Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 3, September, 1995 Page: 119
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Supreme Sacrifice: Colorado County's World War II Dead
In December 1943, more than a year after Cook had been declared missing,
his parents received a posthumous Purple Heart award. Though his body was never
found, a simple gravestone was erected in the Eagle Lake Masonic Cemetery in his
memory. His name is also on the Eagle Lake High School marker.15
Seaman 1st Class William Lee Stapleton
August 29, 1922 - October 16, 1942
Although it is clear that Cook died first, William Lee Stapleton was, at the
time of the war, reported as Eagle Lake's first combat death, and many still afford him
that honor today. Stapleton was born August 29, 1922 in Eagle Lake, the only child of
Ben Lee and Eunice Hoover Stapleton. He enlisted in the navy before the war at the age
of 18. At the outbreak of the war, Stapleton was aboard the U. S. S. McFarland, which
had left its port in Hawaii in November 1941. Amid all the anxiety caused by the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor, the Stapletons received a message from their son that he was
"safe, well and happy, don't worry."16
Stapleton's letters to his family continued to come until late the following
summer. Throughout September, as battle raged in the Solomon Islands, and a month
passed with no further word from their son, his parents grew apprehensive. When news
did come, it was bad. Stapleton had been killed in action on October 16, 1942. The Eagle
Lake Headlight, unaware of Cook's earlier death, headlined its report: "William Lee
Stapleton, Eagle Lake's First Casualty." However, neither the circumstances of his death
nor the place of Stapleton's interment were then known.17
He had been killed in action off Guadalcanal. After Wasp was sunk, the
United States had only one aircraft carrier operational in the southwest Pacific, the
U. S. S. Hornet. The Japanese undertook daily air searches to find and sink the carrier.
On October 16, 1942, Stapleton's ship, the McFarland, which was an old seaplane
tender, sailed to Lunga Roads, Guadalcanal, carrying 40,000 gallons of gasoline and
some ammunition. At about six o'clock that evening, as she unloaded to a barge and
evacuated some marines, Japanese dive bombers, unable to locate Hornet, instead
attacked McFarland. She cut loose the barge and got underway, putting up feeble anti-
aircraft fire that downed one Aichi Val bomber. However, one Japanese bomb
incinerated the barge, and a second landed amid McFarland's depth charges, severing
the stern of the ship. Twenty-seven crewmen were killed and twenty-eight more
wounded. Among the dead was Stapleton. McFarland reached Tulagi safely by midnight.
Ten days later, the Japanese caught up with and sank Hornet.18
Some six months later, in April 1943, a young man named Walter Touch-
stone, who had evidently been a close friend of Stapleton's, came to Eagle Lake and
called upon his parents. Such visits became a common occurrence during the war.
15 Eagle Lake Headlight, December 24, 1943.
16 Eagle Lake Headlight, November 28, 1941, December 26, 1941.
17 Eagle Lake Headlight, December 4, 1942; Weimar Mercury, December 11, 1942.
18 Details of this action can be found in Richard B. Frank, Guadalcanal (New York: Penguin Books,
1992), p. 326.
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 3, September, 1995, periodical, September 1995; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151395/m1/11/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed November 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.