Ghost from Pearl Harbor

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Having lived in Hawaii, I have been to Ford Island several times, and yes, you can still see the USS Arizona, submerged in the Harbor.  Sad, scary day in History.

But, this is actually intended to be a nice post about one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever met.  His name was Walter Henry Cox, and I loved him like a grandpa. .  The first time I met him, he hobbled out of his truck, (with Pearl Harbor survivor license plate), smiled and winked at me, and gave me a pack of mint lifesavers.

This would be the regular way we greeted for the next several years.Hobble, smile, wink, pack of lifesavers. Anyways, we spent alot of time with him when I was a kid. He was like a Dad to my Dad, and a Grandpa to me. He was so smart, and believed in living off the land and working hard. He was a farmer. He owned alot of land, chopped up alot firewood and was kind to everyone. Henry was a good hearted soul.

 Henry also lived through many sad events.

Henry was a Pearl Harbor survivor.  He was stationed in Hawaii and living in the barracks near Pearl Harbor.  Early in the morning on December 7th 1941, Henry was shaving, getting ready for church, when the bombing and the chaos began.  Noone was sure what was happening at first.  But it soon became very clear.He described events from the day as if they had happened yesterday. He told me the smell of burning flesh was the most horrendous smell one could imagine.  He wrote about it. He talked about it.    Yet, he held no grudge. Henry told me that he grew up quickly, and after Pearl Harbor,  he never wanted to fight with anyone, and he never wanted to be around any type of violence.  He couldn’t handle it.   I can’t even imagine living with the memory of seeing and carrying dead, wounded, and charred bodies.  How do you even begin to process something like that?

 There is a  picture of him that had been taken on the USS Missouri just months before the attack.  He was so young. And very, very handsome.

As if Pearl Harbor wasn’t enough, soon after, he was sent to Midway, where, yep, you guessed it, he was in the Battle Of Midway.

Once WWII ended, he moved back to washington state, got married and started a family. Henry had a beautiful wife and three lovely kids. One day, there was a terrible automobile accident, and Henry’s two son’s died. They were young. If I remember correctly,   7 and 10 years old. Henry’s wife was driving, and she survived, but had a breakdown and ended up spending the rest of her life in a hospital, because she just could not recover, physcially or mentally..

So, Henry raised his daugther alone in a tiny little shack that he built on his land right outside of Olympia Washington.  The shack was literally tiny. And when I was a kid, the shack had carpets of green moss all over the roof. There were stacks of firewood  piled all around the outside.  The shack was one room that had one big window, where you could look out and see an awesome swing he had built for his daughter. We used to play on it all the time.

Now, as an adult, I cannot even begin to imagine the pain he endured. But again, like I said, he was so kind and lovely.  His eyes were the most beautiful blue you could imagine. Like the water in the Florida Keys.  Beautiful and warm.

I guess out of everyone in my family, I became closest to him.  During my teenage years, my Dad and I really didn’t get along, and Henry knew it.  So one day,  Henry came over and said “do you want to come live with me?” I said “Yes!!!!!”  He left a note for my parents that  said “I kidnapped Tiffany.  Love, Henry”  And that was that.I moved out to his property.   I lived in a little motor home and he lived right next to me in a big nice double wide mobile home with wood-siding. He taught me how to drive a tractor. I cooked for him. He was always so polite, even though he hated spicy food, which I happened to love. I used to force him to sit around and watch Disney movies. Ultimately, he was someone who loved me unconditionally. And I am forever grateful.

When I was 18, Henry died. I remember spending hours with him at the hosptial. He was struggling with bone cancer. It was severe. He was unconscious.  I told him about all the trouble I had been getting in, I told him I needed him to stay alive.  And although he was unconscious, I know he heard. But it was his time.  He died the next day. It was grey and rainy at his funeral. I cried a lot and then went home, drank beer in the shower, and listened to Willie Nelson’s Blue Eye’s crying in the Rain, on repeat.

It has been many years, and I still think of him.  Sometimes, I think his ghost comes to visit. And if his ghost is here today,I just want to say, thanks for the love, the stories, the guidance, the wisdom, and thanks for all the mint lifesavers.

Henry taught love, compassion, kindness for all.  Henry, I love you.

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9 thoughts on “Ghost from Pearl Harbor

  1. Randi

    I have been doing a lot of thinking of Henry Walter Cox this week too! I just typed in his name + Pearl Harbor into google to see if I could find anything new about him. I found your blog. Henry was my Grandpa and your blog depicted him beautifully! I too picture him often hobbling out of his red pickup with Pearl Harbor Survivor plates. And eating mint lifesavers that he always kept in his flannel pocket because he wasn’t supposed to chew Copenhagen anymore 🙂 But he hid a can ayways down at Dekkers market.

    My name is Randi Aud. Sylvia was my grandmother – and my mom is Margaret. We have many of the same memories of my grandpa. Is your last name Gore by chance? I was little when he died (8th grade) but still think of him often and had a picture of him and my Grandma when they first met (she was 13 and he was 21) and later when they finally married at my wedding in September. I wanted them both there so badly. I am glad to hear others looked up to him the way I did.

    1. oh my goodness! that is amazing! I am so glad you read this and we get to reconnect! I remember you from when you were really young!!!! Yes, I love Sylvia! I always try to go see their grave whenever I am in Washington. Such beautiful love between them. Tell your mom I say “hi”!!!!!!

  2. Tiff its so true about Henry I also loved him. He was a very nice person Lots of pain but lot of compassion and extremelly simple person he loved land I guess he felt free. He said a few times that We had really good kids. I also remenber when he would stop at the phone both to get his can of chewing tabaco he was trying to quit he would hide it there away from the house. Yes he touched my heart and he loved you Tiff 🙂 Forrest really like it him 🙂 Karla didn’t really know him very well:)

  3. Randi

    Such a small world! Grandpa Henry and Sylvia both had pretty painful lives – much of it I did not know about until I was older. But seeing the love between both of them and the way they lived out their later years was beautiful. I never would have guessed how hard they had it before. I am so grateful he tracked down my grandmother in the 1980s and brought her to Oly. We had such a wonderful childhood because of them both. I miss them both everyday – I also like to visit their gravesite when I go home to WA. I find peace there with them.

    I remember your family too! And he did love you kids like grandkids as well. There are other family friends that I have (the Haag girls from Oly) that also wanted him as their grandpa. They were not close to theirs. That was the great thing about him – he loved everyone! He also was wonderful at forgiveness. I remember when he and my grandma took in a few Japanese exchange students from St. Martins College. We had fun taking them do American dinners, and to swim out on his property out on the Skokomish. He had no ill will towards the Japanese even after fighting in the war. He will always be my true grandpa and my hero. I have a wonderful photo of him and my grandma when they first met back when she was 13! Is there a way to share it on here?

    I will definitely tell my mom hi!

    1. What an amazing day! I am so glad I wrote the post and now we get to remember and reconnect..he is probably so happy. I remember taking Henry to the greyhound station when I was like 14, he was on his way to see Sylvia after many many years. He had his little old hat on, and a twinkle in his eye like he knew what was going to happen. Interestingly, it was right after the 50th Pearl Harbor memorial reunion, and he had gone back to Hawaii to attend. They really had a special love. I am not sure how to upload photos on here, but I would love it. I have a copy of the story he wrote about Pearl Harbor, floating around somewhere. I would like to get you a copy too. Maybe you can email me the photo. I would love to add it. tiffanyirenegore@gmail.com
      also, congratulations!! … I am sure Henry and Sylvia are both smiling!!!

  4. I was thinking of Henry this morning too. On NPR, they announced that it was Pearl Harbor Day and I immediately thought of him–of him standing in the barracks brushing his teeth with the bombing started. I remember that because–Dad made me type his biography —on a very old computer for hours. As a 14 year old, I really didn’t care about history or the Pearl Harbor and was always angry that I had to do it. As a grown up, I have wanted to re-read that story and to take his story to the Arizona Memorial so that they could have his personal story archived.

    I also remember the lifesavers. I remember bumber boating on his river property and looking for those little bug things in the water…..

    Nice memorial post Tiff…..you should send to it to dad (and grandma).

    1. Thanks Karla… I knew I had to write it today! oh my gosh..bumper boats! Also, I used to have my high school students read parts of his story aloud, I need to have a good look around and see if I can find it, if not, dad has a copy. 🙂

  5. I really apologize to karla she knew him very well for some reason I thought that she was in college gosh My memory is hazy:) I do have pictrues to prove it Karla Thank you for reminding me 🙂

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