by Thomas J. Tarowsky.
Column reprinted courtesy of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register.
This is the fifth in a series of columns about the curious and interesting items that the Marshall County Historical Society has identified and cataloged in the Cockayne House, and what they tell us about life in the Ohio Valley between 1850 and the turn of the current century.
Sam Cockayne, U.S. Army, 1942-1945
The Memorial Day holiday provides us with an opportunity to consider the men and women who have served their country during wartime. This week’s column reflects upon Sam Cockayne and his life during the early stages of World War II.
It is difficult for today’s Americans to imagine what it must have been like in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Although we’ve had the experience of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the social changes we’ve experienced after that event differ completely from those of 1941.
The industrial segments of our economy have continued to produce consumer goods. There’s been no rationing of consumer goods; meat, sugar, coffee, shoes, tires, gasoline, and other products have not been rationed for the war effort. There was no noticeable blip in auto production in 2001—in February, 1942, two months after the declaration of war, production of civilian vehicles ceased “for the duration”—all of the auto plants converted to the production of Jeeps, tanks, and warplanes. New cars were not to be had for many years.
The military draft has not existed in the U.S. since the 1970’s— young men have not gotten the dreaded “Greetings” letter since the Viet Nam war. By the time of Pearl Harbor, the draft had been in force for over a year.
Like millions of young American men, Sam Cockayne registered for the draft in 1940, when the Selective Service system was established. The Selective Service System Local Board (i.e., the “draft board”) was responsible for screening and choosing the young men who would be inducted from the community.
The Federal government established a classification system for each local draft board to use. This system enabled the draft board to pigeonhole each individual, according to his circumstances. The classifications were structured with a number (designating a hierarchy, with 1 being the highest and 4 being the lowest) and a letter, which designated the status. For example, a student would have an “S” status; a college student would be a “2” hierarchy—the “2-S” classification on the individual’s draft card indicated that the individual was deferred from being inducted while he was a college student. A fellow with a “4-F” classification was a fellow designated as “unfit for military service”. The “1-A” classification indicated that the individual was ready to go.
As I write this, I have before me 3 yellowed postcards, each addressed to Samuel A. Cockayne, Wheeling Avenue, Glendale, W.Va. The machinery of the Selective Service System rolled into action very quickly:
The first was postmarked June 4, 1942. It read: DSS Form 57 (Rev. 6-30-41) NOTICE OF CLASSIFICATION Registrant Samuel A. Cockayne Order Number 10,087 has been classified by Local Board in class 1- Pending Ex (signed by) T J Hamilton Member of Local Board Date of Mailing June 4, 1942.
Sam knew that the next step would be a physical examination. It took only 4 days for the next notice:
(DSS Form No. 201--NOTICE TO REGISTRANT TO APPEAR FOR PHYSICAL EXAMINATION) arrived next; it read: June 8, 1942. You are hereby directed to report to Dr. W. G. C. Hill (Name of examining physician) at 315 Jefferson Ave. for a Blood test at 1 p.m. on Fri. June 12, 1942. Failure to do so is an act punishable by imprisonment and fine, and may also result in your losing valuable rights and in your immediate induction into military service. (signed by the Clerk of the Local Board, signature illegible).
The potential draftee wasn’t given a lot of time to ponder the results on a physical or blood test:
The third postcard (DSS Form 57) was another NOTICE OF CLASSIFICATION. Dated June 12, 1942, it identified Samuel A. Cockayne, Order Number 10,087 as the recipient. It said: “…classified by Local Board In Class 1-A until…(no date provided)”. It was signed by draft board member Manford Kerns.
According to Marshall County Local Board No. 1, Samuel A. Cockayne was a “1-A”-- good to go, as it were. I can remember receiving my 1-A classification one April day in 1970. From personal experience, it was a very sobering experience to read and ponder my 1-A card—I’m pretty sure I know how Sam felt when he read and pondered his 1-A.
The only question for Sam was how long it would take for him to receive his “Greetings”. I wish I could say that we have found this letter among the papers and documents in the Cockayne House, but we’ve had no luck so far.
We do know that the draft board didn’t keep Sam waiting for long, According to his separation record, he entered active military service as a draftee in Clarksburg on July 9, 1942—less than a month after having been classified “1-A”.
He would serve for 3 years, 2 months and 15 days, most of which was overseas.
Please submit questions to Tom Tarowsky, Cockayne House Preservation Committee, 1105 Wheeling Avenue, Glen Dale, WV 26038. Be sure to include your name and contact information, and let us know if we can use your name, as well. Selected questions will be used in future columns. Tom regrets that he is unable to respond to each individual request.