By ALICIA LEONARD
Before the time phone calls replaced visiting face-to-face, families gathered late in the evening to talk, to plan, to spend time together. Such was the evening of Aug. 11, 1944, when a tragic accident befell the family of James Cosson Sr., of the Alaqua Community in Walton County. Cosson was gathered with his wife, brother, children and extended family when errant bombs, released by accident during a training mission at Eglin Field, destroyed the peaceful family that had gathered together, taking the lives of four and seriously wounding five others in the process.
Sixty-eight years later, the community came together on Aug. 30, to place a marker in memory of the tragedy in front of what was once the Cosson home, now overgrown with time, trees and memories.
District 4 Walton County Commissioner Sara Comander said it was a labor of love, respect and the team work of many individuals that helped make the marker possible. Comander thanked her administrative assistant Melinda Wickham for working closely with the Cosson family the last few years to help get the project restarted. The memorial marker has been in the process for many, many years. Previous house committees with the state had rejected the marker in the past due to wording. With help from Wickham, Congressman Jeff Miller, Eglin District Fire Cheif Doug Kolodziejczak and Walton County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Graham Fountain, the project was refined and resubmitted, before being approved this last time around.
Throughout everything, the Cosson family has waited patiently for the tragedy to be noticed and recognized by the government. “We know what happened here, but when other people drive by, they don’t see anything but woods,” said Miller about the sign and the tragedy, “Now, they’ll know.”
Comander said it was an honor to work on the project and that she was grateful for the sacrifices made by the family during World War II and the tragic accident.
Frank Cosson was 12 when he took the long ambulance ride down the dirt roads to the old county hospital that used to sit on College Avenue in DeFuniak Springs. He was placed in the ambulance with his father, head on his chest, listening to the sound of life escape his body during the long trip. “They put me in there with him, cause they didn’t think either of us would make it,” he said.
Cosson added about the night of the tragedy when speaking to the crowd, “I also want to say that the night I lost my daddy, Bob Sikes came to me and said he couldn’t replace my daddy, but he would do his best to look out for us and be a daddy to us if he could, and he was as close to it as he could be. He was a man of his word.”
Cosson had originally approached the government about a memorial for the family more in the style of a headstone monument with names and dates of their death as well as survivors. Cosson said he was grateful for all of the help with the marker project, but he was disturbed with many of the rumors and mistruths that had surrounded the family since the accident as well as how the marker was worded. “I just have to say, to make clear, a lot of people say our family was having a party and now we all get checks every year. That’s just not true. My daddy didn’t drink or party. He was a hardworking and honest man. Nobody in our family gets a check for this of any kind. A few got a one time payment long, long ago, but that’s it. I just want people to know the truth. I’ll have a book coming out that will tell the truth about this and although I appreciate every thing everyone has done, this marker isn’t right. What’s written here isn’t right, but I appreciate what was done to place it here.”