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Colonel Donald G. Cook, USMC

Bath Iron Works' fifteenth ARLEIGH BURKE Class Destroyer is named in honor of Marine Corps Vietnam War hero, Colonel Donald G. Cook.Col. Cook was awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumously) for his extraordinary courage while a prisoner of war. Col. (then Captain) Cook volunteered for a temporary 30 day tour in Vietnam as an observer from Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. Accompanying elements of the 4th Vietnamese Marines, Col. Cook was wounded and captured by a vastly superior Viet Cong force on New Year's Eve 1964 near Binh Gia, Phouc Tuy Province, South Vietnam, while on a search and recovery mission for a downed American helicopter crew.The 33 year old Brooklyn, New York, native and father of four set an example and standard for his fellow Americans contrary to the Viet Cong's goal of breaking down the prisoners.Col. Cook's rigid adherence to the Code of Conduct won him the respect of his fellow prisoners and his Communist captors.

Image122Donald Cook was the son of Walter and Helen Cook and the brother of Walter and Irene (Walter passed away in 1960 and Irene Coleman still lives in N.Y.). They grew up in a strong Catholic family in Brooklyn attending Jesuit primary and secondary schools.He excelled at sports and his exploits on the gridiron earned him the nickname, "Bayridge Bomber."Upon graduation from Xavier High School, Col. Cook enrolled at St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vermont, where his academic standing was well above average.

Col. Cook enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps but was subsequently discharged for non-attendance because he had met a beautiful young woman destined to become his wife, Laurette Giroux of Burlington, Vermont.Upon graduation in 1956, Col. Cook joined the Marine Corps Reserve as a private after receiving a special waiver for his lack of attendance at ROTC and completed Marine Corps Officer's Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia in 1957. He then attended Communications Officer School and subsequently served in various communications roles at Camp Pendleton with the 1st Marine Division earning the respect of his superior officers and a regular commission in the Marine Corps.Col. Cook then attended the Chinese Mandarin Language Course at Monterey, California and the Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, Maryland graduating first in a class of 25.The next three years found him serving as the Officer-in-Charge of the 1st Interrogator-Translator Team with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Hawaii.It was during this time that Col. Cook displayed a remarkable fascination with prisoners of war.He wrote a pamphlet based on the experiences of American POWs in Korea detailing the Communist interrogation techniques and he applied those techniques in realistic training scenarios for Marines.Col. Cook would dress in a Communist uniform made by his wife and Laurette would use her eyeliner to make Don appear oriental.He was an imposing spectacle to the "captured" Marines.


Image123On 11 December 1964, Col. Cook was reassigned to the Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. That same day, he and eight other Marines were issued orders to proceed to Saigon, Republic of Vietnam, and report to the Senior Marine Advisor.On December 31st, Col. Cook volunteered to conduct a search and recovery mission for a downed American helicopter and set off with the 4th Vietnamese Marines.Ambushed on their arrival at the crash site, Col. Cook rallied the Vietnamese Marines who accompanied him, tended to the wounded and was attempting to drag others to safety when he was wounded in the leg and captured.Col. Cook was taken to a Viet Cong POW camp in the jungles of South Vietnam near the Cambodian border where he quickly established himself as the senior American (even though he was not) and provided guidance and strength to his fellow prisoners.Col. Cook's actions were in direct defiance of his captors who attempted to remove all semblance of military rank and structure among the POWs.He impressed upon the Viet Cong that he was senior among the POWs and therefore spokesman for the group, fully aware that his actions would lead to harsh treatment for himself.Col. Cook was subjected to physical abuse and isolation but he resisted his captor's efforts to break his will and was used as a "bad" example by his Communist guards.Surviving on limited rations, Col. Cook tried to maintain his health in his ten foot square cage.He could be seen by other prisoners exercising and running for hours.Once, while assigned to a work detail with a VC guard, Col. Cook stepped up the pace to embarrass his captors. Still, the jungle prison took its toll on Col. Cook's health and he and the other prisoners found themselves in a weakened state.Perhaps due to this weakened condition, Col. Cook contracted malaria shortly before moving to a new camp.He was so weak that he staggered when he walked, could not traverse log bridges, and lost his night vision due to vitamin deficiency.Still, he persevered, refusing to allow anyone to carry his pack or otherwise put a strain on themselves to help him.By the time the new camp was reached, even the camp commander complimented Col. Cook on his courage.Although he regained some of his strength at the new camp, Col. Cook still suffered from the effects of malaria.As illness struck the other prisoners, Col. Cook unhesitatingly took on the bulk of their workloads in order that they might have time to recover.His knowledge of first aid prompted him to nurse the severely sick by administering heart massage, moving limbs, and keeping men's tongues from blocking their air passages.He was instrumental in saving the lives of several POWs who were convulsing with severe malaria attacks.

Even though he was on half-rations, Col. Cook shared his food with the weaker POWs, even giving up his allowance of penicillin.Because he was isolated, Col. Cook devised a drop-off point for communications, instructing his fellow POWs to continue resistance and offering the means to do so. Time and again he refused to negotiate for his own release knowing full well it would mean his imprisonment for the entire war.After a failed escape attempt, a gun was held to his head and Col. Cook calmly recited the pistol's nomenclature showing no fear whatsoever.Surely he knew that in his deteriorated condition that he would not survive a long imprisonment yet he continued to offer food and badly needed medicine to other POWs.In this respect, he went far above and beyond the call of duty by risking his life to inspire other POWs to survive.Col. Donald G. Cook was last seen on a jungle trail by a fellow American prisoner, Douglas Ramsey, in November 1967.When Mr. Ramsey was released in 1973, he was told that Col. Cook had died from malaria on 8 December 1967 while still in captivity.No remains were ever returned by the Vietnamese government.On 26 February 1980, Col. Cook was declared dead under the Missing Service Persons Act of 1942.On 15 May 1980, a memorial stone was placed in Arlington National Cemetery and the flag from the empty grave presented to his wife, Laurette.The following day Colonel Donald G. Cook was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The ship's motto, "Faith Without Fear" epitomizes his courage and faith in God and country.

 

 

 

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Colonel Donald Gilbert Cook

 

On 30 September 2007 St. Michaelís College unveiled and dedicated a life-sized granite statue of Col. Cook that stands in a commanding location at the entrance of the Military Heritage Memorial, near the main entrance to the college.The Military Heritage Memorial remembers all of the Collegeís alumni veterans.On the reverse of the base is the inscription

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN HONOR OF

THE MILITARY SERVICE

OF MEMBERS OF THE

SAINT MICHAELíS COLLEGE COMMUNITY

 

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Medal of Honor citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while interned as a Prisoner of War by the Viet Cong in the Republic of Vietnam during the period 31 December 1964 to 8 December 1967. Despite the fact that by so doing he would bring about harsher treatment for himself, Colonel (then Captain) Cook established himself as the senior prisoner, even though in actuality he was not. Repeatedly assuming more than his share of responsibility for their health, Colonel Cook willingly and unselfishly put the interests of his comrades before that of his own well-being and, eventually, his life. Giving more needy men his medicine and drug allowance while constantly nursing them, he risked infection from contagious diseases while in a rapidly deteriorating state of health. This unselfish and exemplary conduct, coupled with his refusal to stray even the slightest from the Code of Conduct, earned him the deepest respect from not only his fellow prisoners, but his captors as well. Rather than negotiate for his own release or better treatment, he steadfastly frustrated attempts by the Viet Cong to break his indomitable spirit and passed this same resolve on to the men whose well-being he so closely associated himself. Knowing his refusals would prevent his release prior to the end of the war, and also knowing his chances for prolonged survival would be small in the event of continued refusal, he chose nevertheless to adhere to a Code of Conduct far above that which could be expected. His personal valor and exceptional spirit of loyalty in the face of almost certain death reflected the highest credit upon Colonel Cook, the Marine Corps, and the United States Naval Service.

 

 

 

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The USS Donald Cook DDG75 is the first naval war vessel named for an unreturned Prisoner of War.On 20 March 2003 the first Tomahawk missiles launched at the beginning of the Second Gulf War were fired from the USS Donald Cook.More information about the ship is available at†† USS Donald Cook.

 

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