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I work as a veteran’s service officer and my office is located in a small town in western Massachusetts. The town offices are located in a building, which was previously a high school, and my office is a converted classroom. The office is typical of an early twentieth century classroom – high ceilings, blackboard spaces at either end of the room, entrance and exit door at one side, and four large windows opposite the entrance wall. The room receives sunshine most of the day and is light and pleasant. My desk and computer workplace are located at one end of the room opposite the entrance. Across from my desk area, and near the entrance, there are tables crowded with veteran literature, benefits pamphlets, state veteran information and federal veteran information. It was in this setting where I met Maurice Cocchi for the first time. .

Maurice Cocchi walked into my office in August of 2003. It was early afternoon of a pleasant summer’s day. As he entered the office, he carefully scanned the room as if he was scoping the terrain of a future battle engagement. Maurice was fairly tall, probably close to six feet and stocky in build. He was wearing cut off jeans, a plaid lumberman’s shirt and tan work boots. He had a full black beard, and a deep voice of authority, which at times would be quiet and peaceful depending on the need. I rose to greet and offer him a seat, which he refused. He indicated he was looking for an address of someone in the Veterans Administration. I looked up the address and gave it to him. He thanked me for the address, viewed the perimeter of the office again and took his leave. That was to be the first of many meetings.

Maurice Cocchi had graduated from college in the early 1960s with a degree in chemical engineering and continued on to graduate school. After graduate school, he enlisted in the US Army in 1964. He served as an enlisted man for over two years and then was commissioned as an officer in 1966. Perhaps it was fate, but whatever is was, one day I was looking for information on the internet about Vietnam when I found a site dedicated to the 27th engineer battalion and their work on Route 547 in the A Shau Valley, Vietnam. In the article there was a section asking anyone if they knew the where-abouts of Captain Maurice Cocchi? I responded to the request and was soon to hear from Vinny Alestra the author of the site. Vinny had served under Captain Cocchi and attributes his survival today, as well as the survival of many others, to the skills of Captain Cocchi. He cared about his men. He would see to it that his men ate first, a credit to his manners as well as his consideration for his men and their safety. The operation to reopen and upgrade Rte 547 from Phu Bai to the A Shau Valley was described by brigade headquarters as potentially the most difficult combat engineering task up to that point of the Vietnam War. He had an uncanny ability to know when to move the men of A company and protect them from the enemy.

Maurice was discharged from the army on the 31st of July 1969 and remained in Southeast Asia working for Air America (CIA) for many years in that area of the world. He later worked for the Department of the Interior as a water analyst.
Maurice was a very complicated man. He had served his country admirably in the army; he continued to work for his country with the CIA and later for the Department of the Interior. He spent his last ten years reclusively on a small farm in western Massachusetts. It was during these later years I got to know him. Now and then he would visit me in my office. We would discuss literature, fishing, and writing, and, as I was to discover, he had an amazing understanding of the constitution. Hemingway was an author we both liked, and together we spent many hours talking about his writing. One day Maurice brought me some manuscripts to read. The writing was all done on yellow writing pads in long hand. The penmanship was of good hand and the writing was amazing to me. I had, for some time, felt he had been endowed with uncommon intellect. Having read through these manuscripts, I knew on good days I was witness to genius. However, some days were difficult for Maurice. As I think about his reclusive lifestyle, I know he was haunted by man’s inhumanity to man.

Maurice fought one final battle with cancer. He was hospitalized during much of his last year, and I would keep communication with him by telephone two or three times weekly. In late June he was out of the hospital for a while and came to visit me. He stood in the doorway of my office and with a grin from ear to ear pronounced, “LET THE BASTARDS KNOW COCCHI’S BACK”. Somehow he had fought through all the cancer treatments and had come home with a positive outlook. He was for a short period of time better than I had ever seen him. Sadly, Maurice lost his battle with cancer and died in late October of 2005. It was my privilege to know Maurice Cocchi, as it was a privilege for his men to serve under him.

Robert Mathison

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