While serving in the Vietnam War, Master Sgt. William H. Cox made a promise to a friend. He kept his word for nearly 50 years and followed through in a big way when he learned his fellow Marine was terminally ill.
Cox and First Sgt. James "Hollie" Hollingsworth had always been close -- being in the Marines together will do that to you, he told the Greenville News.
"There's a bond between Marines that's different from any other branch of service," Cox explained. "We're like brothers."
So naturally, when Cox and Hollingsworth were hiding in a bunker in the Marble Mountains of Vietnam while northern soldiers were "really putting on a fireworks show" for the pair on New Year's Eve of 1968, the conversation they had stayed with them for life.
"If we survived this attack or survived Vietnam, we would contact each other every year on New Year's," Cox recounted the pact that they made together that night while serving in Marine helicopter squadron VMO-2.
Both worked together as door gunners, with Hollingsworth performing additional duties as a mechanic and Cox as an ordnance chief.
When the pair, who first met on the trip to Vietnam for their deployment, finally made it out alive and came home, they went off on their separate ways. Hollingsworth headed to Hephzibah, Georgia, while Cox, who was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, settled down in Piedmont, South Carolina.
Despite the distance between them, they kept their promise to each other. Every year, they'd get in touch on New Year's.
As the years caught up to them, Cox found out that his friend was dying, so he came over for a visit.
That's when Hollingsworth asked Cox to make him one more promise: to deliver the eulogy at his funeral.
"I said, 'Boy, that's a rough mission you're assigning me to there,'" Cox recalled.
But there was no chance he would let his friend down. After Hollingsworth died at the age of 80, his 83-year-old pal kept another promise he had made and stood guard at his friend's casket.
"Dad has to use a cane most of the time now, but he insisted on not using it during his vigil at the casket and at the funeral," Cox's son, Bill, wrote in a Facebook post alongside the photo of his father.
And sure enough, the veteran gave the eulogy for his longtime friend.
"Hollie, you keep 'em flying, and I'll keep 'em firing," he said, closing out his speech with the saying he told his friend after every single of their numerous combat missions together, notes the Greenville News.
Sources: Greenville News, Bill Cox/Facebook / Featured Image: U.S. Air Force/Linda LaBonte Britt/Hanscom Air Force Base / Embedded Images: Bill Cox/Facebook, Facebook via Daily Mail