Bath Iron Works' fifteenth ARLEIGH BURKE Class Destroyer is named in honor of Marine Corps Vietnam War hero, Colonel Donald G. Cook. Col. Cook was awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumously) for his extraordinary courage while a prisoner of war. Col. (then Captain) Cook volunteered for a temporary 30 day tour in Vietnam as an observer from Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. Accompanying elements of the 4th Vietnamese Marines, Col. Cook was wounded and captured by a vastly superior Viet Cong force on New Year's Eve 1964 near Binh Gia, Phouc Tuy Province, South Vietnam, while on a search and recovery mission for a downed American helicopter crew. 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. Col. Cook's rigid adherence to the Code of Conduct won him the respect of his fellow prisoners and his Communist captors.
Donald Cook was the son of Walter and Helen Cook and the brother of Walter and Irene (Walter passed away in 1960 and Irene Coleman still lives in N.Y.). 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." Upon graduation from Xavier High School, Col. Cook enrolled at St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vermont, where his academic standing was well above average.
Col. 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 1956, Col. Cook joined the Marine Corps Reserve as a private after receiving a special waiver for his lack of attendance at ROTC and completed Marine Corps Officer's Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia in 1957. 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. Col. Cook then attended the Chinese Mandarin Language Course at Monterey, California and the Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, Maryland graduating first in a class of 25. The next three years found him serving as the Officer-in-Charge of the 1st Interrogator-Translator Team with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Hawaii. It was during this time that Col. Cook displayed a remarkable fascination with prisoners of war. 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. Col. Cook would dress in a Communist uniform made by his wife and Laurette would use her eyeliner to make Don appear oriental. He was an imposing spectacle to the "captured" Marines.
On 11 December 1964, Col. Cook was reassigned to the Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. 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. Col. 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. Col. 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. Col. 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. Once, while assigned to a work detail with a VC guard, Col. Cook stepped up the pace to embarrass his captors. Still, the jungle prison took its toll on Col. Cook's health and he and the other prisoners found themselves in a weakened state. Perhaps due to this weakened condition, Col. Cook contracted malaria shortly before moving to a new camp. He was so weak that he staggered when he walked, could not traverse log bridges, and lost his night vision due to vitamin deficiency. Still, he persevered refusing to allow anyone to carry his pack or otherwise put a strain on themselves to help him. By the time the new camp was reached, even the camp commander complemented Col. Cook on his courage. Although he regained some of his strength at the new camp, Col. Cook still suffered from the effects of malaria. As illness struck the other prisoners, Col. Cook unhesitatingly took on the bulk of their workloads in order that they might have time to recover. His knowledge of first aid prompted him to nurse the severely sick by administering heart massage, moving limbs, and keeping men's tongues from blocking their air passages. He was instrumental in saving the lives of several POWs who were convulsing with severe malaria attacks.
Even though he was on half-rations, Col. Cook shared his food with the weaker POWs even giving up his allowance of penicillin. Because he was isolated, Col. Cook devised a drop off point for communications, instructing his fellow POWs to continue resistance and offering the means to do so. Time and again he refused to negotiate for his own release knowing full well it would mean his imprisonment for the entire war. After a failed escape attempt, a gun was held to his head and Col. Cook calmly recited the pistol's nomenclature showing no fear whatsoever. Surely he knew that in his deteriorated condition that he would not survive a long imprisonment yet he continued to offer food and badly needed medicine to other POWs. In this respect, he went far above and beyond the call of duty by risking his life to inspire other POWs to survive. Col. Donald G. Cook was last seen on a jungle trail by a fellow American prisoner, Douglas Ramsey, in November 1967. When Mr. Ramsey was released in 1973, he was told that Cook had died from malaria on 8 December 1967 while still in captivity. No remains were ever returned by the Vietnamese government. On 26 February 1980, Col. Cook was declared dead under the Missing Service Persons Act of 1942. On 15 May 1980, a memorial stone was placed in Arlington National Cemetary and the flag from the empty grave presented to his wife, Laurette. The following day Colonel Donald G. Cook was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The ship's motto, "Faith Without Fear" epitomizes his courage and faith in God and country