DOUG CAHOON, a systems administrator for Evans and Sutherland, deals with software and interacts with engineers in his everyday life. But on the side he is an armchair historian. While writing in the cracks of his professional and family life, he has given new vitality to the term "family history."

Two years ago, when his 11-year-old son Joseph was injured playing soccer, grandfather Glen Cahoon tried to comfort the boy. He brought him a model of a Grumman F-4F Wildcat, a single-engine fighter airplane used during World War II. Glen explained to his grandson that it was the same model that another Doug Cahoon, Joseph's great-uncle, had flown during the war.That night, Joseph became terribly curious about "Uncle Doug," and asked numerous questions that his father and mother could not answer. Doug Cahoon, Joseph's father, had always been curious, too, about his namesake. So he delayed the completion of his 12-year journey into the life of his illustrious great-grandfather, Reynolds Cahoon, friend to Joseph Smith, and instead immersed himself in research about Douglas R. Cahoon. He was trying to satisfy his own curiosity about his elusive uncle, who had never returned from the war.

The result is a lively, book-length manuscript, titled "Douglas Raymond Cahoon, Not Just Another World War II Statistic," written by Douglas W. Cahoon about the other Doug he never knew. Using interviews, letters, photographs and numerous other documents, such as log books and diaries, Cahoon judiciously pieced together the story of his heroic but human relative.

As a young man, Douglas R. Cahoon was a talented painter, and he also played Hawaiian music with his steel guitar. But he was not the flawless legend that relatives have created in their minds since his death. Despite his image as a young man who "could walk on water," he was very much like other young men of his age and time.

He enjoyed hanging out on Black Rock Beach on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake and listening to his favorite jazz music. Even though many of his elders worried about the impact of jazz on his impressionable young brain, Doug and his friends enjoyed many hours dancing at Saltair, Lagoon and the old Rainbow Randevu.

He basked in the music of such musical giants as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Les Brown, Dave Brubeck, Nat King Cole and the Mills Brothers - but his favorite was Charlie Barnet's theme song, "Cherokee." One summer, he and a friend, Ray Emery, mechanically reworked an old 1927 Graham-Paige sedan, then drove it to southern Utah and the Grand Canyon.

Doug attended East High School and the University of Utah, keeping body and soul together by ushering at the Victory Theater. He loved watching movies. As Hitler made his way through Europe, Glen enrolled at the Art Center School in Los Angeles in 1941. He finished only one 14-week term at the school before returning to Salt Lake City, but painting clearly was in his blood.

Late on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 7, 1941, Doug and some friends were concluding a day of skiing on Alta's 37-inch base of snow. As they wound down the mountain road in Little Cottonwood Canyon, they learned from the car radio about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The next day, thousands of young American men visited Army recruiting stations - and six months later Doug was forever influenced by the Navy's slogan, "Choose while you can."

At the age of 20, he took a four-year enlistment in the Navy.

On his first day of active duty, Doug performed below standard on chin-ups, push-ups and running speed. But he was above average on what was called "jump-reach." His marks in flight school were either average or below average. After his completion of flight training, he was appointed an ensign in the Navy.

Through all of his experiences in the war, Doug utilized painting as a major instrument of release. He painted aircraft, war scenes and scenes of nature, including a typhoon his ship encountered, always cultivating his considerable artistic talents.

Although the paintings produced during the war were lost, they were photographed aboard the aircraft carrier, and those photos went into a book of the activities of the fighter groups the year after the war ended. That is the reason the family was able to learn of them. Two of Doug's earlier paintings hung in the old Center Theater in downtown Salt Lake City.

While home on leave, the new pilot dated a beautiful blonde 21-year-old named Rhoda Cutler, who had attracted his interest since his junior year at East High School. One of his nicknames for her was "Twiggy." While Doug fell head over heels in love with her, she confided to her diary that she "was nuts about him." But she was not yet ready to choose him above all others.

Doug's major life challenge was to convince her, so he spent more than a year begging her to marry him. While working as a dive bomber instructor in Florida, he wrote intense and affectionate letters. Teasingly, she told him she could not marry him because Florida was too hot for her to wear "her fine coats." He pledged he would move Florida north if necessary.

Then he tried to reassure her that Florida winter weather was quite cool in the evenings and frigid in the mornings. "In fact, it gets colder here when the northerns strike than it does in good old SLC - honest, Honey!"

Finally, he called her and proposed over the phone. She promised to think about it. He promised her they would make the first year wonderful, every year afterward would be better - and maybe someday they would start a football team. Left without a plausible argument, she agreed. They hoped to be married in the Salt Lake Temple, but the war had "changed a lot of people's plans," and so the ceremony was performed in May 1944 at the post chapel at Fort Devins, Mass.

Unfortunately, Doug and Rhoda were prevented by the war from enjoying the fruits of their married life. Although their relationship grew more intimate and loving through their letters, Doug was killed in March 1945, during a strafing attack over Okinawa. Ironically, it was the last mission for his fighter group. The other pilots went looking for an oil slick or flames on the ground, but there was no sign of Doug's plane. One pilot remembered seeing an oil slick after Doug dived, causing him to think it was his plane. Doug was 24 when he was pronounced missing in action.

It took a year for the Navy to declare him officially dead.

At the memorial service, held in Salt Lake City in March 1946, President David O. McKay, of the LDS First Presidency, spoke, saying `this world is a world of dying,' while `the next world is a world of living.' He implored those who gathered in remembrance of Doug to "be ye also ready." President McKay said, "Readiness is everything. We can take consolation and realize that Douglas, too, was ready."

A marker was placed in Doug's honor in Memory Grove, at the base of City Creek Canyon. Now, in addition to the marker, the Cahoon family, and all others who loved Doug, can read about him in this new affectionate but candid book dedicated to his memory. It is also a worthy model for all who recognize the importance of family history.

To nephew Doug, the armchair historian, the story of Doug, the pilot and painter, was not only enriching to his family, it increased his own love for his wife, Esther. And if that were the only thing to emerge from it, he said, it would be worth every minute.

Now he can get back to his other family project - the biography of the illustrious Reynolds Cahoon.