In the early morning hours of Boneta, Duchesne, Utah, on 17 September 1922, a male child was born to Edward Eugene and Emeline Sitterud Cox, the fifth of eight children. He was given the unusual name of Zeniff J Cox. Zen often proclaimed his relief that his father was reading the 9th chapter of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon rather than Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at the time he was choosing a name.
His parents and all of his siblings preceded him in death except for his baby sister, Elaine, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday. Also preceding him in death was one daughter, Valerie Jane, who shared his love for literature.
Zen’s appreciation for life, his sense of humor, love of the Lord, and ability to tell a good story, endeared him to family and others. One niece says, what has been expressed by so many others, in these words: “This great man will always hold his very own place in my heart!” While another says: “Ooohh. I love that man.”
Zen’s appreciation for life began early as he learned to help around the farm pulling weeds and caring for the sheep, the two primary means of livelihood for his family. Deciding he didn’t want to attend church one Sunday when he was about eight years old, his father gave him the responsibility to move the sheep from the pasture to an area adjacent to an alfalfa field. He located them in an area where he thought natural barriers would contain them and went off to hunt. When he returned an hour later he found three in the alfalfa field. He herded them back across the ditch but shortly after noticed all three laying down gasping for breath, having bloated. He remembered an older brother had explained that if this ever happened to take his pocketknife and make a hole in their stomachs to relieve the pressure. Zen not only learned a valuable experience about caring for sheep but he also learned that when performing this procedure it is important to orient yourself so the escaping gases do not spew all over you saturating your clothes and body with foul, smelly, half-digested alfalfa. He also decided it was better to go to church, which became a lifelong determination.
He learned a sense of humor as much from playing practical jokes on others as from having them played on him. One day he saw his brother Ken driving a 700 lb pig toward their farm in Castle Dale, UT. He asked him where he obtained the pig and his brother told him that he had traded him (Zen) for the pig. And that the pig was given to their family in consideration for Zen marrying the daughter of the previous owner. Zen’s dad, Edward, joined in corroborating this tall tale which carried on for a matter of weeks.
Zen learned about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at his class at LDS Business College where he was half way through a course to become an accountant. He and a friend decided to enlist and were going to begin applying with the service with the toughest physical, the marines. At the pre-determined hour Zen showed up but his friend didn’t. Zen passed the physical but had to have his father sign for him because he was only 20 years old, not 21. He acquired the nickname, “Taxiway” early one morning at Henderson airfield on Guadalcanal when he was asked by the pilot of the SBD Dauntless dive bomber, Zen’s assignment was as radio-gunner, the one who sits behind the pilot in this two-man plane, on a seat that can swivel to face the rear in order to operate a twin barrel, flexible mount .30 caliber machine gun. His pilot, Reed Hannon from Denver Colorado, was 6’2”, Zen, 5’10”. While warming up the engine, waiting for the pilot, someone pulled the chalks from around the wheels of the plane and it started forward, heading for the ammunition supply dump. All personnel scattered for cover in the jungle while Zen was trying to reach the out-of-reach, for him, controls. He managed to swing the plane aside narrowly averting disaster but came away with the nickname, Taxiway!
Early in life Zen acquired an understanding that the Lord cares for him. When he was nine years old a good friend moved 24 miles away to Duchesne. Zen asked his dad if he could go visit the friend. His dad gave him permission but requested he come home in three days. On the third day Zen started home, walking. He had hoped to obtain a ride but no one else was traveling that day. Soon the hot August sun was frying him causing a terrific thirst. He put some pebbles in his mouth to stimulate saliva without good effect. After walking some more he looked behind him seeing two roads but was more alarmed to see his footprints in the dirt road going back and forth across the road. He became really concerned but finally heard his father’s voice come into his mind saying, “Pray.” He went to the side of the road, knelt down and prayed. As he arose, saliva came into his mouth and he walked the rest of the way home.
Another faith promoting incident occurred when he and a friend were rolling boulders down a very steep hill where they watched the boulders crash into trees and smash to pieces. They came across a large boulder weighing several thousand pounds situated on the brink of the precipice. The friend went to find something they could use as a pry bar. Zen decided to lunge against the boulder not knowing it was on a pile of sand which the wind had eroded until there was very little left under the boulder. As he lunged, it dislodged and went over the cliff with Zen along with it. He felt someone grab him pulling him back from going over the cliff. He turned to thank his friend for saving his life but the friend was up the hill still looking for something to use to pry the stone loose and hadn’t even seen what happened.
Incidents like this have prompted Zen to often bear his witness of the divine. This is one such:
“I have been divinely blessed all through my life. I know this, I know I can never repay Him for the goodness and blessings He has given me. I know that there is a God--He lives-and I know there is a Christ-He lives. I live to honor Him and to try to live like Him.”
Zen’s family moved from Boneta when Zen was 14 years old because of drought and the nation-wide depression. The family purchased a farm in Castle Dale, UT. It was there that additional skills were developed beyond just being blessed and protected. Zen had a friend, Elvin Seely, the two of whom became excellent marksmen. Elvin could hit a pheasant consistently on the fly with a 22. And Zen, with his sightless 22, would with Elvin demonstrate their skill by shooting spent 22 shells on a piece of straw out of each other’s hands and extended from their mouth. (Annie Oakley had nothing on them.)
Zen graduated from high school in Emery County and began working. Two weeks in a coal mine convinced him to get an education and to find a different means of acquiring the funds to do so. He joined the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) and worked on projects at Veyo, Duckcreek (Dixie National Forest) and Zion National Park.
After fifteen months he took his earnings and enrolled in LDS Business College with the intent to become an accountant. About half way through WWII interrupted his studies and he enlisted in the Marine Corp. He was assigned to be the rear-gunner in a SBD Dauntless dive-bomber. He and his pilot dived on enemy targets 63 times. Coming through that many missions unscathed (except for being too close one time to their own bomb that blew up sending a fragment of shrapnel up through their plane embedding itself in his parachute) he was transferred stateside and switched to becoming a gunner on a B-25 bomber. After experiencing the sudden drops of wind sheers in those large planes he asked for a transfer to a night-fighter squadron but ended up as a Non-Commissioned Officer of a machine gun platoon. The death of his older brother, killed by a sniper on an island in the Pacific, came just as he was being shipped from North Carolina to Oceanside California for deployment back to the Pacific Theater of the War. Zen received permission for a delay-in-route to attend the funeral of his brother Dean. By the time he returned to the front the war was concluded and he became part of the 2nd Marine Division Occupation Force of Japan.
Zen’s assignment in Japan was at Nagasaki. He arrived in the latter part of September, the atomic bomb having been dropped there August 6, 1945. He has written of this experience: “The sight of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb made me lose all animosity for the Japanese people.”
While at LDS Business College Zen had met Veda Sweat from Center Creek, UT in Wasatch County. He asked her to marry him by special delivery letter sent soon after boot camp. He hitchhiked back from training in Norman Oklahoma purchasing a diamond engagement set in Kansas City, stopped briefly in Utah to become officially engaged before departing on his first overseas assignment of the war. When he was transferred back to the states he was able to marry in the Salt Lake Temple and even have Veda move to be with him in off-base housing in North Carolina. Shortly thereafter he was transferred to South Carolina and Veda returned to Salt Lake City where she lost their first child, a girl, while he was nearly a continent away.
After the war he attended Idaho State University to become a pharmacist. He worked for Hawkes Transfer and Storage while attending school. It was while at ISU in Pocatello, Idaho that their first son, Gregory was born. Having the opportunity for work and housing at BYU, Zen and family transferred and he completed his education with a Bachelor’s Degree in Microbiology-Bacteriology with a minor in Chemistry and Agriculture. Valerie Jane and Ronda Kaye were born in Provo while they were at BYU.
After being asked to interview for a job at Dugway Proving Grounds in western Utah Zen became a Safety Officer and later the Range and Agent Control Officer at Dugway where the family resided for ten years. During this time the remainder of the children were welcomed to the family, Bonnie, Leeana, James Walter and Brett Eugene.
In November of 1962 Zen was asked to become the safety engineer of an organization called Deseret Test Center working out of Fort Douglas near the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City. This job was to require up to 30% of the time traveling to remote sites. His immediate supervisor contracted a terminal illness and Zen ended up being gone nearly 80% of the time, much to his and his family’s frustration. Zen’s work was highly classified and immensely important in the Cold War era in which it occurred.
Following 13 years of additional service and a changing world resulting in the disestablishment of the work Zen monitored, he retired. He worked for a while as a security guard and then as a buyer for the maintenance department of Holy Cross Hospital.
Seven years later Zen and Veda were asked to fulfill a mission microfilming records in Australia. This mission was followed by two more, one in Canada and a second that started in Canada but quickly was changed to Vermont. In between missions the two of them served as ordinance workers in the Salt Lake Temple and as volunteers in the Granite Mountain Records Facility.
Zeniff J Cox was in his 75 year of marriage with six living children, 22 grandchildren and 49 great-grandchildren. He departed this temporal, mortal existence at 3:28 AM, Saturday, May 11, 2019. The Funeral will be held at his home ward building at 3408 South Celeste Way, Millcreek (Salt Lake City), Utah, Saturday May 18, 2019 at 10:00 AM. A viewing will be held for friends and family on Friday night from 6:00 – 8:00 PM and again on Saturday from 8:30 – 9:30 AM at the church (3408 South Celeste Way). The family wishes to express great appreciation to Heartwood Home Health and Hospice for their excellent care and service extended to Zen these past few months.
The following is one of Zen’s expressions/writings:
GOD WAS THERE
How 'oft I have wandered,
`Oer meadow and hills, under clouds above
I have wondered as I wandered
Where is that God of Love.
I walked alone in the desert
The road was dusty and bare
I knew thirst—a prayer from me burst
And God found me there.
I climbed a high mountain
From which I rolled the boulders
Almost fell off the edge- of a high ledge
And God was there on my shoulders.
I soared aloft in my winged chariot
Above in the South Sea Island air
The enemy below—the explosions above
And again God found me there.
I walked the glorious halls of the temple
With my chosen maiden so fair
We each said-to thee I wed
We knew that God was there.
I am, Zeniff "J" Cox
I have a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ lives and I am grateful for the Atonement.
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