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Friday, November 24, 2017

War Heroes Remembered With AEGIS Vessels

July 12, 1999

In remembrance for his valiant and dedicated efforts to his fellow soldiers, the U.S. Navy last year named its fifteenth Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer in honor of COL Donald G. Cook. Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage while a prisoner of war (POW), Cook is noted as a heroic figure for his rescue efforts during the Vietnam War. As an observer from Communications Company on a 30-day tour of duty, then Captain Cook was stationed at Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. After being wounded on New Year's Eve 1964, Cook was captured by Viet Cong forces near Binh Gia, Phouc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. He had been out on a search for an American helicopter that had gone down in the area when he was seized. Impressed by his strict compliance to the Code of Conduct, his Vietnamese captors treated him with respect rather than hatred. He was recognized by his fellow prisoners as a man of great esteem and dignity. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Cook was born into a devout Catholic family. His parents Walter and Helen, raised he and his brother, Walter, Jr. and sister, Irene by the laws of the Catholic Church. As a student in Jesuit affiliated parochial schools, namely Manhattan's Xavier High School, Cook found his niche in sports earning the nickname "Bayridge Bomber" during his early days. Moving on to St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vt. Cook became a member of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), but his attendance was less than stellar as he met the woman who would one day become his wife - Laurette Giroux. Despite his lack of attendance during ROTC, Cook was able to obtain a waiver allowing him admission into Marine Corps Officer's Candidate School in Quantico, Va. Communications Officer School was next on the agenda for Cook, providing him with the skills to perform in various roles in that field while at the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. While serving as the Officer-in-Charge of the 1st Interrogator-Translator Team with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Hawaii, Cook discovered his interest with the prisoner of war factor. He authored a pamphlet based on the experiences of how American POWs in Korea dealt with communistic interrogation techniques and incorporated the same approach when training Marines in the handling of similar situations. Leading up to his abduction on Dec. 31, 1964, Cook had only joined the 3rd Marine Division a few weeks earlier in its Communications Sector. While being held prisoner, Cook exercised daily and provided upbeat words of wisdom and first aid for his compatriots. All hopes of Cook's release had faded away when fellow prisoner Douglas Ramsay upon his release in 1973, confirmed that Cook had succumbed to Malaria in 1967 under Vietnamese captivity. As per the Missing Service Persons Act of 1942 Cook was declared dead on February 26, 1980. A few months later, a memorial stone in his honor was unveiled in May 1980 at Arlington National Cemetery. It is only fitting that the AEGIS vessel bearing his namesake follows the motto "Faith Without Fear" - epitomizing Cook's strength and bravery to his country. Sacrificing his life to save an injured companion near Da Nang, South Vietnam, Private First Class Oscar Austin's name was given to the U.S. Navy's first FLT IIA Arleigh Burke Class AEGIS Destroyer. On February 23, 1969, Austin lost his life while rescuing his buddy - an act that earned him honors such as a Purple Heart, the National Defense Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Born in 1948 in Nagodoches, Texas, Austin spent most of his short life in Phoenix, Ariz. where he eventually entered the U.S. Marine Corps in April 1968. Impressed by his ambition and drive, officers promoted him to Private First Class leading to his tour of duty in Vietnam as Ammunitions Officer with Company "E", Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division. The object of a fierce ground attack by the North Vietnamese Army on what would be Austin's last day, he spotted an inebriated solider who had fallen unconscious near a hostile fire zone. Without realizing the consequences he might suffer, Austin left his protected fighting hole to aid his fellow marine from sustaining further injuries. As he turned to examine the wounded man, Austin saw the enemy peer out from the brush pointing his gun at the helpless victim, knowing what might occur, Austin willingly barricaded the victim's body from impending death - thus allowing himself to die with honor for his country and fellow soldier.
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