When the late Bernice Mantz received a letter Oct. 9, 1941, from her brother, Kenneth Earl Cockrum, he was working as a machinist on the lowest deck of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.
Cockrum wrote he was looking forward to the possibility of finishing his tour of service in the Navy and coming home to Seymour to be a civilian once again.
“Seems like everything I plan goes haywire here of late, like getting out of the Navy and coming home,” the Brownstown native wrote. “Of course, we don’t know for sure, but the best dope we can get on it, we won’t be back on shore until around the first of January 1942.”
That was the last letter his family would receive from him.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Cockrum, along with 1,176 of the 1,512 sailors and Marines on board the Pennsylvania-class battleship at the time of the Japanese surprise attack, lost their lives.
After being struck by three bombs and nearly hit by three others, the final blow came at 8:06 a.m. that day, when a bomb penetrated the armored deck of the Arizona and hit near ammunition magazines in the forward section of the ship, causing a massive explosion.
Bernice, who died Jan. 9, 2001, wrote Kenneth in January 1942, just after celebrating Christmas with family, but that letter was returned unopened.
She wrote: “Dear Kenneth, We have waited this long and have received no word from you. Mother got a telegram from Washington, stating that you are missing. If you are OK and can in anyway, please send us just a brief message. Mother is pretty worried. We’ve heard of several other boys that are OK and would certainly like to hear something about you.”
The letter was returned unopened. Another letter, sent earlier in November, also was returned unopened in January.
In March 1942, the family received an official Certificate of Casualty, a formal document with filled-in blanks, stating Cockrum was “missing in action, presumed dead;” “Cause of Casualty – Enemy Action.”
No body was sent home because none was recovered. The family held a memorial service later that spring in Seymour.
Bernice’s daughter, Roberta Bane of Vallonia, said she doesn’t really remember her mother talking about that time and what happened.
“I didn’t know much about it until I found the box of letters and newspaper clippings in mother’s things after she passed away,” Bane said.
Bane has preserved the letters, pictures and articles in a photo album. She also has a large photo of the USS Arizona memorial with a close-up of the name of her uncle where it appears on the ship.
“It’s a part of our family history, one that I want to keep so my kids and grandkids can see it and know how he served his country,” she said.