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
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.
Thank you Governor Hutchinson for bestowing this honor on Jack Coleman Cook.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018
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 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.
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).
David Olive with Edward Field and Congressman Bruce Westerman.
David Perrotta with Edward Field
Me with Edward Field and 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
Our stay in Washington was all too short and we hope to return to visit our nation’s capital 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
Bill and I taking in the view of Washington from the outdoor viewing platform 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
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
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.
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.
- Masters of the Air by Donald L. Miller
- The Eighth Air Force Historical Society (Enter the Mission Date of 1945-02-03 and click the Submit button)
- Warfare History Network
- New York Times archives
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018