For Blue Angel and Navy Lt. James Cooper Cox Jr. of Chesapeake, Va., the St. Lawrence River holds a treasured spot in his soul.
“It’s a huge part of my upbringing,” Lt. Cox said. “Being on the river, no matter where I am in the country, I always think about the serenity of the St. Lawrence and the memories we had up there.”
“Up there” will add another dimension for him on Monday when Lt. Cox and his United States Navy Blue Angels wingmates fly low over the Watertown International Airport on their way to a flight over a section of the St. Lawrence River.
The flight demonstration squadron, formed in 1946, travels across the country serving as ambassadors of goodwill by bringing naval aviation to the public.
Monday’s brief and low flight over parts of the north country is a chance for the Blue Angels team to get some promotional photographs over a scenic location. This weekend, the Blue Angels are at the New York International Air Show at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, Orange County.
On Monday morning, the team will depart for its next show in Greenwood, Nova Scotia, Canada. The route there includes the airport and the “river run.” If the weather (forecast calls for sunny skies) holds, the best case scenario is for the jets to arrive over the Watertown airport at about 11 a.m. on Monday. From there, the six pilots will head to Cape Vincent and head down the river, departing to Nova Scotia after Boldt Castle at Alexandria Bay.
The total Blue Angels team consists of 130 active-duty sailors and Marines. There will be six FA-18 jets in Monday’s flyover squadron. Lt. Cox flies the No. 3, visible on its tail fin.
“We do this all over the country in trying to get pictures of really cool locations,” Lt. Cox said Friday morning in a phone interview from Newburgh. “In this case, we’re just lucky enough to be close to the St. Lawrence to be able to do that here. We haven’t been this far north in a couple of years.”
Lt. Cox said the squadron will be at about 500 to 800 feet for its river run. It will not involve aerobatics.
“It’s especially cool for me because I have family up there,” he said. “I grew up on the river and love it so much.”
Lt. Cox is the fourth generation of Navy officers and third generation Navy pilot with roots in a Watertown family.
n His great-grandfather, Dr. Howard N. Cooper, the son of a minister, came to Watertown in 1924 to become pathologist and house physician at the House of the Good Samaritan.
He entered the private practice of surgery in 1927. He was one of the region’s great aviation enthusiasts, flew privately and traveled more than 500,000 miles in commercial and charter flights. Dr. Cooper became the first chairman of the Watertown Airport Commission under the City Council in 1945. He is credited modernizing the airport, where he learned to fly in 1929.
Dr. Cooper had served in World War I as an enlisted man, a pharmacist, in the Navy. He attempted to enter the service during World War II, but was rejected due to a heart condition. He became an officer in a local militia unit of the Naval Reserves, commissioned as assistant surgeon. The family lived at 156 Paddock St. Dr. Cooper died in 1953 of a heart attack at the age of 58.
n Lt. Cox’s grandfather was George E. Cox Jr., who died in 1972 at the age of 57. The decorated war hero commanded a PT-41 torpedo boat which was credited with rescuing Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur from Corregidor Island.
n Lt. Cox’s grandmother was Mary Cooper Cox, who died at the age of 85 in 2009. As a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in World War II, she was granted the Congressional Gold Medal, conferred on her posthumously in early 2010. She worked as a flight instructor at the Watertown Airport. It was there that she started to give flying lessons to her future husband.
The Watertown International Airport’s Business Center, which opened in 2015, is named in memory of Mrs. Cox.
n Lt. Cox’s father is James C. Cox Sr., who graduated from the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., in 1995. The 1971 graduate of Watertown High School joined the Navy in December 1978. He spent 30 years in the Navy and now lives in Virginia.
Lt. Cmdr. James C. Cox Sr. was a pilot with the Navy’s Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Nine which is attached to the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
He said family stories helped to inspire him to be an aviator.
“It’s the passion of wanting to fly — just the passion and wonder of it all,” he said. “My son grew up all over with me as a pilot and we moved all over the place with the military.”
James C. Cox Sr. would take his family yearly to Watertown and the St. Lawrence River for summer trips to visit family and to relax.
“We pretty much would run between Clayton and Grindstone Island every summer, from the early ’80’s basically through last year when we had a family reunion up there,” said Lt. Cox, the Blue Angels flier.
After college at James Mason University in Harrisonburg, Va., Lt. Cox worked for about four years in sales and consulting in Washington, D.C.
“I kind of got the city life and corporate America portion out of the way,” Lt. Cox said. “I grew up around aviation, around the Navy and aircraft carriers. Ultimately I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I just didn’t know how I was going to get there.”
Accepted into the Navy’s pilot program, he reported to Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., in 2009. His Navy carrier eventually took him to Nevada for the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program (known as Top Gun) in 2015 and in 2016 to Strike Fighter Weapons School Atlantic, where he served as instructor.
Lt. Cox joined the Blue Angels in September of 2018. Assignments are usually for two years.
“We’re extremely lucky and very fortunate to be part of such a high caliber organization,” Lt. Cox said. “I’m very humbled by it, but look at this as a tour we’re very lucky to do. But it’s another tour of duty in the military. We need to continually keep in mind that although we are lucky and thankful and very fortunate to be traveling the country and getting to talk to people and have all these experiences, we are also Navy pilots and Navy officers first.”
It all coincides with the mission statement of the Blue Angels, he said, to inspire a culture of excellence, whether one is in the military or not.
“Whatever you do, we encourage you to be the very best at what you are doing,” Lt. Cox said.