I have a childhood friend, John W. Cook, whose name will be emblazoned forever on a granite wall in Washington, D.C. John was the best friend of my oldest brother and they were thick as thieves growing up in Southern California. John probably spent as much time at my house as he did at his own.
In 1967, John had a decision to make. He knew there was a high likelihood that he would be drafted, even if he was a full-time college student. He also very badly wanted to fly. While in school, he was a member of the Civil Air Patrol and flew on civil rescue missions frequently. It didn’t hurt that his dad held a flight endurance record or two, either. So, he made the decision to take the Army on his own terms and enlisted. He was given his opportunity for his “dream job” and was chosen for helicopter flight school.
After graduation, he was promptly shipped off to Vietnam. On February 19, 1967, while on a mission to pick up a Special Forces team in Laos, John’s helicopter was shot down by an enemy RPG. He survived the crash and was even medevaced out only to die nine days later in a hospital in Japan. John was the co-pilot of the aircraft. At his death, John was awarded the Purple Heart to go with his Air Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. His crewman, Sgt. Fred Zabitosky, was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing John and his pilot from the burning aircraft during intense hostile fire.
Forty-six years later, on Memorial Day, this is who I think of.
On Monday I will be doing what I hope many of you will do: visiting a local cemetery for one of the many Memorial Day ceremonies held throughout the county. It is a small price to pay, to honor what they have given in life. So, start your Memorial Day not with a hotdog bun in hand, but with a note of gratitude in your heart for Chief Warrant Officer John W. Cook Jr. or one of your loved ones who might have died in conflict, serving their country. It is true that we continue to live in the greatest country in the world thanks to the sacrifice of millions of men and women who continue to give their lives in the name of freedom and who will never know another summer with their friends.