The memory of 1Lt. Larry Cotten
By Jacob Hatcher
For the most part, he’s just been a name on my wrist for the last decade or so. When I got the bracelet, all I knew about him was that he was from Nashville and was ten days shy of his 25th birthday the day his jet went down over Laos. I got it when I was twenty-five and my biggest worry was whether or not a stranger at a bar liked my songs; I didn’t have a category for flying fighter jets over Laos.
I’ve held that bracelet in my hand and wondered if he had a wife and kids. I’ve laid awake at night and wondered what his dreams for his life were. How often do I drive by his childhood home? When I was thankful my brother made it home from Iraq, were his parents just a few miles away still mourning his death forty years later?
I did some research and found a report of the incident that led to his disappearance. He and his pilot, Capt. Lothar G. Terla, were flying a mission when their F4 was struck by anti-aircraft fire. The Air Force found the crashed airplane, but determined that Terla and Cotten could not have survived. Reading that report made his story all the more moving to me. I read it and immediately felt the panic that must have filled that cockpit. I could hear the trees smacking against the fuselage as they descended into the jungle. I shudder to think about what those last few seconds must have been like.
At the bottom of the report, someone had posted a picture of 1Lt. Cotten. It’s just a black and white picture of a clean cut man wearing a suit. It would be easy to mistake it for a before picture of some rock star or an advertisement for ancestry.com. But make no mistake; the man pictured is a Bonafide hero, like so many others whose names will go virtually unnoticed on the pages of history.
May we all spend some time on Memorial Day thinking of the 1Lt. Cottens of the world. They’ve earned it.