Erle Cocke, Jr. – Brigadier General, United States Army

From contemporary press reports:

Erle Cocke Jr., 78, an international management consultant who was a heavily decorated combat veteran of World War II and past national commander of the American Legion and who also had served as an aide to two Cabinet officers, died of pancreatic cancer April 23, 2000 at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

By his own account, Mr. Cocke, of the 103rd Infantry Division, should have died April 25, 1945. He and 18 other American prisoner-of-war escapees from a camp near Stuttgart, Germany, tried to delay the German soldiers retreating before advancing Allied forces.

The escapees attempted to hold a bridge by blocking it with large tractors used to move artillery and shooting at the Nazis as they came toward the bridge. After about two days, Mr. Cocke's force was down to four, and the Germans finally overwhelmed them.

Still, Mr. Cocke refused to turn over the tractors' keys. He then slugged a German soldier who went for the keys in his pocket, an action that precipitated machine-gun fire upon all the Americans.

Bullets struck Mr. Cocke's stomach and ribs and punctured a lung. A German soldier walked to the bodies, meaning to put the final shot, execution style, into Mr. Cocke's head. But the bullet entered the American's back and lodged in his kidney.

Hours later, German villagers found Mr. Cocke still breathing and gave him medical aid. In Paris and back in the United States, he underwent 17 operations during the next 14 months, losing 90 pounds off his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame in the process.

Mr. Cocke who had attained the rank of major, was the recipient of the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars and four Purple Hearts.

“I'm no hero,” he told The Washington Post last year. “I'm a survivor.” Indeed, it was the third time Mr. Cocke had been shot and marked his third attempt to escape a POW camp.

Back home convalescing in his native Dawson, Ga., he was an immediate hero. In 1950, at age 29, he became the youngest national commander of the American Legion, a record that still holds.

After his yearlong term as head of the nation's largest veterans' organization, he did consulting work for the Defense Department and liaison work with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He also was a civilian aide to Secretary of State George C. Marshall and Defense Secretary Robert A. Lovett, among others. In 1959, he was appointed U.S. delegate to the U.N. General Assembly.

Mr. Cocke was a graduate of the University of Georgia and received a master's degree in business administration from Harvard University. In the 1950s, he worked for Delta Airlines and was one of its vice presidents in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy named him alternate executive director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Mr. Cocke resigned from the bank in 1964 to pursue a congressional seat in a Georgia district that included Fort Benning and what was then the Warner Robins Air Force Base. He lost 1964 and 1966 races for that seat but remained active in national Democratic circles.

He spent the last three decades running an international management consulting and lobbying firm in Washington, Cocke & Phillips. His partner until the mid-1980s was Eugene Phillips.

In 1983, the American Legion named him honorary president of the Society of the American Legion Founders, a group that included MacArthur and Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson. He also had served as a brigadier general of the Georgia National Guard.

Mr. Cocke was a member of the World Baptist Alliance and Briggs Memorial Baptist Church in Bethesda.

Survivors include his wife of 44 years, Madelyn Grotnes Cocke of Chevy Chase; three daughters, Elise C. Cocke of Washington, Jennifer C. Carpenter of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and Carolyn C. Whitsett of Crestwood, N.Y.; a sister; and six grandsons.

COCKE, ERLE JR. (Age 78)

A retired Brigadier General and former National Commander of the American Legion, died of cancer on Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000, at his home in Chevy Chase, MD. Beloved husband of Madelyn Grotnes Cocke; father of Miss Elise C. Cocke, Jennifer C. Carpenter (Gregg K.), and Carolyn C. Whitsett (Jeffrey M.); brother of Aline C. Cofield. Also survived by grandsons, Chase N., Hunt K., Cole C. and Trent M. Carpenter, Owen C. and Samuel J. Whitsett. Friends may call at JOSEPH GAWLER'S SONS, 5130 Wisconsin Ave. at Harrison St., NW, on Wednesday, April 26, from 6 to 8 p.m. Services will be held at the Briggs Memorial Baptist Church, 5144 Massachusetts Ave., Bethesda, MD, on Thursday, April 27 at 9 a.m. Interment with Full Military Honors to follow at Arlington National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society, for pancreatic cancer research, 1-800-ACS-2345.

Erle Cocke Jr., a decorated World War II soldier who was the national commander of the American Legion in 1950 and 1951, died on Sunday at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 78. The cause was cancer.

Mr. Cocke, at age 29, became the youngest-ever commander of the American Legion, the country's largest veterans' organization.

A native of Dawson, Georiga, Mr. Cocke graduated from the University of Georgia in 1942 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army infantry. He worked his way through the ranks, becoming a rifle company commander, a battalion executive officer and then a battalion commander.

He was wounded three times, was captured by the Germans and escaped three times. He narrowly escaped being executed by the Waffen SS after he was captured the third time, with his unit, in 1945.

Mr. Cocke and several others had escaped but were recaptured by SS troops. They were ordered executed, and he was left for dead among a group of American soldiers shot in a German village by a firing squad.

Hours later, a villager, Lukas Walters, found him and hid him in a barn. There a farmer, Karl Bart, tended his wounds until he was rescued.

Mr. Cocke would spent 14 months as a patient in 27 hospitals, 11 in the United States. He underwent 17 major operations.

His former division commander, Major General Anthony C. McAuliffe, said later that Mr. Cocke had “displayed courage of the highest degree, enthusiasm and excellent judgment.”

He left the service as a major after receiving the Silver Star, the Purple Heart with three clusters, the Bronze Star and the French Croix de Guerre.

In 1999 he said: “I would have apologized the rest of my life if I had not been in World War II. I owed my government that much. That was my opportunity to contribute.”

After the war, he earned a master's degree in business administration from Harvard University.

He was a farmer and railroad executive when he was elected commander of the Legion. He was outspoken in the post, urging more than once that the Soviet Union be expelled from the United Nations.

Mr. Cocke headed a Legion drive to oust Secretary of State Dean Acheson and a campaign to have all members of the Communist Party in the United States arrested and tried for treason.

He also called for an end to the nation's foreign economic aid program.

In 1951, when President Harry S. Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of command in Korea and the Far East, Mr. Cocke came ut in support of the general's proposal to use Chiang Kai-shek's troops in Taiwan to open a second front against the Chinese Communists on the mainland. Mr. Cocke also backed MacArthur's demand for the authority to bomb Chinese bases in Manchuria.

Later that day Truman canceled a meeting with Mr. Cocke. Some days later, Mr. Cocke, in a speech at a Legion convention in Florida, contended that soldiers, not “swivel-chair politicians or striped-pants diplomats” should make the United States' war decisions.

Nonetheless, Truman would later appoint Mr. Cocke to be a consultant for the Defense Department. President Dwight D. Eisenhower named Mr. Cocke an alternate representative to a session of the United Nations General Assembly. He also held a World Bank post in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and was a friend of President Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Cocke was active in Democratic politics, was a brigadier general in the Georgia National Guard and was president of the lobbying firm Cocke & Phillips.

He is survived by his wife, Madelyn; three daughters, Elise C. Cocke, Jennifer C. Carpenter and Carolyn C. Whitsett; six grandsons; and a sister, Alice C. Cofield.

Erle Cocke Jr., a former American Legion commander who advised four presidents, died of cancer April 23, 2000. He was 78.

Cocke, a highly decorated World War II veteran, died at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, The American Legion said Monday in a statement.

In 1950, Cocke, then 29, became the youngest man elected to head The American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization.

The next year, President Truman named Cocke a special Defense Department consultant and sent him to Korea, where he served as a liaison with General Douglas MacArthur. In 1959, President Eisenhower appointed him a U.S. delegate to the United Nations.

Cocke also consulted with the World Bank for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

During World War II, Cocke served as an Army captain and led reconnaissance patrols behind enemy lines in Germany. He was twice captured, only to escape.

In 1947, Cocke received an MBA from Harvard University. He was later awarded honorary  doctorates from three other universities.

Cocke is survived by his wife, Madelyn, and three daughters.

He will be buried Thursday with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.


  • BG   US ARMY
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 05/10/1921
  • DATE OF DEATH: 04/23/2000
  • BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 602-11


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