William Keith Cogdell
Captain, United States Air Force
a contemporary press report: May 1994
Air Force Captain William Cogdell was honored Friday as a hero who gave his life for a fellow pilot and for his country. And then, the pilot from Indiana was buried in Arlington National Cemetery - 27 years after he died in a Laotian jungle.
In a wonderfully American ceremony that mixed comforting religious themes and stirring military pomp, the family and the Air Force closed the chain of events that started on January 17, 1967, when Cogdell, 28, tried to help another pilot who had been shot down and fell victim to ground fire himself. Cogdell was considered missing in action and presumed dead until about a year ago when the crash site was found and his remains excavated. Positive identification came about a month ago.
During the funeral service in the Fort Myer Old Post Chapel, adjacent to Arlington Cemetery, the Rev. Gregory Enstrom, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Greentown, Indiana, told the family -widow Carolyn; sons Kirk, Douglas and Bradley; daughter Teri; father Keith and brother Charles - that Cogdell didn't choose to become a hero. "Rather a hero is made from the fabric of who the person is at the core of one's being. There is a significant final glimpse into Bill's person in knowing that he was going to the aid of a fellow pilot when he was shot down." "... Bill also gave his life in the preservation of the values that his country stood for, values that he sought to pass on to his own children - freedom, human dignity, the right of the individual to aspire to his or her fullest potential, faith in God. He died for a cause he believed in," said Enstrom, who is pastor to the Cogdell family. "We have reason to be proud of him in this - to honor him in this."
After the chapel service, the family chose to walk through Arlington Cemetery to the burial site. They followed the flag-draped coffin carried on a wagon drawn by six horses. Immediately preceding the cortege marched a small Air Force band. Immediately behind, an airman carried a huge POW/MIA flag. A brisk wind blew but the sun was bright at the nation's premier military cemetery, where small American flags, put out Friday morning for the Memorial Day weekend, adorned the thousands of white headstones lined up in precise rows.
About 50 family members and friends, including the oldest four of Cogdell's nine grandchildren, stood silently at the grave site as four Air Force planes flew over, one peeling away from the others in the traditional missing man salute. A firing squad provided a 21-gun salute and then came the haunting sound of taps from a lone trumpeter. Although even members of the military showed emotion during the graveside ceremony, the most visibly affected family member appeared to be Teri, the daughter whom her father never saw.
After the Air Force pallbearers folded two American flags in slow-motion precision, officers presented them to Carolyn Cogdell, each offering a few thoughts to her. And Representative Steve Buyer presented Carolyn and Keith Cogdell with flags flown over the Capitol. When the pomp and the prayers were finished, the family members, led by Carolyn, placed single red roses on the wooden coffin. And William Cogdell was finally at rest at home.
In his eulogy, Enstrom alluded to - and dismissed
-the lingering unease that surrounds the Vietnam War in the American psyche:
"I don't care how people may have felt or continue to feel about the particular
military engagement of which Captain William Cogdell was a part. The fact
remains that he served his country, as he lived his life, with a valor
and a dignity and an integrity that is rarely found in men."
Twenty-seven years after he was shot down over Laos, Air Force Captain William Cogdell was buried Friday in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Eight Air Force pallbearers gently lowered his flag- draped coffin under clear blue skies. Three Air Force jets roared overhead and an honor guard offered a 7-gun salute.
About 50 family members and friends paid final tribute to Cogdell, who was shot down January 17, 1967. His remains were discovered a year ago, but a military forensic team in Hawaii didn't identify them until last month.
The pallbearers removed the flags, carefully folded them and Air Force officers presented them to Cogdell's widow, Carolyn, of Greentown, Indiana. One by one, family members placed long-stemmed red roses on the coffin.
Earlier, at a memorial service in the cemetery's Fort Myer Chapel, his brother, Charles, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, remembered him as his best friend and a hero. "He fought in a war that by all standards was controversial," Charles Cogdell said. "But he didn't complain."
On his final mission, Cogdell, 28, ignored ground fire to search for a fellow pilot who had crashed. "Oh, what courage," Charles said. "Again, that was Bill." Greg Enstrom, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Greentown, Indiana, compared Cogdell's long journey home from Southeast Asia to Moses' carrying the bones of Joseph through the desert when the Israelites fled from Egypt. "Capt Cogdell's tour of duty on a distant shore has lasted more than a quarter of a century," Enstrom said. "Bill has come home, and God has given us a gift today." "Today, we carry the bones of William Cogdell to remind us of the responsibility and courage ... to remind us of compassion and unselfishness," Enstrom said. "We take his bones with us lest we forget."
After the memorial service, six Percheron horses
drew Cogdell's caisson through the cemetery as an Air Force band played
hymns and marches. Family and friends, some carrying single red roses,
walked quietly behind. Keith Cogdell, William's father, has said the family
never held much hope that his son had survived the crash.