Cotton was extremely proud of his military service record and his status as a war hero, although he tended to exaggerate his exploits. Cotton claimed that he killed "fitty (50) men" during the war. He also consistently reminded everyone within earshot about how he lost his shins during WWll:
"I was 14, but I knew Uncle Sam needed me, so I lied and signed up. We had beat the Nazzy's in Italy, and they shipped us to the Pacific theater. A Tojo torpedo sent our troop ship to the bottom. I could only save three of my buddies: Fatty, Stinky, and Brooklyn. They were kind of like you fellas [Bill, Dale, and Boomhauer], only one of them was from Brooklyn. Out of the sun came a Tojo Zero and put fitty bullets in my back. The blood attracted sharks. I had to give 'em Fatty. Then things took a turn for the worse. I made it to an island, but it was full of Tojos! They were spitting on the U.S. flag! So I rushed 'em, but it was a trap. They opened fire and blew my shins off. Last thing I remember, I beat 'em all to death with a big piece of Fatty. I woke up in a field hospital, and they were sewing my feet to my knees."
Cotton referred to the Japanese as "Tojos," a slur not unlike "Jap" and doubtless derived from war-time Japanese Prime Minister and General Hideki Tojo. He also referred to the Nazis as "Nazzys."
Cotton also claimed to have fought in both Munich and Okinawa within days of each other, but he later admitted to not fighting in Munich.
Based upon Cotton's uniform in "Returning Japanese," he earned the following military decorations: Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, Silver Star, and American Campaign Medal. In "When Cotton Comes Marching Home," his Silver Star was displayed in a case at the VFW.
Cotton stated in a sixth season episode, that he served with the U.S. Army's 77th Infantry Division.
Cotton also told many stories about his service (although many of them may have been untrue or could have been exaggerated):
In Cotton's Plot, Cotton told Peggy a story about his service on the Solomon Islands, where his unit was pinned down by Japanese machine gun fire. Then he sneaked into a Japanese fifty-five gallon drum of saké, and then, when the Japanese were drunk, he spit it all out into his lighter, and "hibachi'd" the whole squad.
In the episode Yankee Hankee, Cotton said he served on Guadalcanal with his buddy Stinky, and it rained for 17 days.
On January 30, 1944, Cotton said that he and his unit invaded Anzio, and they caught the Krauts "with their pants down and their schnitzel exposed". He said they captured the beach by noon, and the town by nightfall.
Cotton said he climbed the cliffs of Normandy with a fifty-pound ice cream maker on his back in Cotton's Plot.
In When Cotton Comes Marching Home Again, Cotton claimed to have led a platoon of men through the jungles of Saipan.
In 1944, Cotton claimed to have been in Guam, and crawled through a minefield in order to retrieve General MacArthur's corn cob pipe. That story was told in Cotton's Plot.
Cotton said that he served on the Philippines in Unfortunate Son.
In Revenge of the Lutefisk, Cotton claimed to have spent two weeks under a pile of bodies on Iwo Jima. Also, in Unfortunate Son, Cotton and Topsy demonstrated a bayonet technique that Topsy used to gut a kamikazee on Iwo Jima. What was worth noting was that the United States Marine Corps, not the Army, fought against Japanese forces during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
In Cotton's Plot, Cotton claimed to have fought in Munich on April 30, 1945, but later realized that he didn't.
Cotton said that he served in Okinawa in Cotton's Plot, and on May 2, 1945, he invented a bayonet technique that the Army still uses.
Cotton was captured at an unknown time by the Japanese, and put in a bamboo rat cage. Cotton had to eat rats, but let the last one live so he could eat its droppings. He called it "Jungle Rice", and said it "tasted fine". By September, he was skinny enough to slip through the bars, and strangled the guard with a string made of braided rat tails, and ran to safety (Cotton's Plot). Cotton also learned to stop his heartbeat, so the Japanese would stop torturing him for a moment, probably at the P.O.W. Camp (Death Picks Cotton), and claimed that he only cried when the Japanese tore off his fingernails (Returning Japanese).
Cotton severed the windpipe of a German corporal with a two foot strand of dental floss that he kept in his boot (The Final Shinsult). He survived on a life raft by trapping rain water in his upturned eye lid (Cotton's Plot). Cotton killed a high ranking German officer and took his helmet as a souvenir which he later used to cut Hank's hair and claimed that Hank cried more when he cut his ear than the officer when he killed him (Hank's Bad Hairday).
Awards and Decorations
In the episode, "Returning Japanese," Cotton was shown in full military dress and was shown wearing the American Campaign Medal, Purple Heart, Silver Star, and the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is the American military's highest honor.
Not much was known about Cotton after WWII until the present. He was an insulation contractor and made good money doing it since he owned a "Cadillac car". His son, Hank, was born sometime in 1953 at a baseball game in Yankee Stadium in New York City. Cotton had planned to assassinate Fidel Castro with a poison dart, who attended, by using his pregnant wife as a way to get past security. The shot missed, the assassination attempt failed, and Tilly had to give birth in the stadium's bathroom. Hank's birth location was a carefully guarded secret, until Hank found out when he tried to find his birth certificate to get a "Born in Texas" license plate, which neither Cotton nor Hank's mother claimed to have (Yankee Hankie). Cotton was a longtime member of the Arlen VFW and served as its commanding officer.
Cotton briefly used the alias "General Mills" when he failed his driver's test and carried a fake driver's license manufactured from a Cheerios box by Dale Gribble.
Cotton's second wife, Didi, was a stripper but she retired from stripping and became a candy striper at a local hospital. Didi was about the same age as Hank, who attended the same kindergarten class as her (according to episode 1-08, "Shins of the Father").
Cotton's relationship with Hank was strained; while Hank seemed to have a deep reverence (and fear) of his father, he stood up to Cotton on several occasions. Cotton also became depressed (and enraged) by the fact that he and Hank did not have a good relationship and once went homicidally insane when Hank said that he hated him. In spite of all that, however, Cotton never hesitated to refer to Hank as "My Boy," and on several occasions tried to help him (such as when Kahn and Minh befouled his house).
Interestingly enough, Cotton appeared to have a good relationship with his grandson Bobby. It could be assumed that Cotton tried to make up for his own strained relationship with Hank and had a close relationship with his grandson. He once conceded that Hank was a better father than himself and stated to Hank "You made Bobby. I only made you." Cotton showed that he was proud of Bobby and supported him. When he once contemplated suicide, Cotton confided in Bobby and gave him a letter of recommendation for the Army, which irked Hank. Cotton often tried to pass on his misogynistic views to Bobby and even went as far as tried to buy him a hooker once, although Hank and Peggy were always able to reverse the damage. Cotton demonstrated his affection for Bobby in numerous instances. In "How to Fire a Rifle Without Really Trying", he came to watch Bobby and Hank shoot in a father-son shooting competition and stated:, "I'm always here to support my Bobby." In "Revenge of the Lutefisk", Cotton even went as far as to take the blame for Bobby after Bobby confessed that he was the one who burned down the church. Didi revealed to Bobby that Cotton told her that if their unborn child turned out as good as Bobby, he wouldn't abandon it. In "Death Picks Cotton" Hank stated that, "My dad doesn't love a lot of things, but he does love Bobby."
Cotton may or may not had a high sperm count. Cotton fathered three (known of) boys, first being Junichiro from a love affair in Japan during WWII with a Japanese nurse named Michiko. The second, Hank, from his first marriage, to Tilly. Then, the third, Good Hank, with Didi, when he was well into his seventies, which was uncommon and was also (as told by Cotton) conceived through two condoms. It's also odd that while Cotton had a great talent in fathering children, his first two children had trouble conceiving as they had narrow urethras, so the chances of his third having it was high. Instead of calling Peggy by her name, Cotton addressed her as “Hank’s Wife”.
In "Death Picks Cotton," Cotton was badly injured at a Japanese Steakhouse. When Cotton climbed onto a grill table, he slipped and suffered burns, a hip fracture, and torn ligaments in his knees/ankles. Cotton was also diagnosed with an infection of the esophagus after he ingested a piece of shrimp (which he was highly allergic to). It was also discovered that Cotton had four, rusty bullets in his back (one of which was in his heart). While at the hospital, Cotton also suffered a heart attack, but somehow survived. Cotton stayed alive long enough to torment Hank and Peggy by slowing his heart rate and mimicked his death (a trick that he learned in a Japanese POW camp in order to escape torture).
While Peggy visited with Cotton, she stated that she hoped that he could live forever in the friendless, spiteful existence that he created for himself. Cotton replied, rather deviously: "Do you now?" before he let out a maniacal laugh and died immediately after. Hank then came into the room soon after and Peggy didn't tell him of the final exchange that she and Cotton had, but instead lied and told Hank that Cotton spoke kindly of him.
The final scene of the episode showed Hank, Bill, Boomhauer, and Dale gathered in Hank's backyard, in front of a newly-finished shed, which Dale promptly blew up, as per requested by Cotton. A separate deathbed request by Cotton to have his head detached from his body and mailed to the Emperor of Japan was not honored; Hank planned to honor that request until Peggy lied to him and said that Cotton had rescinded it right before his death. Neither Didi nor G.H. appeared in the episode, nor was Cotton's painting shown.
Fox published the following obituary for Cotton:
- Arlen Bystander (Arlen, TX): Cotton Hill, age unknown, World War II veteran, died Sunday in a Texas VA hospital. Hill suffered from several injuries ranging from four rusty bullets lodged in his heart from his military service, a broken hip and torn ligaments in his ankle-knees, to an infection in his esophagus and severe burns caused by a freak shrimp accident that occurred earlier this week at Tokyaki's Japanese restaurant. Hill leaves behind sons Hank Hill and G.H. (short for "Good Hank"); daughter-in-law Peggy Hill; grandson Bobby Hill; ex-wife Tilly; second wife Didi; first love and former Japanese lover Michiko; an illegitimate Japanese son, Junichiro; and nephew Dusty Hill (of band ZZ Top).
In "Serves Me Right for Giving General George S. Patton the Bathroom Key," Hank received a box of Cotton's old possessions from Didi, who revealed that she was engaged to a wealthy professional wrestler. Hank read through the list of insane tasks, the last of which was flushing Cotton's ashes down a toilet which George S. Patton once used (which contradicted an earlier episode where Cotton, with Peggy's help, successfully fought to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery). Hank followed through with the deed.
Cotton was consistently a chauvinistic, violent, abusive, and intolerant character. Cotton talked down to women, berated his son, was prone to violent outbursts, and, on more than one occasion, exhibited homicidal tendencies. Cotton's abrasive and misogynistic manner was consistently embarrassing for Hank and usually infuriated Peggy. Throughout his history in the series, Cotton never once addressed Peggy by name, but instead called her "Hank’s Wife", which was used as a running gag, including on the very rare occasion that he's tried to be nice to her ("Cotton's Plot"). Cotton even passed on some of his sexist and misogynistic traits to Bobby, and, at one point, taught him that women should be made to cook and clean for their husbands all day long.
On rare occasions, Cotton showed a vulnerable side that he normally kept hidden: Cotton realized that he was a terrible father, hated himself for growing old and becoming disabled, and readily admitted that he would die in order to protect Bobby, after he was accused of burning down the Arlen First Methodist Church. ("Revenge of the Lutefisk")
Cotton also demonstrated a rough, demanding, and often abusive, but at times inspirational leadership. Cotton admitted to Hank that he always wanted to win in battle, but accepted defeat when his men did their best. Through tough love and intense, physical therapy, Cotton also helped Peggy walk again after a debilitating skydiving accident. Hank was initially wary of that, because he feared that Cotton simply took advantage of Peggy's brief disability in order to humiliate her.
Cotton was very patriotic and considered himself superior to others for his sacrifice in World War II. He viewed German and Japanese people with hostility and even threatened someone with a bayonetted rifle for owning a Japanese car. When Cotton was selling a Nazi canoe, he was upset that the buyer was going to remove the Swastika, but only because he had a lot of pride in stealing the boat and wanted to keep its authenticity. Cotton also seemed to have a healed relationship with the Japanese: he received an award from the Emperor of Japan himself and told him: "...I took fitty of your boys. You tooks my shins. But we can move past that now." However, Cotton still seemed to have violent flashbacks to his times fighting in WWII.
It was never revealed throughout the series how Cotton became such a nasty and rude character, or if he ever was a different person. It was most likely Cotton's childhood (the only things known about Cotton's childhood were: he started out with a gun at an early age according to Hank in the episode "How to Fire A Rifle Without Really Trying", that he attended Fort Birk when he was very young and spent much of his childhood there as he reveled in "An Officer and A Gentle Boy", that he apparently joined the Army when he was only 14 years old, and that Cotton's mother apparently died giving birth to him, as Cotton exaggerated in "Death Picks Cotton"). Almost nothing was known about Cotton's father, except that he may have been German, as Peggy told Bobby in the episode "Tears of an Inflatable Clown", and it was possible that Cotton's father may have also been a war hero who may have served in the First World War and was the one who inspired Cotton to become one himself. The only time Cotton ever himself referred to his father during the entire series was when he shouted at Hank: "You ain't my daddy, I'm your daddy!" Cotton also had an unnamed brother (Dusty's dad). Cotton was shown on multiple episodes that he suffered from mild to severe PTSD ("Returning Japanese" & "Death Picks Cotton") which could have explained for the majority of his "violent outbursts". Whatever the reason was, Cotton never sought recognition for how he treated Hank, Peggy, Tilly, and many others throughout the series. In the episode "Hank gets Dusted" Hank said straight up to his cousin, Dusty, that Cotton was, in fact, a jack-ass.
- Cotton was seen to have a good eye as he was able to tell that Kahn was Laotian at first sight, where it was a running gag early in the show that everyone believed that Kahn was Chinese or Japanese.
- Some episodes seemed to have implied that Cotton had a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or a condition of the like. For example, in "Next of Shin," his fear and insecurity of becoming a father again combined with visions of seeing babies as Nazis and Japanese soldiers. In "Death Picks Cotton," Cotton got another flashback, that time only mentally heard as aerial bombs, while watching the Spanish-speaking chef prepare a dish with salt and pepper mills (that Cotton claimed were "Tojo wampum sticks").
- Cotton had Peggy secure him a grave spot in the Texas State Cemetery. However, several seasons later, his will instructed Hank to flush his cremated ashes down a toilet once used by George S. Patton as a tradition among his war buddies, which caused a bit of a continuity snarl. Although that could have been Cotton messing with Peggy.
- If Cotton had a nephew (Dusty), it was stated by Cotton in "Hank Gets Dusted" that ZZ-Top member Dusty was "his brother's son". That would have made Cotton, Dusty's father's fictional brother.
- Cotton seemed to be stronger than Hank as in "Nine Pretty Darn Angry Men," he pushed the door aside when Hank tried to close it.
- In the second episode of "Returning Japanese," Cotton claimed to have slept with 273 women. Given his penchant for prostitutes, that could have be true. That would mean that Hank and Junichiro probably had more half siblings (possibly in different races) considering that Cotton did not have a narrow urethra that stopped him from reproducing.
- Although never actually referenced or revealed, Cotton's "Cadillac car" appeared to be a 1969 Cadillac Coupe De-Ville*
- Cotton killed fiddy men! (Which meant that he killed fifty  men in WWII)
- It was possible that Cotton's dislike for Hank was directly due to his dislike for Tilly. That could be seen through his love for G.H. and his pride in Junichiro despite having never met him before.
- In one episode, Cotton said that he went down to the Arlen Wax Figure Museum and gave the wax statue of Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ”The Middle Finger”.
- Season 1
- Season 2
- Season 3
- Season 4
- Season 5
- Season 6
- Season 7
- Season 8
- Season 11
- Season 12
- Death Picks Cotton (final appearance)
- Season 13
- Bwah My Nose (flashback)
- Serves Me Right for Giving General George S. Patton the Bathroom Key (flashback)