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A Hero’s Hero

Jack Coleman Cook

Sgt. Jack Coleman Cook

Watch Edward Field read his poem World War II on YouTube

Edward Field’s voice trembles and his eyes reflect a profound sadness when he reads these lines of his poem World War II…

That boy who took my place in the water
who died instead of me

Even though the events Edward describes in his poem happened seventy-three years ago, his memory of February 3, 1945 is as fresh as if it were yesterday.

Edward is not telling a story. He is conveying an experience. And watching him do so, I am there in the life raft feeling the chill and the terror of the cold North Sea creep into my bones. I can see the apprehension and disbelief on the faces of the crew. They should be back at their base in England reliving the mission over a drink with the group, not freezing in a raft bobbing alone in the sea. I realize I am holding my breath waiting for him to tell me everything turns out all right. But I already know. It does not turn out all right.

Of the crew of nine, three are lost. Edward is one of six survivors. The experience is not over when life moves on for these six. It remains deep in their souls and will be a part of them for the rest of their lives.

Edward Field is the last surviving member of the crew and at ninety-three years old, this hero of World War II wanted to honor his hero, the airman who saved his life in the North Sea in 1945, Jack Coleman Cook.

I met Edward Field in Washington, D.C. in April to do exactly that. We were there to see Jack Coleman Cook honored in the United States House of Representatives. During our stay we visited the Library of Congress where Owen Rogers, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project interviewed Edward Field.

R to L: Owen Rogers and Edward Field
Photo courtesy of David Perrotta

Owen recorded a lengthy video of Edward, which includes the poem reading, on the afternoon of April 11 and graciously shared the recording with me. I plan to eventually share the entire recording on YouTube, but currently you can view Edward reading his poem World War II here. And if you wish to read it yourself, you can do so here.

At the time we were in Washington, we had been unable to locate any relatives of Jack Coleman Cook. The media coverage surrounding Congressman Bruce Westerman’s speech honoring Jack in the House of Representatives changed that. The first to come forward were descendants of Jack’s wife Lucille Hutzell and her second husband James Harmon.

Jimmy Harmon is Lucille and James’s son and their youngest child. Shelly Hefner McIntyre is Lucille and Jame’s granddaughter, daughter of their second daughter and middle child. They both knew of Lucille’s marriage to Jack Cook and that Jack and Lucille didn’t have any children together. Lucille talked quite often about Jack, but didn’t tell them many details of Jack’s and her life together.

Lucille talked of Jack getting in the water and pushing the raft and that he had died of hypothermia. She said that Jack’s parents, Prince and Mary Ellen Cook, were always very good to her, even offering the use of a car from Prince Cook’s car dealership so she could attend Jack’s funeral when Jack’s remains were returned home for burial in 1948. Remarried and with a child on the way, Lucille declined to attend Jack’s funeral.

Still a mystery to Lucille’s children and grandchildren, she told them that she and Jack had divorced. Lucille and Jack were married for less than four months when he was shipped overseas, and less than six months when he died. The family never found any divorce records or other proof, and Lucille never conveyed a reason for a divorce. Lucille died in 2011.

Jimmy and Shelly and Lucille and James’s other children and grandchildren knew that Jack died during the war. They knew that Jack died from exposure in the cold North Sea. But they did not know that Jack had a place in the life raft and gave it up to save the life of his fellow airman, Edward Field.

They did not know the extent of Jack’s sacrifice to save another. Of all the awards that could be bestowed upon Jack Coleman Cook, the most special is the gift of knowledge to those who consider Jack family, even though they are not directly related by blood or marriage, of Jack’s heroism and bravery and that he made the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow man. 

Shortly after Jack’s wife’s relatives learned of Jack’s recent honors, Jamie Melton was searching for a photo of his grandfather Prince Cook’s car dealership on the internet when he ran across the media coverage and my blog coverage of the story of his great-uncle Jack Coleman Cook.

Prince Cook Motors of Hot Springs, Arkansas

Jack had a younger brother and sister. His brother, William Prince, Jr., known to the family as Bubba, would have been eleven years old when Jack died. His sister, Princella, would have been nine. Today, Jack has two nieces and a great-nephew he never had the opportunity to meet. Prince, Jr. married, but had no children. Princella also married and had two daughters. Prince, Jr. died in 1981 and Princella died in 1990.

Prince Cook, Jr (Bubba) and Princella Cook in high school yearbook photos
Children of William Prince Sr and Mary Ellen Cagle Cook

Princella’s daughter, Delia Ann Cook McBride, became the keeper of the family’s memories of Jack, a scrapbook of Jack’s pictures, letters, newspaper articles, and other memorabilia. Delia’s son, Jamie, led her to the recent honors for Jack which rekindled her memories of her grandparents’ stories of her Uncle Jack, her hero, when she was growing up.

Delia provided me with the portrait of Jack in uniform. As I compare Jack’s photo with the Robert Long crew photo, I still cannot place him in the group. It’s possible that when the photo was taken, Jack wasn’t yet a part of the crew.

Robert Long crew

My best guess at identifications, made with the help of Edward Field, Keith Ellefson, and some photos provided by Jon Selle, the grandson of Robert Long’s cousin, are:

  • Kneeling in the front row are the crew’s officers: left to right, Robert Long (Pilot), Ralph Vrana (Co-pilot), Edward Field (Navigator), unidentified crew’s Bombardier. At this point in the war, many of the bombardiers were replaced with an enlisted man serving as togglier who dropped the bombs with the lead crew’s bombardier.
  • Standing in the back row are the crew’s enlisted men: left to right, Thomas Arnold Davis (Tail Gunner), Frederick Arnold Maki (Radio Operator), Marvin Rudolph (Togglier), Howard Oblesby, nicknamed “Moose” (Top Turret Gunner/Engineer), Unidentified, Unidentified
  • Remaining Long crew members who served in the 384th Bomb Group are Jack Coleman Cook (Ball Turret Gunner) and Donald Duncan (Waist Gunner)

Delia and her son Jamie shared some information with me about Jack. Next week I plan to share with you what I learned. Until then, you can watch Delia’s television news interview viewings on KARK 4 and Fox 16.

Links

Continued next week with more information about Jack and the Cook family and hopefully a few more photos from Delia…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

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The Lead Banana

Last week, I explained how I have become convinced that 384th Bomb Group B-17G 43-37822 was not the Lead Banana. That name actually belonged to the Group’s B-17G 42-37822.

 

B-17G 42-37822 The Lead Banana

As I indicated last week, I did not want to believe that the ship I had come to know as Lead Banana would now be referred to solely by number, 43-37822. Notwithstanding the evidence that Marc Poole provided, I still clung to the Lead Banana name as the name of the ship in which my father and the Buslee crew suffered a mid-air collision on September 28, 1944. Regardless, a poem that Keith Ellefson ran across during his research leaves me with  no other choice.

The poem, which is called The Lead Banana: A B-17 Flying Fortress, was published in the August 1989 384th Bomb Group, Inc.’s newsletter. The poet was a radio operator of the group who served on the Paul Norton crew at the same time my dad was stationed at Grafton Underwood. First, I’ll present Lawrence Vallo’s poem, and afterwards share compelling information I gleaned from it.

THE LEAD BANANA: A B-17 FLYING FORTRESS
by Lawrence J. Vallo

She sits on her hard stand enshrouded in fog,
Her towering tail fin almost lost in the smog,
Knock kneed weary wings drooping,
Looking all the world like the ugly duckling.

Tin benders patch the rips in her skin,
Scars from her late trip to Berlin.
There were Frankfurt, Merzburg, Munich, and many more,
Do you wonder that she looks weary and sore?

Yes, she does look sickly and kind’a wan
As she squats on her stand in the grey light of dawn,
But, wait till you see this old bird in the air,
She’ll turn into a majestic and graceful swan.

She’s carried her crew into flak filled skies
That promised deadly encounters, and someone dies,
Proudly she’s burst through the treacherous shroud
Surging ever upward toward sunlit cloud.

Her place in the group formation today
Is her usual spot, number four in the low.
Some pilots have said in a half hearted way,
“Let’s leave her home, she’s too old and too slow.”

But a hundred missions she has under the belt,
Countless hostile blows on her skin she has felt.
Fire, flak, fighters, and bone chilling air,
None has deterred her from the enemy’s lair.

Over the I.P. and holding steady,
Bombardier sighting and at the ready,
“Bombs away!” and upward she lunges,
Wheeling ’round, and then downward she plunges.

Shuddering and shaking as she makes the round,
Nothing will stop her, she’s homeward bound,
All guns blazing, and you can bet all your script,
No yellow nosed demon will get her this trip.

Little brothers appear in the sky,
They waggle their wings as they zip by,
Her crew, dazed, spent and numb with cold,
Lads in their teens suddenly forty years old.

Into the pattern she’ll gracefully glide,
All four turning, wings spread out in pride,
Gear down and locked, flaps coming lower,
No red flares to add to the shower.

Taxiing to her stand, her engines she’ll preen,
Just look at her, she’s no “hanger queen.”
Clearing her stacks, she’ll relax with a shudder,
Heave a sigh of relief as ground lock finds rudder.

Once more she rests, weary wings drooping,
Knocked kneed and looking like the ugly duckling.
But, don’t get misty eyed and put away your bandana,
The great fortress you see, is the “Lead Banana.”

Yes, she’s back from her war, holed like a tin can,
But mister, she’s carried her load,
And brought home many a fine young man,
Who bravely went forth to KEEP THE SHOW ON THE ROAD.

By “Chief” Vallo (NM)
544th  Bomb Squad
“Frigham Young”

* * * * *

“Chief” Lawrence Vallo’s poem does indeed close the book for me on which B-17 was named Lead Banana. I’ll tell you why by pointing out various clues I discovered in the poem and through my research on both planes.

About the plane…

  • Vallo flew on seventeen different B-17’s during his service with the 384th Bomb Group with one mission aboard 42-37822 and one aboard 43-37822. While Vallo only flew one mission aboard 42-37822 Lead Banana, it was his very first combat mission. It seems like the first ship an airman flies into combat will forever be special in his heart, so special to Vallo that he would write a poem about it.
  • 42-37822, Lead Banana, was with the 384th for 311 days, was assigned to 104 missions, and received combat credit for 63 missions.
  • 43-37822 was with the 384th for 91 days, was assigned to 34 missions, and received combat credit for 28 missions.
  • Vallo mentions the ship’s 100 missions. 42-37822 was assigned to 104 and 43-37822 was only assigned to 34.
  • 42-37822 had missions to Berlin, Frankfurt, Merzburg (sp. Merseburg), and Munich.
  • 43-37822 never went on a mission to Berlin, but did have missions to Frankfurt, Merzburg (sp. Merseburg), and Munich.
  • Vallo’s description of the ship is of an older painted ship like 42-37822, not the newer, shiny 43-37822.
  • 42-27822, Lead Banana, crashed during a training mission on March 16, 1945 when the right main landing gear collapsed after a hard landing at RAF Ringway. There were no injuries to personnel, but it was the end for Lead Banana, which was salvaged.
  • 43-37822 was lost on the September 28, 1944 combat mission in a mid-air collision over Magdeburg, Germany. My father, George Edwin Farrar, became a POW and the other eight airmen aboard were killed.
  • Lead in Lead Banana was pronounced like the metal lead and at one time was spelled Led, not Lead.

About Lawrence Vallo…

Lawrence J. Vallo

Lawrence Jonathan (or Jack) Vallo was a Native American born on July 6, 1922 to James (Santiago) and Annie Vallo in McCarty, New Mexico. At nineteen years old, on June 30, 1942, he registered for the draft. He listed his middle name as Jack on his draft card, rather than Jonathan. At the time, he was living in Richmond, Contra Costa, California and his employer was the Santa Fe Railroad Co. He reported his weight at 138 pounds, height at 5’4″, with dark complexion, brown eyes, and black hair. The Department of Veterans Affairs lists his WWII enlistment date in the Army Air Corps as February 3, 1943 with a release date of October 8, 1945.

During WWII, Lawrence Vallo served with the 384th Bomb Group as the Radio Operator of the Paul Norton crew, a crew who gave themselves the nickname “Frigham Young.”

In addition to his WWII service, Vallo served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The National Archives contains an enlistment record for Vallo with the enlistment date of June 29, 1946 in the Air Corps with the grade designation of Corporal and the term of enlistment as “Enlistment for Hawaiian Department.”

However, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not include the 1946 enlistment, but includes two other enlistments into the Air Force. One has an enlistment date of July 1, 1949 and release date of March 10, 1955. The other has an enlistment date of March 11, 1961 with a release date of June 30, 1964.

Lawrence Vallo died on November 26, 2001 at the age of 79 at Jemez Pueblo, Sandoval, New Mexico. He is buried in the Santa Fe National Cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico in Plot 11A, 32.

In a memorial on Ancestry.com, Lawrence “Larry” Vallo was described as an “educational advocate for Indian youths.” His wife said that his “individualism, extroverted nature and love of people set him apart from others” and “He was very proud he was a Native American.”

Lawrence Vallo would probably also be proud that he was able to clear up the confusion for me through his poem of the correct B-17 to be known as Lead Banana. And thank you Keith Ellefson for bringing Vallo’s poem to my attention.

Next week, I had planned to explore Vallo’s crew, “Frigham Young,” and tell you why they are important to my dad’s WWII history. But I have some new information about the search for relatives of Jack Coleman Cook to share. I’ll return to the “Frigham Young” crew the next week following the update to the Jack Coleman Cook story.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Not the Lead Banana

In all of my previous articles describing the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision in which my dad was involved, I stated that the Brodie crew was aboard Lazy Daisy and the Buslee crew was aboard Lead Banana. I have recently learned that the ship 43-37822, which my dad and the Buslee crew manned that day, was not, in fact, named Lead Banana.

Lead Banana was the nickname for 42-37822, not 43-37822. The name was incorrectly assigned in the 384th Bomb Group’s database of WWII aircraft, but has now been corrected. The error was discovered through Marc Poole’s research and confirmed by a poem that Keith Ellefson ran across last month. The aircraft is also misidentified in Dave Osborne’s B-17 Fortress Master Log, which can be found here. On page 545, the Fortlog entry reads:

43-37822 Del Cheyenne 25/5/44; Kearney 8/6/44; Grenier 28/6/44; Ass 544BS/384BG [SU-N] Grafton Underwood 29/6/44; MIA Magdeburg 28/9/44 w/John Buslee, Dave Albrecht, Bill Henson, Bob Stearns, Len Bryant, Seb Peluso, George McMann, Gerald Anderson (8KIA); George Farrar (POW); flak, cr Ingersleben, Ger; MACR 9753. LEAD BANANA.

Early in my research of my dad’s WWII service, when I initially learned that my dad was aboard ship 43-37822 on September 28, 1944 in the mid-air collision, I was stunned. In all the stories that my dad told me about the war, the only B-17 he ever mentioned by name was Tremblin’ Gremlin. I had always assumed that was the ship he was aboard on September 28.

But the fact that my dad never did mention the name Lead Banana does help me believe that 43-37822 was not named. If it had been so named, Dad probably would have used that name when he told his story of the mid-air collision. And Wallace Storey did not use the name Lead Banana when he wrote about that day either. He did use the name Lazy Daisy for the Brodie crew’s ship, but he referred to my dad’s ship by number, not by name.

Both 42-37822 and 43-37822 were B-17G models. And both were fortresses of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th. My father flew missions on both ships, one on 42-37822 (the real Lead Banana) and three on 43-37822.

B-17G 42-37822 The Lead Banana

Marc Poole is the fellow who originally started the 384th Bomb Group’s website. Fred Preller is now the webmaster of the site and there are a group of volunteers and researchers that help maintain it. Though Marc is still active in the research of the 384th Bomb Group, he is primarily an artist, college art instructor, and family man. Not surprisingly, Marc is an amazing aviation artist who has a keen eye for aircraft detail.

As a result of Marc’s research, we now know that the above photo, which is part of the Quentin Bland collection in the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery, had been misidentified as 43-37822. Marc provided this information about 43-37822:

Aircraft 43-37822 was a Block 70 Boeing-built B-17G with a Natural Metal Finish, and not painted. Boeing quit painting their B-17’s after Block 30. This photo is of an early G model, and a very well-worn one at that.

Marc checked the listing for 42-37822, a Block 15 Douglas built ship, and there is a photo posted of that ship in flight, with nose art very similar to this close-up photo. Someone may have mistaken 42-37822 for 43-37822. Marc added:

I have yet to see a listing in any references for 42-37822 as Lead Banana, but I think that this is most likely the correct ship. There is a large gap of time in the listing for the ship in Osborne’s FortLog…no info between October 43 and its assignment to the 384th in May 44…odd. In comparing pics of Lead Banana currently posted for 43-37822, and one posted of 42-37822, I think it is the same earlier ship. Note the similarity of the black scoreboard under the Co-Pilot window and along the nose, and the same banana shape in the same spot, (but a different shade). Not 100%, but certainly plausible.

The Fortlog entry for 42-37822 is

42-37822 Del Long Beach 9/9/43; Gr Island 17/10/43; ass 544BS/384BG [SU-C] Grafton Underwood 12/5/44; on landing w/Ray Cook the undercarriage collapsed at RAF Ringway, UK (now Manchester Aprt) 16/3/45. Sal AFSC 19/3/45.

The only photo I can find for 43-37822 is the one below which was the High Group Lead on the August 1, 1944 Mission #169. Gerald Sammons commanded and accompanied pilot William Combs, radio operator Emil Morlan, top turret gunner Forest Bemis, bombardier Donald Ward, ball turret gunner Boyce Ragsdale, navigator Kenneth Lord, waist gunner James Fisher, and tail gunner/observer Lloyd LaChine.

B-17G 43-37822 Unnamed

The photo is from the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery, courtesy of Cynthia Smith, via Keith Ellefson. It has the natural metal finish, is not painted, and shows no evidence of any banana nose art.

But the final piece of evidence that has put the misidentification of 43-37822 as Lead Banana to rest for me was some new information that Keith Ellefson shared with me just recently. Keith ran across a poem called The Lead Banana: A B-17 Flying Fortress in the August 1989 384th Bomb Group, Inc.’s newsletter.

Next week I will share the poem and tell you about it’s author, a radio operator of the group. The following week I’ll share the poet’s connection with some of the airmen my dad served with at Grafton Underwood in the late summer and early fall of 1944 and how mysterious old photos can have amazing significance more than seventy years after they were taken.

And one more thing since we’re on the subject of misidentified B-17’s. The ship that Dad talked about in every war story he told me, Tremblin’ Gremlin? He only flew one mission on that one, his very first. The exact name of 42-37982 is in question if you take a look at the nose art. I have never seen the name written as anything other than with the spelling Tremblin’ with the apostrophe at the end. But the nose art was painted with the spelling Trembling.

B-17G 42-37982 Tremblin’ Gremlin

Sorry, but I can’t have all my illusions about my dad’s planes’ names blown away at once. The guy who painted that nose art obviously made a mistake. She’ll always be the Tremblin’ Gremlin to me.

Continued next week…

…and then I’ll continue the story of Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field in a few weeks after a little more research.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson Honors Jack Coleman Cook

In March, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson honored 384th Bomb Group ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook for his bravery and heroism on February 3, 1945 with this letter.

The letter reads:

STATE OF ARKANSAS
ASA HUTCHINSON
GOVERNOR
March 12, 2018

As Governor of the State of Arkansas, I would like to recognize World War II veteran Sergeant Jack Coleman Cook of Hot Springs, Arkansas, for his selfless action that saved the life of his fellow crewmate, Edward Field. Like many other young men his age, Cook enlisted as a teenager to fight for his country in a worldwide conflict.

Sergeant Cook was part of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, serving as a ball turret gunner with the 384th Bomb Group based in England. During his third bombing mission while on board “The Challenger”, he made a compassionate decision which prevented him from returning home. “The Challenger” was under heavy fire and multiple engines were damaged, causing the plane to lose altitude on the way back from the target. The plane hit the cold waters of the North Sea, and the crew quickly tried to pull out the two life rafts. The pilot and radio operator went for the raft which did not fully inflate, but the radio operator was lost in the sea and the pilot did not move once he reached the half-inflated raft. Sergeant Cook swam to the second raft and helped pull in four of his crewmates from the frigid water. The crew’s navigator, Edward Field, hung on to the side of the overcrowded raft.

As the crew rowed towards the pilot to link the rafts together, Field was becoming numb from swimming along the raft, and he said that he could not hold on anymore. Sergeant Cook had pity on his crewmate, and though young and newly-married, got into the water so Field could take his spot in the raft. Sergeant Cook’s decision to enter the cold water was an act of kindness which saved Field’s life and has never been forgotten over the years. Sergeant Cook paddled for forty-five minutes and reached the other raft where the pilot was unresponsive. By the time the Air-Sea rescue team found the rafts, Sergeant Cook had little life left in him from exposure, and he passed away on the boat as a hero who cared more for others than he did for himself.

Sergeant Cook served and ultimately gave his life for his fellow man. For this reason, he is remembered over seventy years later. It is appropriate that we continue to honor men like young Sergeant Cook for their character and courage in the face of difficult circumstances. Men like Cook change the outcome of war and the course of history.

Sincerely,
Asa Hutchinson

Thank you Governor Hutchinson for bestowing this honor on Jack Coleman Cook.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Congress Honors Jack Coleman Cook

The Washington Monument framed by cherry blossoms

On Thursday, April 12, 2018, 384th Bomb Group navigator Edward Field and I were on hand as Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman and New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler honored 384th ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Both Westerman and Nadler made speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington DC to honor Jack Cook for saving Edward Field’s life on February 3, 1945.  In an act of bravery and heroism, Jack gave Edward his place in the life raft after their B-17 was forced to ditch in the frigid North Sea.

Unlike that bitterly cold day in February 1945, it was a beautiful warm day in Washington, with the sun shining brightly and the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Joining us were my husband Bill; Edward’s long-time close friend, David Perrotta, who is Program Specialist for the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; and David Olive, Principal of Catalyst Partners in Washington DC.

David Olive is a former Chief of Staff to U.S. Rep. (and now Governor of Arkansas) Asa Hutchinson, and many years ago David hired Congressman Westerman’s Chief of Staff, Vivian Moeglein. When David reached out to Congressman Westerman’s office for help in honoring Jack Coleman Cook, they quickly set things in motion to honor Jack and make it a truly spectacular day for all of us.

Congressman Bruce Westerman’s speech on the floor of the house

Congressman Westerman was the first speaker of the day to honor Jack. Click here to watch the video of Congressman Westerman’s speech.

Congressman Westerman’s speech, as delivered:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the life of Sergeant Jack Coleman Cook of Hot Springs, Arkansas, for his heroic actions in World War II.

Sergeant Cook was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress, named the “Challenger.”

On February 3, 1945, the 384th Bomb Group participated in a mission over Berlin.

During the mission, the Challenger was hit by flak, damaging multiple engines, gas tanks, and the fuselage, but left the crew unharmed.

On the return journey home, the plane began losing altitude and crash-landed in the frigid North Sea. The crewmembers abandoned the aircraft and boarded two life rafts, but became separated.

Navigator Edward Field, a crew member who stayed in the water, began to push his raft toward the other raft, but became numb, and said that he could no longer hold on.

Sergeant Cook got into the water so the crew’s navigator could get out of the cold sea and take his spot in the raft. The sergeant then swam for forty-five minutes until they reached the second raft.

Shortly afterward, Air-Sea rescue located the crew, but Sergeant Cook had little life left in him, and he passed away on the boat.

It is with great gratitude and respect that I honor Jack Coleman Cook. Sergeant Cook is a true American hero. He selflessly gave his life for his fellow man, and for this, we remember him more than seventy years later.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back.

Next, Congressman Nadler rose to honor Jack. Congressman Nadler’s speech, as delivered:

Mr. Speaker, like Mr. Westerman, I rise today to recognize the heroic actions taken by 384th Bomb Group ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook of Hot Springs, Arkansas, during a World War II mission.

Selflessly, Sergeant Cook gave his life to save the life of his fellow airmen, including my constituent, First Lieutenant Edward Field, a veteran and poet from Brooklyn, New York. On February 3, 1945, in a bombing mission over Berlin, Sergeant Cook showed us what true heroism looks like.

After their B-17 bomber crashed into the North Sea, the crewmembers were forced to inflate two life rafts. Unfortunately, only one raft was able to fully inflate, leaving two men, Lieutenant Field and another crewmember, in the frigid water.

After they had spent about 30 minutes in the water, Sergeant Cook gave up his spot in the raft for Lieutenant Field, who had become numb. Sergeant Cook then swam in the freezing water to the other raft, which was only partially inflated. Unfortunately, he died before a British vessel could come and rescue them.

In his poem, “World War II,” Lieutenant Field honored the incredible sacrifice made by Sergeant Cook, recognizing that his survival is entwined with the spirit born from another hero’s sacrifice.

It is my distinct honor today to commemorate the American heroes who bravely served our country, in this case, Sergeant Jack Coleman Cook and First Lieutenant Edward Field.

Afterward, Congressman Westerman, Edward Field, and I were interviewed by the media and Congressman Westerman treated us to a view of Washington DC from the balcony of the House of Representatives. Communications Director Ryan Saylor made sure everything was running smoothly.

Ryan Saylor on the left overseeing the Interviews

Congressman Westerman presented Edward Field with a copy of the proclamation to honor Jack Coleman Cook and we all took the opportunity to take a few photos (correction, many photos).

R to L: Edward Field and Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman

David Olive with Edward Field and Congressman Bruce Westerman.

L to R: David Olive, Edward Field, and Congressman Bruce Westerman

David Perrotta with Edward Field

R to L: Edward Field and David Perrotta

Me with Edward Field and Congressman Bruce Westerman

R to L: Edward Field, Cindy Bryan, and Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman

My husband Bill and I received the red carpet treatment from Congressman Westerman’s staff during our visit to Washington. We arrived in the Congressman’s office earlier that morning and Legislative Correspondent Nicholas Lisowski guided us on a personal tour of the Capitol.

Chief of Staff Vivian Moeglein accompanied us on a tour to the top of the Capitol dome in the afternoon. And Congressman Westerman spent time with us chatting about my favorite subject, 8th Air Force World War II history, and shared the story of his childhood Sunday School teacher, Conley Culpepper, who was a Technical Sergeant and top turret gunner on a B-17 crew with the 100th Bomb Group, better known as the “Bloody Hundredth.”

Nicholas Lisowski and Vivian Moeglein with Edward Field

R to L: Nicholas Lisowski, Edward Field, and Vivian Moeglein

The story ran on national television news all over the country. View the televised report here. And the story also made the newspaper. View the printed report here.

Our stay in Washington was all too short and we hope to return to visit our nation’s capitol again. We did get a chance to visit the World War II memorial and Library of Congress, but there is so much else to see and do that we must return for a longer visit.

World War II memorial

World War II memorial, Washington DC

Bill and I taking in the view of Washington from the outdoor viewing platform at the top of the Capitol dome

Bill and Cindy Bryan at the top of the Capitol Dome

We have already been in contact with Jack’s wife’s family due entirely to the media coverage of Congressman Westerman’s speech. In a couple of weeks, I will share new information and hopefully photos of Jack Coleman Cook. But until then, I’ll “Keep the show on the road” to honor our 384th Bomb Group heroes!

To read Edward Field’s poem “World War II,” click here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

World War II by Edward Field

Dedicated to the Memory of Sgt. Jack Coleman Cook for his Heroism

World War II

by Edward Field

It was over Target Berlin the flak shot up our plane
just as we were dumping bombs on the already smoking city
on signal from the lead bomber in the squadron.
The plane jumped again and again as the shells burst under us
sending jagged pieces of steel rattling through our fuselage.
It was pure chance that none of us got ripped by those fragments.

Then, being hit, we had to drop out of formation right away,
losing speed and altitude,
and when I figured out our course with trembling hands on the
instruments (I was navigator),
we set out on the long trip home to England
alone, with two of our four engines gone
and gas streaming out of holes in the wing tanks.

That morning at briefing
we had been warned not to go to nearby Poland
partly liberated then by the Russians,
although later we learned that another crew in trouble
had landed there anyway,
and patching up their plane somehow,
returned gradually to England
roundabout by way of Turkey and North Africa.
But we chose England, and luckily
the Germans had no fighters to send up after us then
for this was just before they developed their jet.
To lighten our load we threw out
guns and ammunition, my navigation books, all the junk
and made it over Holland
with a few goodbye fireworks from the shore guns.

Over the North Sea the third engine gave out
and we dropped low over the water.
The gas gauge read empty but by keeping the nose down
a little gas at the bottom of the tank sloshed forward
and kept our single engine going.

High overhead, the squadrons were flying home in formation —
the raids had gone on for hours after us.
Did they see us down there in our trouble?
We radioed our final position for help to come
but had no idea if anyone
happened to be tuned in and heard us,
and we crouched together on the floor
knees drawn up and head down
in regulation position for ditching,
listened as the working engine stopped —
a terrible silence —
and we went down into the sea with a crash,
just like hitting a brick wall,
jarring bones, teeth, eyeballs panicky.
Who would ever think water could be so hard?
You black out, and then come to
with water rushing in like a sinking‑ ship movie.

All ten of us started getting out of there fast:
There was a convenient door in the roof to climb out by,
one at a time. We stood in line,
water up to our thighs and rising.
The plane was supposed to float for twenty minutes
but with all those flak holes
who could say how long it really would?
The two life rafts popped out of the sides into the water
but one of them only half inflated
and the other couldn’t hold everyone
although they all piled into it, except the pilot,
who got into the limp raft that just floated semi-submerged.

The radio operator and I, out last,
(Did that mean we were least aggressive, least likely to survive?)
the two of us stood on the wing watching the two rafts
being swept off by waves in different directions.
We had to swim for it.
Later they said the cords holding rafts to plane
broke by themselves, but I wouldn’t have blamed them
for cutting them loose, for fear that by waiting for us
the plane would go down and drag them with it.

I headed for the overcrowded good raft
and after a clumsy swim in soaked heavy flying clothes
got there and hung onto the side.
The radio operator went for the half–inflated raft
where the pilot lay with water sloshing over him,
but he couldn’t swim, even with his life vest on.
Being from the Great Plains,
his strong farmer’s body didn’t know
how to wallow through the water properly
and a wild current seemed to sweep him farther off.
One minute we saw him on top of a swell
and perhaps we glanced away for a minute
but when we looked again he was gone —
just as the plane went down sometime around then
when nobody was looking.

It was midwinter and the waves were mountains,
and the water ice water.
You could live in it twenty-five minutes
the Ditching Survival Manual said.
Since most of the crew were crowded onto my raft
I had to stay in the water, hanging on.
My raft? It was their raft, they got there first so they would live.
Twenty-five minutes I had.
Live, live, I said to myself. You’ve got to live.
There looked like plenty of room on the raft
from where I was and I said so –
couldn’t they squeeze together more? —
but they said no.

When I figured the twenty-five minutes were about up
and anyway I was getting numb,
I said I couldn’t hold on anymore,
and a skinny kid from Arkansas, the ball turret gunner,
got out of the raft into the icy water in my place,
and I got on the raft in his.
But first he insisted on taking off his flying clothes
which was probably his downfall because even wet clothes are
protection,
and then worked hard, pulling the raft,
kicking with his legs, and we all paddled,
to get to the other raft,
and we tied them together.
The gunner got into the flooded raft with the pilot
and lay in the wet, where shortly after,
the pilot started gurgling green foam from his mouth —
maybe he was injured in the crash against the instruments —
and by the time we were rescued,
he and the little gunner were both dead.

That boy who took my place in the water
who died instead of me
I don’t remember his name even.
It was like those who survived the death camps
by letting others go into the ovens in their place.
It was him or me, and I made up my mind to live.
I’m a good swimmer,
but I didn’t swim off in that scary sea
looking for the radio operator when he was washed away.
I suppose, then, once and for all,
I chose to live rather than be a hero, as I still do today,
although at that time I believed in being heroic, in saving the world,
even if, when the opportunity came
I instinctively chose survival.

As evening fell the waves calmed down
and we spotted a boat, far off, and signaled with a flare gun,
hoping it was English not German.
The only two who cried on being found
were me and a boy from Boston, another gunner.
The rest of the crew kept straight faces.

It was a British air-sea rescue boat.
They hoisted us up on deck,
dried off the living and gave us whisky and put us to bed,
and rolled the dead up in blankets,
and delivered us all to a hospital on shore
for treatment or disposal.

This was a minor accident of war.
Two weeks in a rest camp at Southport on the Irish Sea
and we were back at Grafton-Underwood, our base,
ready for combat again,
the dead crewmen replaced by living ones,
and went on hauling bombs over the continent of Europe,
destroying the Germans and their cities.

© Edward Field, 1967, 1987

Published with the author’s permission.

February 3, 1945 Mission to Berlin

On February 3, 1945, 384th Bomb Group ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook saved the life of navigator Edward Field in the cold North Sea when their B-17, The Challenger, was forced to ditch on the return trip to England after their mission to Berlin.

The Challenger was one of a group of forty-two B-17’s and three hundred fifty-six combat personnel of the 384th Bomb Group assigned to the Group’s Mission #264 (the 8th Air Force’s Mission #817) that day. The 384th flew this mission as the 41st B Combat Wing of the 1st Air Division.

Of the assigned forty-two B-17’s, three did not go. One was an unused ground spare aircraft, one was scrubbed, and one was a weather aircraft that returned to base.

Of the remaining thirty-nine B-17’s, thirty-six completed the mission, returning safely to England at the end of the day.

Three did not make it back with the bomber stream. One, Stardust, crash landed in Russian territory, even after being warned not to do so during the morning briefing, and after repairs eventually made it back to England. All aboard were uninjured.

One, unnamed 42-97960, the lead squadron hot camera ship, was hit by flak which knocked out the #2 and #4 engines. The pilot reported they were on fire, losing altitude and had two wounded on board. All nine crewmembers bailed out and the ship crashed near Fuerstenwerder, Germany. All survived, but became POWs for the remainder of the war.

And then there was The Challenger, the ship of the Robert Long crew that successfully dropped their bombs on Berlin that day, but were forced to ditch in the North Sea on the return trip to England. The Challenger lost three men, pilot Robert Long, radio operator Fred Maki, and ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook. The remaining six men of the crew, including Edward Field whose life was spared due to the bravery and heroism of Jack Cook, lived to fight another day. [I previously related the story of the Long crew in this post.]

These are the statistics of only one heavy bomber group of the 8th Air Force on only one mission, though not an unimportant one. This was the February 3, 1945 raid on Berlin.

Almost 1,000 B-17 heavy bombers of the 8th Air Force made up the bomber stream to Berlin on February 3, 1945. The bombers were supported and protected by 575 P-51 Mustang fighters.

Officially, the target for the mission was the Tempelhof Marshalling Yards in Berlin, but Commander of Strategic Air Forces in Europe General Carl Spaatz and Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower had more in mind. The raid would be a massive attack on the city center of Berlin, a terror bombing designed to lower the morale of the German people. Eighth Air Force Commander Lt. General Jimmy Doolittle objected to such tactics and appealed to Spaatz to stick to America’s strategic principle of precision bombing of targets of military significance.

Doolittle was not successful in changing Spaatz’s mind. The raid was planned for the morning of February 2, but the mission was cancelled due to heavy cloud cover. It was rescheduled for the next day, February 3, a day with unusually clear weather which permitted accurate visual bombing. What started out for the bomb and fighter groups as a cold, wet English Saturday morning, over Berlin the day would become CAVU, with “ceiling and visibility unlimited.”

For Doolittle’s 8th Air Force, February 3 was to be one of the biggest missions of WWII. The bomber stream was to consist of forty-two bombardment groups in the three air divisions, 1,003 B-17 Flying Fortresses heading to Berlin and 434 B-24 Liberators heading to Magdeburg, with 15,000 airmen manning the bombers and accompanying fighters.

In Berlin, the fire caused by the bombing lasted four days and burned everything combustible to ash. It was only stopped by waterways, thoroughfares, and parks that it could not jump. Berlin was reduced to a city of debris and rubble, buildings destroyed or badly damaged, crater-filled streets, without water and electricity.

Statistics vary regarding the loss of life on the ground in Berlin on February 3, 1945. At the time, there were perhaps three million refuges in Berlin, what Donald Miller called “part of one of the greatest human migrations in history” in his book, Masters of the Air. Thousands were instantly cremated where they stood when the bombs began to fall and explode around them and the city began to burn.

Early estimates by the 8th Air Force put the dead at 25,000, but German historians estimate a much lower total around 3,000. Even at the doubtful estimate of 3,000, it was the most Berliners killed in a single raid in all of WWII. Regardless of an accurate number of deaths, historians do agree that 120,000 Berliners were made homeless by the bombing mission of February 3.

The next day, a report from London noted that “The powerful United States Eighth Air Force attacked the heart of Berlin yesterday noon with about 3,000 tons of high explosives and incendiaries in the most concentrated bombing ever carried out on the Reich capital.” The New York Times carried the story with the headlines “3,000-Ton Blow Hits Berlin In Steady Bombing of Reich and 3,000-TON BOMBING IN BERLIN’S CENTER.”

The 8th Air Force planned to return to Berlin three days later, but bad weather caused the mission to be cancelled. The 384th, with a dozen less airmen, did not participate in another mission for nearly a week.

Sources:

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

An Honor for Jack Coleman Cook in the Congressional Record

On February 3, 1945, 384th Bomb Group ball turret gunner Jack Coleman Cook saved the life of navigator Edward Field in the cold North Sea when their B-17, The Challenger, was forced to ditch on the return trip to England after their mission to Berlin.

Jack Coleman Cook is finally receiving the honor he deserves for his bravery and heroism that day. He has now received and is still receiving several honors and today I want to share with you Jack’s honor that was entered into the Congressional Record of March 21, 2018 by Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman.

The text of the honor reads:

HONORING SERGEANT JACK COLEMAN COOK OF HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS
(Extensions of Remarks – March 21, 2018)

[Congressional Record Volume 164, Number 49 (Wednesday, March 21, 2018)]

HONORING SERGEANT JACK COLEMAN COOK OF HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS

______

HON. BRUCE WESTERMAN

of arkansas

in the house of representatives

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

  Mr. WESTERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize Sergeant Jack Coleman Cook of Hot Springs, Arkansas, for his heroic actions in World War II when he selflessly sacrificed his own life to save his fellow airmen.

Sergeant Cook was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress, the “Challenger,” with the 384th Bomb Group. On February 3, 1945, the 384th Bomb Group participated in a mission to bomb the Tempelhof Railroad Marshalling Yards in Berlin. During the mission, the Challenger was hit by flak, damaging multiple engines, gas tanks, and the fuselage, but left the crew unharmed.

As they made their way back to base in England, their plane began losing altitude and crash landed in the frigid North Sea. As soon as the plane hit the water, the crew members proceeded to abandon the aircraft and pull out the two life rafts, but only one fully inflated. The pilot and radio operator swam for the partially inflated raft, but the pilot succumbed to the cold and passed away, and the radio operator was dragged into the sea where he was lost.

The rest of the crew swam for the closer, fully inflated raft. Sergeant Cook, the first to make it, helped four other crewmembers into the overcrowded raft, while two men stayed in the water. Edward Field, the navigator who stayed in the water, began to push their raft towards the second raft. After thirty minutes in the water, Edward Field became numb, and said that he could no longer hold on.

Jack Coleman Cook got into the water so Edward Field could take his spot in the raft, where he continuously swam for forty-five minutes until they reached the second raft. Shortly after, Air-Sea rescue reached their position, but Sergeant Cook had little life left in him, and he passed away on the boat.

Sergeant Cook selflessly sacrificed his own life so Edward Field and his fellow crewmembers could live. Those men returned to duty only four weeks after the crash, where they bravely fought through the rest of the war.

Jack Coleman Cook is a true American hero who showed bravery and courage in a time of great circumstance. He gave his life for his fellow man, and for this, we remember him over seventy years later. It is with great pride that I honor Jack Coleman Cook.

______

Thank you Congressman Westerman and staff for recognizing Jack Coleman Cook with this honor.

The honor in the Congressional Record can also be viewed directly here.

I’ll be sharing more honors for Jack Coleman Cook in coming articles…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Hitler’s Enabling Act

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about events leading up to WWII in the Winter of 1933. One of the most significant events of that time was the passage of Hitler’s Enabling Act.

On March 23 of that year, the newly elected members of the Reichstag (German Parliament) met in the Kroll Opera House in Berlin to consider the Act, which was officially called the “Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich.” They were meeting in the opera house because on February 27, the Nazis had burned the Reichstag building and blamed the fire on the Communists. The fire caused the “distress” and an atmosphere of crisis in Germany as the German people were led to believe an uprising was coming.

The next day, March 24, the vote to pass Hitler’s Enabling Act was held. Nazi Storm Troopers intimidated those who might oppose Hitler, glaring menacingly and chanting “Full powers – or else! We want the bill – or fire and murder!” They had gathered around the opera house, in the hallways, and lined the aisles.

Just before the vote, Hitler addressed the group. He said,

The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures…

The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one.

Hitler made other promises he did not intend to keep, to end unemployment and to promote peace with France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. But he said in order to do these things, he needed the Enabling Act.

To pass his Act, Hitler needed a two thirds majority as the law would change the German Constitution. He had the Nazi vote, but he needed thirty-one non-Nazi votes, which he would get that day from the Center Party by making a false promise to restore some basic rights that had been taken away.

Before the vote, Otto Wells, leader of the Social Democrat party, bravely spoke before the group, addressing Hitler.

We German Social Democrats pledge ourselves solemnly in this historic hour to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and socialism. No enabling act can give you power to destroy ideas which are eternal and indestructible.

An enraged Hitler responded,

You are no longer needed! – The star of Germany will rise and yours will sink! Your death knell has sounded!

When the vote was taken, four hundred forty-one voted for the Enabling Act. Only eighty-four, the Social Democrats, voted against it. With well over two thirds of the vote, the Nazis achieved what Adolf Hitler had wanted to do for years, legally end democracy in Germany and claim dictatorial powers. The passage of Adolf Hitler’s Enabling Act paved the way for the Nazi takeover of Germany.

These events happened eighty-five years ago this week. It seems like a very long time ago, and then again, it doesn’t.

For many of us, our parents were school children during this time in history. Merely a decade later, our fathers, who were in their late teens or early twenties, and should have been chasing girls, were chasing Nazis instead.

Sources:

The History Place

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

An Interview with Col. Robert E. Thacker

Christopher Wilkinson

Late last year, 384th Bomb Group NexGen Christopher Wilkinson requested my help with a special project. Back in 2014, Chris sat down with Col. Robert E. Thacker in the Colonel’s home for a lengthy interview.  Chris wanted to turn that raw interview footage into a video, but didn’t have the tools to do it himself. He knew I had dabbled in video production, so Chris asked if I would take his footage and some photos of the Colonel and put it all together. Colonel Thacker’s 100th birthday was approaching and Chris wanted to give the Colonel a copy of the interview on DVD as a birthday present. And Chris wanted to upload the video to YouTube so that he could share the interview with others.

I finished the video just in time for Col. Thacker’s birthday and Chris has now uploaded it to YouTube. It covers a lot of ground and is quite interesting. Before I began working on the project, I did not know anything about the experiences and accomplishments of Colonel Robert E. Thacker. The Colonel has led an amazing life and each story he tells tops the one he told previous.

Colonel Thacker was an important player in the 384th Bomb Group in WWII, which was Chris’s initial interest in interviewing him. But Thacker was so much more than a respected Deputy Commander of the Group as you will learn watching the video.

I’m happy I had the chance to be involved with the making of the video and I feel honored to have played my part in bringing Colonel Thacker’s story in his own words to the public.

If you’d like to view the video, it is on YouTube in two parts. These links will take you to YouTube to watch them.

Col. Robert E. Thacker Interview Part 1

Part 1 Topics and Highlights…

  • 00:28  Growing up in El Centro, California
  • 02:54  Early interest in aviation
  • 03:42  Airplane modeling
  • 04:32 High school
  • 05:15  Entry in the Air Corps
  • 10:50  Strategic bombing training
  • 11:52  Family
  • 13:05  The romance of flying
  • 13:34  Marriage to Betty Joe
  • 14:00  First assignment
  • 16:43  Transition to B-17’s and Pearl Harbor
  • 32:15  The Pacific Theater in WWII

Col. Robert E. Thacker Interview Part 2

Part 2 Topics and Highlights…

  • 00:48  The Pacific Theater in WWII
  • 08:05  The WWII Battle of the Coral Sea and a close call with the USS Chicago
  • 11:00  Strategic bombing in the Pacific Theater
  • 12:10  Repatriated back to the States to train B-17 crews
  • 13:12  Thacker Provisional Group took forty B-17’s to North Africa and on into Foggia, Italy
  • 15:05  A military man goes to Europe
  • 16:20  Flying B-17’s with the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th AF out of Grafton Underwood, England in the WWII European Theater
  • 31:25  Back to the States and reassignment
  • 33:30  Flight Test Division Assignment at the Experimental Test Pilot Academy of the US Air Force at Wright Patterson in Dayton, Ohio
  • 35:10  Flying the P-82 non-stop between Honolulu and New York City
  • 43:50  Test pilot days with Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover

Like I said, it’s a long interview, so get comfortable and sit back, put your feet up and take a look. You’ll learn a lot about the life and aviation career of Col. Robert E. Thacker. He’s a fascinating storyteller and will leave you wanting more.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

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