Cmdr. Charles Staats met his neighbor Carl Cochran a day after moving to Labadie.
“Carl was one of the most uncommon common men I’d ever known,” said Staats.
Staats saw Cochran marching during the afternoon, make an about face and walk back to his home.
“He was strutting like a proud peacock,” Staats said.
The next day Staats stood in the path Cochran had marched the day before holding a cup of coffee and cookies.
The two men found they shared many interests and remained close friends until Cochran’s death on Jan. 3.
A memorial program honoring Cochran at the Washington Regional Airport was held Saturday. Family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances reflected on Cochran’s kindness, generosity, friendship and numerous aviation accomplishments.
The tribute was largely planned by Staats.
Judge Larry Davis, Union, presided at the ceremony, which was attended by 65 to 70 people.
Mayor Sandy Lucy, East Central College President Dr. Jon Bauer, Franklin County Honor Flight Chairman Jim Tayon, members of American Legion Post 565 of Labadie, and Carl’s daughter, Mary, son, Harvey, and grandson, Westley, were present for the tribute.
Humility, compassion, unfaltering dedication — to family, friends, brothers in arms, or students — and a desire to help others made Carl Cochran a hero to his community.
Mayor Lucy issued a proclamation declaring Oct. 24, 2012, Carl Cochran Day in Washington.
Additionally, Staats announced the airport’s administration building will be renamed the Cochran Memorial Training Center.
A plaque denoting the new title of the administration building was presented to airport staff.
Staats said the airport manager had already measured a spot on the wall where it will hang with honor and dignity.
Cochran managed the Washington airport for about 15 years beginning in 1982.
His reputation as an experienced aviator helped bring the small regional airport popularity and respect.
“The airport was Carl’s second home,” Staats said.
He first encountered airplanes when he went to work at an aircraft factory in Kansas City, Kan., at the age of 17.
As Axis powers threatened America, Europe and the Pacific he enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and earned his wings in 1944.
During World War II he flew land-based patrol bombers on many missions.
After the war, he spent a number of years in the Naval Reserve before retiring from the service. He also became a certified helicopter pilot.
Following his retirement from the Navy he flew for nonscheduled airlines, including one that later became Ozark Airlines, headquartered in St. Louis. He flew for Ozark for 31 years.
During his time as manager of the airport in Washington he taught a countless number of individuals to fly.
Staats said Carl never looked more excited than when a young man or young woman walked into the airport office or hangar and said they wanted to learn to fly.
“He would make it happen,” Staats said, “even if it meant reaching down into his own pocket.”
Cochran’s generosity will continue to benefit young people even after his death.
Dr. Bauer noted Cochran’s strong support of ECC and generous donations — a total of $100,000 — to support for what he believed to be a community hub.
Cochran’s daughter, Mary, graduated from the community college in 1980 and is a captain for U.S. Airways.
Cochran also was a board member of the college foundation from 1983 to 1993.
Bauer said Cochran’s donations for scholarships will continue to generate a local legacy and passion for aviation.
“Carl literally opened the sky to students interested in aviation,” Bauer said.
Cochran’s aviation accomplishments are matched by few, if any.
The Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, presented him with The Wright Brothers “Master Pilot” Award in 2011.
Less than 2,300 individuals have been recognized for demonstrating professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 years or more.
Cochran was knighted, too, but the fact that ‘Sir’ was included among his official titles wasn’t something he often talked about, according to Staats.
Inspiring to All
Mary Cochran spoke briefly about her father and said the one word that best described him was inspirational.
“He never gave me the idea there was anything I couldn’t do, even though I was a girl,” she said.
She took after her father and became a pilot.
When she completed flight training and as her career continued, the aviation industry was dominated by men. She said she would lament to her father about not being treated respectfully in her job. When she did he only reminded her there were many pilots facing circumstances less fortunate than hers.
Cochran’s comrades in arms and members of the Saturday Morning Veterans Brothers of Kirkwood, as well as his chief pilot, Bob Kraemer, and a few individuals who credited Cochran with earning a pilot’s license, shared memories of Cochran.
Cochran told a friend in the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club that he logged 4,000 or 5,000 hours in the air during his career. That friend calculated Cochran has been airborne for 3 1/2 years and decided Cochran was most likely an alien.
Libby Yunger, chairman of the Greater St. Louis Ninety-Nines — an international organization of women pilots — said she wouldn’t be a Ninety-Nine if not for Carl Cochran.
Yunger always wanted to be a pilot but didn’t have the 20-20 vision in both eyes required to fly planes. She said she settled in a reality where she wouldn’t be a pilot but often visited airports and airfields when she needed cheering up. Then she met Cochran and shared with him her dream and her condition.
“He said, ‘That’s no big deal!’ ”
She would only need to train and test for her license with an FAA official.
After successfully earning her license she vowed to return to Washington and tell “that nice man” she became a pilot.
Yunger also said Cochran paid her the biggest compliment one pilot can pay to another: He fell asleep as a passenger on the plane she was piloting.
“I thought, ‘I must be doing pretty good for him to feel relaxed enough to sleep,’ ” said Yunger.
Judge Davis shared the unusual circumstance that resulted in his friendship with Carl, too.
He said he had known Carl as a prominent member of the community but was more “intimately acquainted” with Carl when he wrecked one of Carl’s airplanes.
Kraemer shared a love of Steerman biplanes with Cochran and shared stories about the Steermans Cochran owned.
At one time under Cochran, the Washington airport was the only facility in the country where flying lessons were given in a Steerman aircraft.
Kraemer had planned to bring a red and yellow Steerman to the memorial but weather conditions weren’t appropriate for a flight Saturday afternoon.
“His planes are here in spirit, if nothing else,” said Staats.