Military personnel, regardless of rank, must obey their commands; and in the troubled city of Saigon during the war in Vietnam, members of the unit were the only ones permitted to carry weapons inside the city limits.
They are the military police, and Marlow resident Truman Cox is infinitely proud to have been a part of the highly-regarded 716th MP Battalion, which he defined last week as “the most decorated of any military police unit” in America’s history.
“The 716th in Vietnam left a legacy because of the lessons we learned—how we handled things and how we reacted to situations,” he said, adding that these tactics “are being taught to trainees today.” The 716th, he recalled, “was not trained in combat, but we were in combat.”
The battalion’s legacy is one, according to Truman’s wife Claudia, “that the MPs of today try to live up to.”
Through a set of fortunate—and almost unbelievable—circumstances, the Coxes just this past August were made aware of just how respected the 716th is in military police ranks even now, almost 40 years after the war in southeast Asia ended.
The couple were on their way to a biennial reunion of the battalion in St. Louis this past summer and stopped at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where all MPs are trained today. Truman had compiled a number of scrapbooks detailing the battalion’s service in Vietnam, along with records of his own personal experiences; and he wanted to donate several of them to the National MP Museum on base. One, however, he wished to keep; therefore, the museum curator would have to make copies and the museum had just closed for the day. This necessitated an overnight stay in nearby St. Robert.
The next morning, while the copies were being made, the Coxes drove to an area on base called the Military Police Memorial Gardens and observed a line of about 200 soldiers awaiting the start of their commencement rehearsal. These young men and women were on the verge of becoming the nation’s newest MPs.
Truman conversed briefly with a chaplain, who introduced him to the captain in command of the graduates.
Claudia recalled the captain’s response upon learning of Truman’s history with the 716th: “You just don’t know how cool this is for me to meet you and talk to you.” Then the officer invited Truman to address the troops during their rehearsal.
He didn’t have to twist the veteran’s arm. It was a matter of “being there at the right time,” Truman conjectured. “It was an honor for me.”
It was such an honor, in fact, that he became a little emotional reliving what he considers to be one of the highlights of his life.
Little wonder. Claudia recalled that her husband received not only applause at the end of his talk, but a standing ovation, as well.
They proceeded to the reunion; but as exciting as it was to see his old army buddies again, it paled slightly in the face of that earlier, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Early yearsTruman was born in Duncan on October 26, 1945, the youngest of Sidney and Bessie Cox’s eight children. The family moved to Texas when Truman was only 3 or 4, then lived in a number of places during the remainder of his formative years.
He graduated from Bowie High School in 1964. During his senior year, he played football and also worked weekends because his dad was battling cancer and Truman, the only child left at home, was the family’s sole breadwinner. He also received a medal in mechanical drawing that year and entertained aspirations of becoming an architect.
But life had other plans for him. When his father died in 1965, Truman and his mom moved to Duncan to be near family; and Truman continued to work to support them.
He met a young woman named Claudia Potts through a blind date, a collaborative effort of both their families. The attraction was there, but Truman received his draft notice almost immediately afterward. Four weeks later, he reported for basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and during a leave from boot camp, proposed to Claudia on Christmas eve.
Wartime serviceAfter basic, Truman underwent military police training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and was sent to southeast Asia in April 1966. This was not long after the war had begun; and his unit, the 716th MP Battalion, was assigned to Saigon, a city of more than 3,000,000 people and the capital of South Vietnam.
The military police were “responsible for all military personnel,” as well as having jurisdiction over American civilians engaged in federal building projects, Truman recalled.
In civil conflicts, it’s often difficult to determine if an individual is a friend or foe. Asked how he made the distinction, Truman quipped, “If they were shooting at you, they were the enemy.”
The 716th worked together with MP units from Korea and Australia to maintain order in the bustling metropolis under wartime conditions. They were, in fact, the only individuals in the city allowed to carry firearms, he said.
The 716th provided security for the American embassy, hotels housing Americans, General Westmoreland’s living quarters, and all U.S. military installations. In addition, they policed the bars, enforced the city’s curfew, and investigated wrecks, shootings and murders. In short, the MPs maintained order in what tended to be a continually disorderly place.
And “if you were a terrorist, the only jurisdiction we had over you was to shoot you,” Truman remembered.
He started out filling “static post” positions at various facilities, then advanced to driver for American sergeants, then to driver for a platoon leader, and eventually to “joint patrol” with members of the other allies’ MPs.
While on duty, he carried a .45 pistol and M-16 rifle at all times.
For his service to his country, Truman was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze stars. Furthermore, he earned the sharpshooter badge for outstanding marksmanship in both rifle and pistol use.
A life of serviceTruman and Claudia were married on April 29, 1967—just six days after his return to the states on furlough—in the home of Claudia’s parents.
During the remainder of his 30-day leave, the newlyweds honeymooned in Pensacola, Florida, before establishing a home in Duncan. Vietnam veterans were given a choice in post-war assignments, and Truman spent his final six months at Fort Sill. His discharge rank was Spec. E4.
The Coxes moved into Marlow in 1969, the year after their first child, a daughter they named Jessie Lynn, was born. Now Mrs. Chris Genn, Jessie is a teacher at Marlow Middle School and the mother of two girls of her own.
Truman’s and Claudia’s younger child, David James, is today a self-employed home-remodeling contractor. He and his wife Beth live in Marlow and have given the Coxes three grandchildren.
After Truman’s discharge from the army, he had a brief stint at welding, then spent around 30 years self-employed in the nursery and landscaping trade, accepting contracts for work from as far away as Oklahoma City and Altus.
In time, the arduous tasks involved in this profession became too taxing physically, and he retired (the first time) in 1994.
Until recently, he built and sold primitive furniture and other decorative items framed in weathered wood and often featuring decorative antique ceiling tiles. For four years, he and his son-in-law owned the Rustic Trail on South Broadway. Truman retired from that enterprise two years ago.
In addition to maintaining his well-ordered scrapbooks, Truman enjoys hunting for arrowheads and collecting vintage toy cars. According to Claudia, “he has a very large collection.”
The two of them are avid followers of their grandchildren’s athletic endeavors, and they love to travel. In fact, Truman has visited 14 foreign countries.
The Coxes have been active members of Marlow’s First Baptist Church since 1970. Truman is an ordained deacon and a team leader for the compassion ministry, and he is currently serving on the personnel committee.
You might say Truman Cox is a man of stature, both in and out of uniform.