Technical Sergeant Joseph Donald Cook

From an unknown newspaper, 1945.
From an unknown newspaper, 1945.

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Insignia of VMSB-141
Insignia of VMSB-141
NAME:
Joseph Donald Cook
NICKNAME:
Cooky
SERVICE NUMBER:
273952
HOME OF RECORD:
800 Belmont Avene, Charlottesville VA
NEXT OF KIN:
Wife, Mrs. Eloise (Smith) Cook
DATE OF BIRTH:
February 5, 1917
ENLISTED:
November 11, 1939
DATE OF DEATH:
October 8, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal VMSB-141 Dive Bomber Pilot Technical Sergeant MIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
While piloting SBD-3 03257, shot down while attacking shipping off Guadalcanal
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Technical Sergeant
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Missing with aircraft
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Birth and Early Life:
Joseph Cook was born in Pageton, West Virginia, on February 5, 1917. He attended high school in nearby Gary, WV, and upon graduation was accepted to Bluefield College. There, he discovered a love for all things mechanical, and completed his undergraduate studies in engineering.

"Cooky" in the 1936 Bluefield College yearbook.
“Cooky” in the 1936 Bluefield College yearbook.

With degree in hand, Cook returned to Pageton to work for the Page Coal and Coke Company as an electrician. However, Pageton and Gary were tiny towns tucked away in the mountains – together, they contained as many people as the Bluefield College student body – and though Cook had traveled less than 30 miles to attend college, he evidently had a desire to see the world.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
On September 11, 1939, “Cooky” joined the Marine Corps in Baltimore, Maryland. He was sent to Parris Island for boot camp; with his college education and engineering background, Cook stood out among his recruit platoon – qualifying as a rifle sharpshooter was icing on the cake. The West Virginia boy was pulled out of infantry training and told to report to Base Air Detachment One at Quantico, Virginia.

Service Prior To World War 2:
Cook’s commanding officers got their newest man started in on aviation engineering; by April, 1940, he had earned the distinction of Specialist 4th Class (Electrician). To his dismay, the new classification was not accompanied by a promotion and the subsequent raise in pay.

Private Cook transferred to Headquarters, First Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW) on September 1. This new unit issued promotions more freely; Cook was given his single PFC stripe in October, and a corporal’s rating in December.

The now Corporal Cook was reassigned from the electrics shop to the engineering office, where he worked as a clerk. He visited Cuba with a detachment from his squadron in the early months of 1941; when he returned, Cook began working as a draftsman and shot up two ranks to Staff Sergeant in July. The following month, he took a furlough to marry Miss Eloise Smith of Charlottesville. The newlyweds had little time to settle in before Joseph received new orders – he had been accepted to aviation training in Jacksonville, Florida. This was fairly unusual for an enlisted man; Joseph Cook threw himself into the rigorous training, and was halfway through the program when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.

Wartime Service:
Joseph Cook was chafing at the bit for the first five months of 1942. Friends and colleagues in more advanced classes were receiving their wings and shipping out for the west coast, and news of the fall of Wake Island and the Philippines made the fledgling pilots eager for an end to training. Cook finally received his wings in May, 1942, and was quickly dispatched to the Pacific as a qualified dive-bomber pilot.

Upon his arrival at his duty station – Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 141 – SSgt. Cook was disappointed to be relegated back to electrical work. Although fully as qualified as the junior officers of his squadron, his lack of rank (and possibly a lack of available planes) meant that Cook was left behind when the first wave of pilots and gunners departed for Guadalcanal. It was not until September 30, 1942 that Cook arrived at “Cactus” and set down at Henderson Field. Despite the delay, he was the only enlisted pilot on his flight – the rest were commissioned lieutenants – which may indicate his commander’s trust in Cook’s abilities.

Over the next few days, the replacement pilots and gunners were gradually introduced to combat, Solomon Islands style. The Cactus Air Force was desperately short of planes and parts; every action had to be carefully undertaken, as aircraft were often more valuable than the lives of the men who flew them. Just two days after arriving, Second Lieutenant E. Walton Ayres and PFC Sven E. R. Nelson were shot down on a routine patrol; another replacement pilot, Lt. Hanna, had a close call. The green Bulldog aviators passed a somber night reflecting on the hard lessons learned on October 2.

TSgt. Cook’s first chance to hit back at the Japanese came on October 5, 1942. With Sergeant William T. Campbell flying as his radioman/gunner, Cook took part in an attack on a group of six enemy destroyers; the group claimed one ship destroyed. Two days later, Cook and Campbell spotted four enemy ships while flying the dawn patrol, but no planes were available to mount an attack.

Date Of Loss:
(Note: There are conflicting dates of loss for Joseph Cook. Most sources, including the squadron’s muster roll, have the following events happening on October 8, 1942; this is generally accepted to be correct. However, the war diary for MAG-23, overseeing the Guadalcanal operation, is very specific in claiming October 9.)

At 0520 on October 8, nine American dive bombers and six P-39 escort fighters departed Henderson Field to chase down a fleet of Japanese ships spotted the night before. Within ninety minutes, they had made contact – one cruiser, evidently damaged and smoking, surrounded by a protective screen of destroyers.

The Navy and Marine pilots dove from 10,000 feet; Joseph Cook dropped his bomb and was credited with a “probable” hit on the cruiser. As he pulled up and away from the enemy ships, one of the Japanese antiaircraft gunners – who surprised the Americans with the volume and accuracy of their fire – scored a hit on SBD-3 #03257. As Cook struggled with the controls, the plane dropped away from the formation and disappeared.

Although the Cactus Air Force pilots knew Cook and Campbell’s plane had been shot down, evidently none saw it hit the earth. Further searches came up negative, and the two Marines were listed as missing in action. Finally, on February 19, 1945, they were declared dead.

jdcookarticle
Newspaper unknown; uploaded to Sgt. Cook’s FindAGrave memorial.

Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Eloise Smith

Status Of Remains:
Unknown

Memorial:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines

4 thoughts on “Technical Sergeant Joseph Donald Cook

  1. This is my uncle and I am very proud of his service to our country!! This was an awesome article…thank you!

  2. My grandmother, Frankie Lee Cook, never accepted that my Uncle Don (Joseph Donald Cook) would not someday be found. She would say “Don isn’t dead. He’s just away” or “Don didn’t come home from the war, but he’s still with us.” His family loved him and always remembered him and talked about him, so those of us in the next generation grew up hearing about him. My mother Mary, Don’s sister, is the Mrs. Russel Dean listed in the obit. I’m so grateful that my brother David found out about this website, and that you published this information about Don and the others who did not come home. Thank you.

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