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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

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