island. They went back to the aircraft carrier and went back home. That gave us a chance to get ready for them.”

Cox said when they were getting off the ship for the invasions, they were instructed to take no prisoners, advice they heeded.

“When you go in to take the island you take it. The last order going off the Navy ship, they came on the loud speaker on the ship and said ‘Attention, all Marines, do not take any prisoners,'” Cox said. “We didn’t take any because those women and those teenage boys kill you just as fast as the men.”

He said his Marine unit was the first in the Pacific to use automatic Garand M-1 guns which held eight shots, compared to units before them that used a Springfield which only held five shots. He added it was also quick and efficient to reload eight more rounds into the M-1 weapons.

“The Japanese, when we were first out there, they would count to five and then charge,” Cox said. “We had three waiting for them and then eight more to put in so they soon learned to count to eight.”

Cox said that his service taught him to defend himself.

“They taught me how to take care of myself, judo and all that stuff. I weighed 165 pounds and was six-foot tall but I wasn’t afraid of anybody,” Cox said. “I figured I could handle anybody that got in my way.”

He added he does not regret serving with the United States Marine Corps to protect the country. Cox remembers a Texas man who he became friends with during his time in the service who tragically lost his life to a drunk driver a mere three days after the pair were discharged.

“I had one buddy I was in boot camp with. We went clear through the war together and made plans after the war that we would meet after we raised our families. We had each other’s phone numbers and everything,” he said. “Three days after I got home — got my discharge — his mother called me. He got broadsided at a stop light by a drunk and it killed him. He went clear through the war and didn’t have a bit of trouble, went home and got killed at home. It was terrible.”

Cox said when he was discharged, the military attempted to sign him up for an additional three years but he declined.

“When I got my discharge, they wanted to give me another stripe and sign me up for three more years,” Cox said. “I said ‘No thanks, boys, I’m going home. I’ve had my share of it.’ Seventeen months in the South Pacific was enough of it.”

Cox played football, basketball and ran track at Elkins High School and made first-team in all three sports.

After his service, Cox drove a truck for Valley Supply Company for one year, then worked at T&W Sales for 17 years before it was bought out. Cox continued working there for 23 years after the company was taken over by Kraft.

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