In almost 88 years on this earth, accomplishments haven’t been few for Arthur Cotton, but come tonight, he’ll have another one to add to his mantle – high school graduate.
Cotton, 87, will be walking the football field tonight as part of Frostproof High School’s graduating class of 2018. His fellow graduates are about 70 years younger than the Korean War veteran, but he’s enjoyed the camraderie.
“We practiced all morning,” Cotton said Thursday. “I had a good time with the kids today. I really appreciated the kids who shook my hand and thanked me for my service. That really makes you feel good.”
Following his retirement from the Armed Forces in 1988, Cotton purchased the home where he still lives on Lake Clinch in Frostproof. Born in Geneva, Alabama, Cotton first moved to Frostproof at the age of 10 after his father got a job in the fertilizer industry.
“There wasn’t anything in Frostproof for a young person,” he said. “I guess you could stay in the groves. There was no industry here.”
Cotton hopes this isn’t the last time he’s acknowledged by Frostproof High School. He said he’s petitioning for a spot in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. As a high school student, Cotton was a two-sport athlete, playing football and throwing the javelin for the track and field team.
“My record at Frostproof in the javelin still stands,” Cotton said.
Now a retired Master Sgt., Cotton completed his sophomore year of high school in 1948 before going on to join the U.S. Marine Corps. That’s where he would spend the next 40 years, including the last 20 as a civilian in aerospace engineering at Cherry Point in North Carolina.
Cotton served 15 months in Korea from January 1953 until the spring of 1954. During the war, which ended in the summer of 1953, Cotton was part of a squadron that escorted Air Force aircraft bombers over hostile bombing lines. Prior to serving on the battlefield, Cotton made a name for himself on the football field, starting at wide receiver for the Quantico Marines from 1950 to 1952.
“I played with 39 different professional players when I was in Quantico,” Cotton said. “I got a call the last game of the season (in 1952) to go to Korea.”
The young group of servicemen that included four-time NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Eddie LaBaron beat the likes of Xavier, Virginia Tech and John Carroll. After a 9-1 finish in 1950, Quantico took on LaBaron’s alma mater Pacific, where he played prior to joining the service.
“We were nominated to play in the Tangerine Bowl that year,” Cotton said. “We had to vote to play in the Tangerine Bowl or go to the Pacific against Eddie LaBaron’s school.”
Quantico was where Cotton met his late wife, Mary Jane Mateer, who worked as a typist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation under J. Edgar Hoover. The couple was married for 65 years before she passed away in late August 2016. They have three children – two daughters and one son.
After leaving Korea, Cotton stayed in Cherry Point until the early 1960s when he was sent to Japan to work as a line chief. In 1962, Cotton was sent to Andrews Air Force base in Washington D.C. where he trained Marine reserves.
Cotton’s civilian career returned him to Cherry Point in 1967 where he worked until his retirement in August 1988. The first half of Cotton’s civilian tenure there was an aerospace engineering technician and the final half as a quality insurance manager, overseeing 43 specialists. During his time with the Marines, Cotton earned numerous certifications.
For four decades in the U.S. military, Cotton was given the Career Service Award. Cotton spent his final seven working years as a manager at Avon Park Airport before retiring for good in 1996. During his tenure at the airport, Cotton won the Matty Laird Outstanding Support for Aviation Award.
Despite waiting 70 years later to return for Frostproof High School for his diploma, education was always important to Cotton. Cotton earned his GED in 1965, but made the decision just a year ago to go back for his diploma.
“I wanted to do it just for the ego and it was important for my kids to get to see me get my diploma,” Cotton said. “I always made sure they got their education.”
As for his children, Cotton’s two daughters are retired from careers in teaching and nursing. Cotton youngest child and only son is a PhD working as a mental health specialist with Broward County Schools in South Florida.
“Never underestimate my father,” daughter Linda Bastien said. “I’m proud of him. This is what makes him happy.”
© 2018 The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.