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Samuel Patrick Cox
Petty Officer 3rd Class, United States Navy
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17 July 2003:
Courtesy of the Kansas City Star

Sailor with Kansas City connection among four killed in helicopter crash
Son's Iraq service chronicled in parents' Web log, columns

SP Cox Photo

Four crew members were killed Wednesday in the fiery crash of a U.S. Navy helicopter in Italy, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter crashed Wednesday evening about 10 miles southwest of the Navy base at Sigonella, on the island of Sicily.

Names of the sailors were officially withheld while their families were being notified. But among the dead was Samuel Patrick Cox, a 21-year-old sailor who had been introduced to readers of The Kansas City Star in columns written by his parents this spring.

Reached at home Wednesday night, Jody Cox, Sam Cox's father and a news and sports producer for The Star's Web site, KansasCity.com, said his son brought wit, an easy smile and a strong sense of duty to his job as an aviation electronics mate.

"He felt he was there to do a job," the elder Cox said. "I'm glad he felt that way. I'm glad he felt like what he did there had value, because otherwise, what's the point?"

The helicopter crashed a short time after taking off from the base at Sigonella, outside Catania in eastern Sicily, according to fire officials in Rome. Italian firefighters said that the helicopter was engulfed in flames sparked by the crash, and that the fire was put out by crews from the U.S. base.

A spokesman at the base in Sigonella said rescuers could not find the body of one helicopter crewman.

"Search efforts for the fourth crew member are being postponed until Thursday morning because of the darkness," Lieutenant Steve Curry said late Wednesday. "The crash is still being investigated."

Sam Cox, whose family tree is dotted with U.S. servicemen, was remembered Wednesday as a driven young man who since grade school had wanted to make a career out of the Navy. He enlisted in 2001, before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"He read The Hunt for Red October in the fifth grade, and after that it was all Navy," his father said.

Sam Cox grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, where he lettered in three sports through high school and absorbed history books.

"He was a smart young man," Jody Cox said. "The difference with him after he came back after boot camp and training was that he had really grown up. I was so looking forward to him coming back because he had become a man.

"I was so proud of him."

During the war, Sam Cox moved cargo -- including humanitarian aid -- into Iraq.

"We were kind of relieved because he made it through all of that" in the Persian Gulf, Jody Cox said. "He was coming home."

Sam Cox was due back stateside September 9, 2003, his father said. His next stop was to be the University of Missouri, where he planned to study electrical engineering on a Navy scholarship, planning to attend officer training and earn his commission.

He wanted to be a jet pilot.

The huge Sea Dragon helicopters Cox was flying in can carry up to 55 troops or up to 16 tons of cargo. Jody Cox said his son's squadron primarily shuttled cargo from ship to shore.

After September 11, 2001 -- and as the country barreled toward war in Iraq -- his military service was never far from his family's mind.

"It was horrible," Jody Cox said. "I'd never experienced something like that. We were on edge all the time."

As an expression of that concern, Jody Cox and his wife, Jo Thornley Cox, started a Web log on KansasCity.com about military families from the area. They invited others to offer their stories about relatives called to military duty.

When major fighting ended, the family's worries cooled somewhat, but remained just below the surface.

"Helicopters, they're kind of dangerous," the elder Cox said.

The family was reminded of that by news reports of military helicopter crashes that claimed entire crews.

But it was duty more than danger that preoccupied Sam Cox, and he expressed his feelings about being in Iraq in an April 4 e-mail to a friend: "It's about the people," he wrote. "I have dropped off tons of food supplies in cities, and I have seen what needs to be done....We know what we are doing is right."

Sam Cox's parents, and his teenage siblings, Jackson and Anna, hold on to memories.

"He's frozen in time for us," Jody Cox said. "He's always going to be 21 with a fabulous smile."


The son of a couple who chronicled his military experiences in columns for The Kansas City Star was among four crewmen killed when a Navy helicopter crashed in Italy on Wednesday, his parents said.

Samuel Patrick Cox, 21, was among those who died Wednesday. His father, Jody Cox, is a news and sports producer for The Star's Web site, KansasCity.com.

"He's frozen in time for us," the elder Cox said Wednesday night. "He's always going to be 21 with a fabulous smile."

Cox said his son brought wit, an easy smile and a strong sense of duty to his job as an aviation electronics mate.

"He felt he was there to do a job," he said. "I'm glad he felt that way. I'm glad he felt like what he did there had value, because otherwise, what's the point?"

The other crew members were: Executive Officer Commander Kevin A. Bianchi, 40, from Maplewood, New Jersey; Lieutenant Peter Ober, 27, Jacksonville, Florida; and Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Brian P. Gibson, 33, from Richmond, Virginia.

Sam Cox was remembered as a driven young man who since grade school had wanted to make a career out of the Navy. He enlisted in 2001, prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"He read The Hunt for Red October in the fifth grade, and after that it was all Navy," his father said.

Cox grew up in Duluth, where he lettered in three sports at Marshall School and absorbed history books. He graduated in 2000.

"He was a smart young man," the elder Cox said. "The difference with him after he came back after boot camp and training was that he had really grown up. I was so looking forward to him coming back because he had become a man. I was so proud of him."

During the war, Cox moved cargo -- including humanitarian aid -- into Iraq.

"We were kind of relieved because he made it through all of that" in the Persian Gulf, Jody Cox said. "He was coming home."

"Our whole school was very concerned about Sam being over in the Persian Gulf during the recent war," said H.L. "Chico" Anderson, the chaplain at Marshall. "I was so happy that he had been deployed to Italy. So it really took me aback when I learned that, of all things, away from harm's way and training, he was in an accident that took his life. I'm still in a state of disbelief."

At Marshall, Cox played tuba in the band, bass in the jazz band and was a German honors student. He attended the University of Minnesota for one semester before moving to the Kansas City area with his family in 2001.

"He was a true hero and loved everything about the Navy," said Marshall classmate Kaitlyn Murphy. "This is the most appropriate way for him to go."

Cox was due back home on September 9, 2003, his father said. He intended to enroll at the University of Missouri to study electrical engineering on a Navy scholarship, with an eye toward officer training and eventually becoming a jet pilot.

The elder Cox said the family was "on edge all the time" as the nation headed toward war with Iraq. As an expression of their concern, Cox and his wife, Jo Thornley Cox, started a Web log on KansasCity.com about military families from the area. They invited others to offer their stories about relatives called to military duty.

When major fighting ended, the family's worries cooled somewhat, but remained just below the surface.

"Helicopters, they're kind of dangerous," the elder Cox said.

The huge Sea Dragon helicopters Cox was flying in can carry up to 55 troops or up to 16 tons of cargo. Jody Cox said his son's squadron primarily shuttled cargo from ship to shore.

Describing his duties in an e-mail sent to a friend in April, Cox said, "It's about the people. I have dropped off tons of food supplies in cities, and I have seen what needs to be done....We know what we are doing is right."


Samuel Patrick Cox,21, died Wednesday, July 16, 2003, from injuries suffered in a U.S. Navy helicopter crash in Sicily. Born May 4, 1982, in Wichita Falls, Texas, he was the son of Joseph D. Cox Jr. and Jo Thornley Cox of Gladstone, Missouri. He attended St. Michael's School in Duluth, Minnesota, and graduated in 2000 from the Marshall School there, where he was a threesport letterman. He played tuba in the Marshall band and electric bass and trombone with the school's jazz band, and was an honors German student.

He was a Boy Scout with Troop 15 at Lakeside Presbyterian Church and an altar server at St. Michael's Church in Duluth.

Mr. Cox enlisted in the Navy in May 2001, qualified first in his class as an aviation electronics mate and earned his Air Crew wings in August 2002. He joined the HC-4 "Black Stallions" combat support helicopter squadron based at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, in October 2002.

In February, he was posted to the squadron's detachment at Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. During the war, he flew on support and supply missions from a Marine base in Kuwait to U.S. troops and for civilian relief in Iraq. Petty Officer 3rd Class Cox was to enter the University of Missouri in January on a Seaman to Admiral scholarship to study electrical engineering and earn his commission as a Navy officer. He wanted to be a pilot.

Survivors include his parents; a brother, Jackson Joseph Cox of Gladstone; a sister, Anna Jane Cox of Gladstone; his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. C.B. Thornley of Palatine, Illinois, and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph D. Cox Sr. of Columbia, Missouri; 21 aunts and uncles; and a number of cousins, nieces and nephews.

Memorial services will be 7 p.m. Friday, July 18, at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Oakview and Tuesday, July 19, 2003, at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily. Burial will be later in Arllington National Cemetery, Virginia. Memorials can be made to the Sam Cox Memorial Scholarship Fund, in care of North Shore Bank of Commerce, 131 W. Superior St., Duluth, Minnesota 55802.


Posted: 25 March 2004