By Sherrie Norris
With the death of Glenn Cottrell on Tuesday, February 26, Watauga County has lost a true American hero.
Affectionately known as “Cuz” to many — whether related or not — Cottrell, 94, was a unique individual with a sense of humor and a warm personality that easily drew people to him. He always wore a smile, enjoyed time with his family, in church or on the golf course as much as possible, and loved to eat out at local restaurants. He was known to pick up the tab for unsuspecting diners, this writer included, on more than one occasion.
So much could be written about Cottrell’s life, as a loving husband and patriarch of four generations, a compassionate friend, a local businessman who owned and operated Glenn’s Auto Parts for 50 years, as well as about his service to his church at Perkinsville Baptist, where he was faithful as a deacon and choir member; his stories as an avid golfer, alone, would fill several books.
But, it was as a young American soldier far from home during WWII, that the “rest of the story” unfolded, one that not everyone knew about — the story of an American hero, one that shaped his life and made him the man that we all came to know and love.
Even though he didn’t talk a lot about the war, several of us were fortunate to hear his story. It is one we will never forget, nor should we.
Cottrell, a Boone native, was just 18 in August 1943, when he left the comforts of home for basic training at Ft. McClellan, Ala. After 17 weeks, and with hundreds of other young soldiers, he was shipped to Italy, where, he described “fighting from Anzio Beach to Rome.”
Serving as a medic, Cottrell was dragging his wounded comrades to safety on October 17, 1944, near enemy territory, when he was abducted by a German soldier.
Taken to Germany by train with hundreds of other prisoners, Cottrell was among about 40 packed into each windowless boxcar, “a nailed-up dungeon,” he described — and never saw the light of day during the three-day trip. With nothing to eat or drink, the soldiers had to take turns sitting on the floor and were forced to use a corner for a bathroom.
Cottrell was held in a German camp at Moosburg, with about 100,000 other prisoners — American, British, Russians and Canadians; they slept in bunks, three high, and in their clothes, the same ones they wore from the time they were captured until they were set free, eight months later. However, they were given a quilt, of sorts, as a cover in the unheated barracks during the harsh winter and a pair of wooden shoes and an overcoat.
The food, “the worst part of it all,” Cottrell said, consisted of a cup of tea “or something like coffee in the morning,” a boiled potato each and a loaf of bread divided between nine men at supper. They were given nothing for lunch.
Daily, they travelled two hours to Munich, where they were forced into back-breaking labor, digging ditches and cleaning up debris following destructive air raids.
Bombing, he said, was continuous. They returned to the camp in the dark each night, just to repeat the same ritual the next day.
Living conditions were filthy, he recalled, with thousands of soldiers infested with lice, and always the threat of starvation or other disease apparent.
Despite several “close calls,” Cottrell said, he never gave up hope that he would be free and would get to see his family again. He felt that his life was spared primarily because of his first aid skills. He also knew that people back home were praying for his safety.
When he was captured, Cottrell was in good health at 165 pounds. Eight months later when liberated, on May 1, 1945, he was frail, weary and malnourished, topping the scales at 112 pounds.
“I was deloused and given new clothes in Havre, France, then put on a boat headed back to the U.S,” he said.
In the meantime, his family was aware, initially, that he was missing in action, and eventually learned that he was safe. For 14 months, though, they had no direct contact with each other.
When returned to the states, Cottrell rode a bus from Newport News, Va. to Lenoir and hitchhiked to Boone.
In the wee hours of the morning, he hitched a ride home from the all-night café from a friend.
He loved to tell how he walked into the family home, like he’d done before many times before, reached inside the door and pulled on the light.
“Mom and Dad jumped up out of the bed like scared rabbits when they saw me,” he recalled emotionally, always with a tearful grin.
Cottrell later learned that his future wife’s brother, Alec Wilson, had also been held captive at the same German camp.
Despite a joyful reunion with family, Cottrell, for years, dealt with flashbacks and nightmares. He was never able to shake the memories, especially of his comrade, H.F. Curtis, who told him, one day, that he wouldn’t make it home. He asked Cottrell to visit his family in Chattanooga. Curtis was killed that very day with Cottrell at his side.
Cottrell eventually made the trip to Tennessee. He knew only the family’s last name; the first number he found in the hotel phone directory was Curtis’s brother, through whom he arranged a family visit. He was able to offer them comfort by relating how their loved one had died a hero.
Almost a decade ago, Cottrell told us, “We thought we were fighting the war to end all wars. We had a reason to be over there, then, but we don’t have any business to fight a war that’s not ours to fight. We no longer have the respect of foreign nations like we once did, because we think we have to control the whole world. I’m afraid our biggest war is yet to come.”
Cottrell never forgot the months he spent as a prisoner of war. Or how he was reassured during that time by a small testament his mother had given him when he left home. He said he was “lucky” that he had been able to hold on to that little Bible during his ordeal; it became a treasured keepsake dear to his heart for the remainder of his life.
Yes, Watauga County, we have lost our hero. But we will never forget Glenn Cottrell, who fought for our freedom and was willing, 75 years ago, to give up his life for us, for his beloved country. May he finally rest in peace.
According to his obituary, provided by Hampton’ Funeral Home,
Glenn Cottrell was born September 28, 1924, a son of the late Lloyd F. Cottrell and Lillie Williams Cottrell. He married Jean Wilson of Meat Camp on January 1, 1949.
He is survived by, two sons, David Cottrell and wife Kathy of Boone, and Travis Cottrell and wife Angela of Jackson, Tennessee; two daughters, Kathy Cottrell Younce and husband Jon of Granite Falls and Vickie Marsh and husband Lesley of Boone; seven granddaughters, Molly Zimmer and husband Daniel of Mooresville, Casey Gragg and husband Michael, Betsy Krause and husband Matt and Jennifer Klutz and husband Jason, all of Boone, Jamie Marsh Baskett and husband Dusty of Raleigh, Ashley Eller and husband Daniel of Charlotte and Lily Kate Cottrell of Jackson, Tennessee; six grandsons, Sam Cottrell of Raleigh, Scott Johnson and wife Christen of Nashville, Tennessee, Jack and Levi Cottrell, both of Jackson, Tennessee, Israel Laws and wife Ashton of Forest City, North Carolina, Ray Younce and wife Nicole of Granite Falls, and Jon Younce of Charlotte, and one sister-in-law, Ava Lee Cottrell of Winston-Salem. He is also survived by a number of nieces and nephews.
In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his wife, Jean Wilson Cottrell; one brother, James H. Cottrell; one sister, Mary Frances Cottrell; five sisters-in-law, and three brothers-in-law.
Funeral services for Glenn D. Cottrell will be conducted Saturday, March 2, 2019 at 12:00 o’clock at Perkinsville Baptist Church. The body will lie in state, at the church, from 11:00 until 12:00 o’clock. Reverend Seth Norris and Reverend Harold Bennett will officiate.
Military graveside rites and burial, provided by American Legion Post 130 and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 90, will follow in Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens.
The family will receive friends Friday afternoon, from 5:00 until 7:00 o’clock, at Hampton Funeral Service.
Flowers are appreciated, or memorial contributions may be made to the Perkinsville Baptist Church Beyond Campaign, 274 Jefferson Highway, Boone, North Carolina, 28607, or to Medi Home Hospice, 400 Shadowline Drive, Suite 102, Boone, North Carolina, 28607.
Online condolences may be sent to the Cottrell family at www.hamptonfuneralnc.com
Hampton Funeral and Cremation Service is in charge of the arrangements.