When he came to Clemson in 1955, Joe Cocke had already seen more of the world than most us. However, in those days, he saw parts of the world in different ways than any of us will ever see.
Cocke, now 97 years young, is a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He did not serve along the front line in either war, “but I saw enough,” he said.
For most of us, July 4 is a day to celebrate America’s Independence. It marks the day we became a free country, something soldiers like Cocke have fought for, and in some cases sacrificed their own lives, so that we might able to go to July 4 parties, picnics and enjoy the fireworks.
Cocke does not view himself a war hero. Like many from his era, he is modest and only shares the stories he chooses to share. Like many World War II veterans, he only speaks of certain moments from the Great War, moments he shared with his dear friends, most of whom have since passed on.
“Most of the stories were funny,” he said.
After high school, Cocke enrolled at the University of Florida, but he and his friends knew it was a matter of time before America called them to war. So, they decided to interrupt their studies, since they knew war was inevitable, and left Florida in 1941 and worked for the railroad in Waycross, Georgia.
“That was work,” Cocke said.
Cocke was not in Waycross long. He eventually was drafted into the Army. He did his tours in France, while working as a radio and radar repairman. He was part of the war for three years before coming home when it was over in 1945.
After the Great War, Cocke went back to Florida and finished school in 1949. He reconnected with his girlfriend, Mary Lynn and eventually the two married. When he finished school and started working, he was shipped to Mississippi, but he was there just six months before he was called up from the inactive reserves to help with the Korean War in 1950.
“I spent more time working with the combat engineers than I did with my company,” as he recalled stories from his time in Korea.
After returning home from Korea, Cocke and his wife stayed in Florida for a few more years before moving to Clemson where he took a job at Southeastern Cotton and Ginning Research Laboratory. He later went back to school at Clemson, and in 1963 got a second degree in agriculture engineering.
These days Cocke stays in touch with those men he served with in both wars. He is an American Legion and he is helping to get a monument built for those who served in the Korean War.
Cocke says he does not have any big plans for July 4, besides staying at home and taking it easy, but he will appreciate the day and what it stands for.
And though he served in two wars and defended his country with honor, Cocke feels Veterans Day, Memorial Day and July 4 doesn’t mean anymore to him than it does anyone else in America.
“We have a lot of patriotic people in this country,” he said.
And those people are patriotic today because of men and women like Joe Cocke, who defended their country with honor and have never complained.