MEET OUR VETERANS: Theo “Cotton” Miles. U.S. Navy ( Wills Point, Tx. )
“It has been said that if you have lived a good long life you are lucky to have two good friends, he’s probably got a thousand.” Scott Miles
Theo “Cotton” Miles was born on August 7, 1924 in the piney woods of East Texas in a town called Jasper. Theo is 94 years old.
“I spent most of my life in Woodville, the county seat of Tyler County, said Theo Miles. The name “Cotton,” came from his white hair as a young boy. “He had white hair long before I came along,” said his son Scott.
Cotton’s dad worked for Long Bell Lumber Company and all during the Depression years he had a job. He is one of seven children. “We lived on a dusty, sandy land farm near a sawmill town called Doucette, Texas. My dad worked in the lumber mill and the kids stayed home and raised a crop. In those days you had to raise a lot to eat. Things like potatoes, peas, corn and we had a little peach orchard. We also raised about four or five acres of cotton and that was the money crop. My older brother was in the service. He was in the Navy; his name was Buford. He was wounded in the North African invasion. He was one of the first veterans to come back and start selling war bonds. Otha, another brother was 4-F which meant he had a deferment from the military. He worked at the shipyard until the war was over. I had two younger brothers, Glenn and David and two sisters, Sylvia and Elanor. My mother stayed home and raised all us kids and that was the hardest job of all. It was a mile into the nearest town. You didn’t go to there very often because you had to walk. We never had a bicycle or a family car. Matter of fact, I have never owned a bicycle in my whole life. This was during the depression. There were some hard times. We hunted so we could put meat on the table.”
GOING INTO THE SERVICE
Cotton was attending Lamar Tech in Beaumont, Texas and when he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlisted into the Navy. “He got into college at 16 and played football at Lamar for a couple of years and went into the Navy,” said Scott.
“It happened on a Sunday,” Cotton recalled. I was working at the YMCA and going to college. It was 1943 and I was 18 years old. When they told me Pearl Harbor was bombed, I wasn’t very good in geography, I thought that was Ann Arbor in Michigan,” Cotton laughed recalling that day. “On Monday morning, we listened to Roosevelt’s message on the radio in class. That’s when we learned about Pearl Harbor, and we knew we were in an emergency. We knew we were going to be drafted. That’s when I decided I did not want to get into the walking Army, so I joined the Navy. I didn’t want to walk,” he laughed loudly. “I really wanted to get into the Air Force, but I had never ridden in an airplane and I didn’t think I could fly one. I went to boot camp in Corpus Christi, Texas. I volunteered every morning to go overseas. I felt like the Navy was going to do just the opposite of what I asked for. After boot camp I was assigned to Flight Number 19. We were beaching seaplanes. One of the flight instruction groups job was to teach pilots to land and depart from the water. We went to the Naval Air Base in Corpus every day to beach the aircraft. That is what I did for the first six weeks. It was hard work and dangerous too.”
“From there I was assigned to the Post Office. I stayed in communications the entire war. Our main job was to sell stamps, and a lot of money orders on payday. The sailors would send money home and then get into a crap game, lose the money they had and then get another money order from home. We were in the business of cashing those money orders, but most of the time we just handled mail, incoming and outgoing for the servicemen. I liked my job, I never shot at anybody and never got shot at,” we both laughed.
FOOD IN THE SERVICE
“When I went in the military I weighed 150 pounds and got out weighing 205, so I ate good in the Navy.
I was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. For a short time, I was assigned to a submarine. Sometimes we would go out for 45 days at a time. We would sit quietly underwater and wait for an enemy ship to come by and then torpedo it. This sub I was on was previously hit by a torpedo. The sub was coming from the Pacific going thru the Guadalcanal. The water had leaked thru the storage room down into the Galley. All the labels on the cans were washed off. That meant when it came food time, the cook is going to open the can and that is what you ate that day. They couldn’t throw it away because they had just enough for the trip. You didn’t know if you were going to get sauerkraut or peaches, or both, but that is what you ate that day. So, I said after that I would never complain about food again.”
Cotton recalled a time a Japanese suicide Submarine was trying to get into the Panama Canal. “This sub was about fifty feet long, and maybe four feet high, but loaded with explosives. The sub was supposed to come into the Southside of the Panama Canal and then detonate. It would have closed down the Canal. Then our ships would have to go all the way around South America. That sub missed the Canal and ran ashore, by maybe a half a mile. It never blew up. We went down there to disarm it.” You didn’t disarm it did you? I asked Cotton. “Oh NOOO, specialist do that,” Cotton laughed.
“The best values I learned in the Navy was discipline. When they told you to be there at 0400 you were there at 0400. Hurry up to wait, that was our motto, BUT, we did it on time. The service took three of my best years of my life, 18,19,20 years old but the Good Lord sent me in that direction.”
“The best friend I ever had in the world was a man named Moon Mullins. He was from Henderson, Texas. He is the sailor in the picture with me. We met in boot camp the first day, we bunked next to each other. I found out he was from East Texas. After a while we just called each other cousins. So, for the rest of the war, everyone thought we were cousins. We got out of the Navy, both of us were discharged the same day. We went to school together and played football at Stephen F. Austin. I eventually got a head football coaching job and hired him. We coached together for eight years.
“They were very close friends for over 75 years,” said Scott. Do you have any stories you can share with me about him and Moon?” I asked. “Probably none that can be printed,” laughed Scott over the phone. “They had a pretty good time in the Navy. They knew how to play the system pretty well, and manipulated the Armed Services to their advantage a lot of times.” Scott got a big laugh out of that story.
Cotton stayed exactly three years in the Navy. He went in on March 15th, 1943 and got out on the same month in 1946.
AFTER THE MILITARY
“When I was in the military my girlfriend and I courted thru the mail. Lue was in Washington, D.C. working for the Navy Department. I was still in the Navy.
I met her in Junior College in Beaumont, Texas. She was working for the Dragon bookstore. When I got out of the Navy, she was ready to get married. Lue left Washington when I got enough points to get out. We got married three months later. One of the things the Navy gave me was healthy body and a future wife.”
COLLEGE AT STEPHEN F. AUSTIN
“I was offered a scholarship to play at Stephen F. Austin as a running back. I weighed 190 pounds. That was big back then, but I was slow.”
At Stephen F. Austin Cotton was a very good athlete. He played baseball, football, basketball and was one of a very few athletes in college to letter in four sports.
“I got a Master’s degree and a wife out of it, so I did pretty good at Stephen F. Austin,” said Cotton.
“I did play minor league baseball for one year in Lufkin, Texas. The old East Texas League. In the Fall of that same year I got a job coaching at White Oak High School, teaching and coaching. I was coaching both baseball and football at White Oak where I coached for eleven years. From there I moved to Woodrow Wilson in Dallas. In 1967 we went to the state finals. We played Wichita Falls. I am proud of my record at Woodrow Wilson. We won the city championship seven out of the eleven years I was there. That was the smallest school in in town in those years. One year I was named Texas High School coach of the year, and I coached in the North-South All-Star game. We played in the Cotton Bowl and had 39,000 people. That’s not bad for a country boy.”
From Wilson Cotton Miles moved to Skyline High School and we went back to the semi-finals. That was the year they played one of the great high school football teams in Texas, Odessa Permian.
“After all those years in football I figured I had enough and came to Wills Point. I have been inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame, Stephen F. Austin as an athlete and Woodrow Wilson as a High School coach. The one I am most proud of is the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. I was picked as a high school coach. Most people selected for that award are professionals,” Cotton said proudly.
In 25 years of coaching Cotton Miles had a High School overall record of 211-79-9. In May 2010 Miles was inducted into the Texas High School Football of Fame.
Coached Green Bay Packer Great, Max McGee
Cotton Miles has coached a lot of great players over his many years but one comes to mind. “Max McGee was a most unusual person, he was a brilliant man. A straight A high school student who never took a book home. He was the best football, basketball and baseball player at the school,” said Miles. “Max was the state champion in track winning the high jump and shot putt which is unusual for any athlete.” At White Oak High School Max set two state records his senior year in rushing for 3,048 yards and set a school record with 166 points scored.
In 1950, McGee left White Oak High School to play for Tulane University. He was a running back, kicker and a kick returner. He led the nation in kickoff returns as a senior at Tulane.
After a great career at Tulane, Max McGee eventually signed a professional contract with the Green Bay Packers. Max caught the first touchdown pass in the first Super Bowl. “Nothing he did surprised me. He had natural ability,” said Cotton. On my team he was the fullback, the best passer, the best punter, and the best pass catcher. He was linebacker on defense and made most of the tackles,” boasted Cotton of his prize student.
Max McGee played wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers from 1954-1967 under Vince Lombardi.
Coming Home to Wills Point
“I was in the coaching business for a long time and I eventually wanted to get into school administration. I came to Wills Point as a High School Principal in 1975.
Vic Jordan was the Superintendent at Wills Point. We had played against each other in Junior College in 1941. I just thought he would be a good fellar to work with. When he invited me, I came, and we enjoyed it.”
Vic’s son Mike Jordan and his wife Mary were visiting Cotton when I stopped in for a final interview.
“He and my dad were friends for 65 years,” said Mike. “They coached against each other, played against each other and he too was a Wills Point boy. They were like two peas in a pod. They hunted, fished and loved to swap stories. There are some stories I can tell you, but I can’t tell you,” laughed Mike.
“He and my dad were old War War II veterans. Both of them got out of the service and went into coaching. Dad played at Kilgore and he played at Lamar.” Cotton lost a game or two against his old friend, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. “He has selective memory when it comes to those games,” laughed Mike. “He said the other day, one of my guys called and they are coming by to pick me up. So, three other coaches came by and they went over to East Texas.”
Mary Jordan makes Cotton his favorite Sugar Free Cookie Salad and he never lets her forget about bringing him some when she visits.
“One time I was sick and forgot to bring him some cookie salad. I told him I had been sick, but he said you are not anymore,” and they both laugh. “We got the recipe when the grandchildren were in Day Care. It is made with sugar free Cool Whip, sugar free cookies, sugar free pudding and mandarin oranges,” and Cotton, interrupts and says, “And it’s goooood.”
Meeting the KING
“I was the chaperone at White Oak High School dance every Friday night. Well this guy came in and he was dating a girl from our school. He and I were the only two who didn’t dance so we visited every Friday night for about two hours. I found him to be a really nice young man. He called me Mister and he looked older than I did. He had long duck tailed hair and the rest of us had crewcuts or short flattops. He dressed a little different than most of us. We sat and talked about normal things. He was nice to talk with. Years later I saw that same guy on television. His name was Elvis Presley. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard that story a hundred times,” laughs his son Scott. “Elvis would leave the Louisiana Hayride and come over to the dance and see his girlfriend at White Oak. He and daddy became good friends. I don’t know how much is true, but it is a good story and he is sticking with it.” We all got a laugh about that one.
Scouting for the Dallas Cowboys
“I also scouted for the Dallas Cowboys for 34 years,” said Cotton. If they played between 1960 and 1995 I scouted em.”
Some of the players Cotton helped Tom Landry recruit were names like Bob Lilly, Lee Roy Jordan, and Troy Aikman. “I started grading Troy when he was at Oklahoma. He left there and went out to UCLA. They played the Split-T at Oklahoma and at UCLA he played a drop back quarterback.”
I asked Cotton who his favorite Cowboy Player was. “My favorite was Don Meredith. He didn’t take the game too seriously, he laughed and joked a lot. I liked him, he was a great player and not too bad of an announcer. His famous TV line was “Turn out the Lights, the Party is Over.”
“I love to fish. When I was younger I fished for bass and now in my older years I like to fish for crappie and catfish. They are easier to catch.”
“I am 94 years old now. I had an All-American wife. We were married for 70 years. We sorta got used to each other. As a young man I was an athlete so I developed a healthy body.” Did you drink or smoke? “I was a sailor you know, and sometimes I went out with the sailor boys and we will leave it at that. I cannot think of a thing I would have done different. I have had a successful and happy life.”
“I have one son, Scotty, who is a great, great individual. He was also a good athlete. In 1968 he was the outstanding football player in the City of Dallas. He got a scholarship from SMU. He coached at Bryan Adams and we had to coach each other. His mother got awful nervous. She wasn’t going to the game at all until they asked her to speak at halftime on the television. She went. We played twice, once we tied 7-7 and the second time they beat us 21-14. We never discussed it at home.”
Scott remembers playing both times against his dad.
“We played them for the District Championship and I won. I don’t ever remember talking to him about the game. It just never came up.”
Cotton, that large stack of letters on the countertop tells your legacy. “There are hundreds of them,” he said pointing over to the stack of letters. “They keep coming in.” The Impact you have made on people’s lives is enormous Cotton, I said. Without mentioning names, what have your friends, family, players and students told you what you meant to them?
“I have had many players tell me they appreciated what I did for them, that I was a daddy they never had at home.
Many of them said, had it not been for me, they would probably have been in the penitentiary. Now they are college graduates and great citizens in our country. Those who write me and say things like that make me feel really good.” You had a tremendous impact on a lot of people’s lives, I told Cotton. His eyes starting watering and he looked down at the floor. “Well, I didn’t at the time. I was just one of the kids. We just played every day and just tried to win every game. I shared in their hard times, but now I look back on it and think I might have influenced them more than I knew at the time.
In 1965 we had an undefeated season and five of those players went on to become preachers.”
“What is remarkable is when he gets a card from one of his ex-players, he remembers them.” said Mike Jordan looking over at Cotton with a smile. He did the eulogy when my mom passed away, and Cotton did the eulogy when my dad passed away. That was special,”
Mary handed me a letter and I asked Cotton if I could read it. He nodded his head.
The card read, Happy Father’s Day, I hope you realize how many of us have always looked to your kindness, encouragement and humor as what we needed and never received from our own father. “I guess that sums it up right there,” said Cotton Miles.
His son Scott added, “It has been said that if you have lived a good long life you are lucky to have two good friends, he’s probably got a thousand.”
Thank you, Theo “COTTON” Miles, for your service to our county, and for making such a positive impact on the lives of so many people.
God Bless our Veterans and God Bless America
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