Veteran Salute: Flight engineer talks about sinking submarines in Korean War, working on BTK case

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – When he was a child, Navy veteran Bob Cocking knew the name of every aircraft and enjoyed watching planes take off and land. But, he said it never dawned on him he would someday be in a plane headed for the Korean War.

Cocking said he started in college because he wanted to be a veterinarian, but he got fed up with what he called “college games.”

After trying higher education, two buddies from North High School convinced him to sign up for the service.

“They said, well, we are going to join the Navy, why don’t you go with us and I said, okay,” Navy Veteran Bob Cocking said.

Bob Cocking

Cocking and his high school friends were recruited by a submariner.

“They said well, what do you want to do? Well, I want to be a submariner. He threw his pencil down, he says, no, you don’t.”

Cocking said their squadron was in North Africa when they joined, so the military wasn’t really sure what to do with them.

They ended up sending them to overhaul and repair for a while before he said they went to work parking airplanes.

He then went on for more schooling in Memphis, which eventually led Cocking to an aircraft crew.

“This is a replica of the airplane,” pointing to a model of a PTV-5 Neptune airplane pictured below.

PTV-5 Neptune airplane

Cocking graduated second in his class, so he was given the choice of where he was headed. He chose to go back to Jacksonville, Florida.

“My name was on the airplane.”

Once Cocking became an officer, he said he was given the best advice.

“You treat a man like a man. He will work for you. If you treat him like a dog, he’ll bite you in the rear every time.”

He said the crew will always mean the most to him.

“To me, anybody who has been in the military they are my brother.”

Cocking said they always took the same aircraft in the Navy, so they took good care of the plane.

“They keep it spotless clean and take care of it because you practically live in it.”

Cocking said the pilot would have control on takeoff and landing, but when they were in flight, Cocking was at the helm.

“They would tell me, give me climb out, and I would change the pilot’s setting to climb out to whatever altitude.”

Cocking worked his way up quickly in the military and became the flight engineer on the crew.

“I got all the throttles and everything that has to do with the engines,” Cocking said. “I watched the engines to make sure everything is running right.”

He said during the Korean War, they had to give reports every hour while in flight.

“So they would know we were still around.”

They were known as the Ghost Squadron.

“Like a ghost, we showed up and sunk them.”

They were hunting enemy submarines and flying low to do so.

“Back then, they had the snorkels,” Cocking said. “We would do figure eights at a hundred feet off the ground, off the water.”

He said they weren’t always easy to spot.

“At night, we would go out, and they would normally snorkel at night, and you could catch them that way.”

He said when they did spot a submarine, they had to call Washington to make sure it was an enemy sub.

He said they flew many other missions as well.

Cocking said at one time they were tracking Russian fishing ships.

He said when they flew over the top of American ships, they would often get the “American Salute” in the form of one finger waving in the air. He laughed as he talked about that.

When it came to the Russian fishing boats, they would fly over them.

“And they wouldn’t even look up.”

He said the small boats were not their concern.

“We was flying right over the main ship, taking pictures.”

He said the crew was always prepared, and they wore special flight suits.

“What we are wearing, we called them poopy suits.”

Those suits were designed to save their lives in case the aircraft went down.

“It would last 20 minutes, but if you got in the raft and cut the rubber off, you could last for a long time,” Cocking said.

On the other hand, his Navy career didn’t last as long as he would have liked.

Bob Cocking and his wife Mary have been married for 66 years.

“There’s a lot of times, I wish, I had never gotten out.”

The year he did, he made one of his best decisions when he married his wife, Mary.

They’ve been married for 66 years, so she has been there for all of his career highlights, including his work on the BTK investigation.

“Quite a surprise, because I had been retired, and they called me back, to give me this.”

Cocking was talking about his challenge coin with his has name on it, along with the other investigators who helped bring the serial killer to justice.

“When they captured him, he called me, and he said he couldn’t get the guy to shut up. He kept wanting to confess.”

WPD challenge coins

Cocking retired as a lieutenant with the Wichita Police Department.

He then went on to work in the consumer fraud division as an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office before he retired again.

After so many career accomplishments, Cocking still lights up when talking about his flying days, decades ago.

“I loved it,” Cocking added.

He’s thankful he followed the advice to go to Navy boot camp since that decision allowed him to see so much as a member of a combat aircrew.

Cocking talked about what it was like flying over the North Pole.

“Kind of hairy, especially if you was the navigator because the compasses weren’t any good,” Cocking said.

Cocking said while they were near the North Pole, they threw out a container marked with the names of his crew.

He said for years, he sure enjoyed reunions with his squadron, as they always enjoyed spending time together.

He’s very proud of his grandson, who followed in his footsteps, and joined the Navy. He is serving as a Seabee.

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