Monday, September 08, 2003



Poor soldier richly remembered

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

� Photos from the funeral

Sixty years after surviving the mud and blood of Guadalcanal, Sgt. Robert Cochran died a nearly forgotten solider.

The World War II veteran, alone and poor, was living in a state-funded nursing home in Marietta. Since his death April 5, he lay unmourned and unclaimed in the Cobb County morgue, awaiting a pauper's burial.

Dell Whitaker, who met Cochran last year while visiting the nursing home, could not let the passing of a decorated member of "The Greatest Generation" be treated with so little respect.

On Wednesday, as bagpipes keened and rifle fire cracked the air, people who had never met the former Marine in life came to Mountain View cemetery in Marietta to honor him.

As the plaintive notes of taps sounded from a trumpet, several people, including a young boy in a Cub Scout uniform, snapped to attention and saluted the flag-draped coffin.

"The story just touched my heart, and I wanted to give this man honor for his service," said Tony Perez, who didn't know Cochran but has a son who is a Marine pilot recently returned from the war in Iraq.

Cochran served in the 3rd Marine Division during World War II, fighting in several skirmishes.

A Cobb County resident since 1950, he was a car salesman at Tidwell Ford before his retirement.

Shortly after his wife of 16 years, Barbara, died in 2000, Cochran moved into the Marietta Rehabilitation Center.

That's where Whitaker met him. She says she basically wandered into the center last Christmas, looking for a good deed to do.

"Last Christmas, instead of exchanging presents, I decided to do something for the veterans," said Whitaker, who works for the Cobb County government. "I called DFACS, and they told me about Mr. Cochran."

She started visiting Cochran regularly, and the two became friends. "He was very sweet and all Marine," Whitaker recalled. "I used to bring him books about WWII, and he enjoyed that."

After Cochran died and his body went unclaimed, Whitaker went into action.

"I stayed on the phone for about three days with the Marine Corps," she said. "I asked if it was possible to get Mr. Cochran a military burial, and they just bent over backwards. They were wonderful."

Meanwhile, Cliff Hicks, a friend and former co-worker of Cochran's, tried to contact his son, who lives in Illinois.

"After three or four days of calling him after his father died, he told me that he had given the county permission to cremate the body," Hicks said.

"But I knew that wasn't what he wanted."

So Hicks contacted Cochran's stepdaughter, Lorena Elsey, who lives in Marietta, and the two of them got the son's permission to have a military funeral for Cochran. People who knew Cochran said Wednesday's ceremony was exactly how it should have been.

"Bob was very military minded, and his life revolved around the Marines," said Hicks, who had helped take care of him for the last 18 years. "I sort of adopted Bob and his wife in the late 1980s. Both of them had poor health. . . . When she passed, I continued to take care of Bob after he moved from his apartment to the rehabilitation center.

"I know this is what he wanted," Hicks said of the military funeral.

As the echoes of the 21-gun salute faded, Marines folded the American flag from the coffin and handed it to Cochran's stepdaughter.

The small knot of people began dispersing, Whitaker among them.

"These vets deserve everything," she said. "They have made supreme sacrifices for this country."

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