The First Marine Captured in Vietnam: A Biography of Donald G. Cook

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Cook was declared officially dead in February His remains have never been recovered. His wife and four children survived him, as well as seven of his former POW comrades. It also is the name of a town some 65 kilometers east of Saigon in Phuoc Tuy Province.


In late December there were no happy houses in Binh Gia It was an omen of things to come: of the men on the Marine roster, were killed, 71 were wounded, and 29 of the unit's 35 officers died in the fighting. The VC were using the downed helo as bait and had established ambushes on the likely approaches, and again the RVN Marines were heavily engaged.

The VC began a withdrawal on the night of 31 December, but fighting in the area continued for several more days. He confirmed the execution of SSG Bennett.

Medal of Honor Monday: Marine Col. Donald Cook

Three US advisors were killed in action during the period 28 Dec 64 - 10 Jan 65; regretably neither their assignments nor the location or circumstances of their deaths are known. Ray and 1LT William T. On the reverse of the base is the inscription. 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 to 8 December 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.

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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. Home Colonel Donald G. Cook was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his extraordinary courage while a prisoner of war. Accompanying elements of the 4th Vietnamese Marines, Col. 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.

Cook's rigid adherence to the Code of Conduct won him the respect of his fellow prisoners and his Communist captors.

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. Cook enrolled at St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vermont, where his academic standing was well above average. 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 , Col.

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. It was during this time that Col. Cook displayed a remarkable fascination with prisoners of war.

Colonel Donald G. Cook - The Namesake of USS Donald Cook

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. Cook would dress in a Communist uniform made by his wife and Laurette would use her eyeliner to make Don appear oriental.

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He was an imposing spectacle to the "captured" Marines. On 11 December , Col.

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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. 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.

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.

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  4. 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.