Jack Coleman Cook
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Video of poet Edward Field reading World War II
- World War II by Edward Field in print
- Delia’s interview on KARK
- Delia’s interview on Fox 16
- Congress Honors Jack Coleman Cook
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