Colonel Donald Gilbert Cook, who was posthumously
awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam while held prisoner by the
Viet Cong from December 1964 to December 1967, was born 9 August 1934, in
Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Xavier High School in June 1952, then
attended St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont, where he graduated in
Shortly after his December 1956 marriage to Miss Laurette A. Giroux at St.
Anthony’s Church in Burlington, Vermont, Cook left Vermont for the Officers
Candidate School at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, and was
commissioned a second lieutenant, 1 April 1957.
He was promoted to first lieutenant 1 October 1958 while stationed at Camp
Pendleton, California. In 1960 he attended Army Language School in Monterey,
California, studying Chinese and graduated near the top of his class. 1stLt
Cook was assigned to Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, in 1961 and was promoted to
captain 1 March 1962.
In 1964 the Cook family returned to Vermont when Capt Cook was transferred to
Okinawa. In December 1964, he was sent to Vietnam where he was captured by
the Viet Cong on 31 December 1964 while serving as an advisor with a
Vietnamese Marine battalion.
Captain Cook was in the vicinity of Benh Gia, Phouc Tuy Province, Republic of
Vietnam, while participating as a Marine advisor to the South Vietnamese, and
went to the site of a helicopter crash with a South Vietnamese unit to check
for survivors. When the Viet Cong surrounded the area, he was shot in the leg
while attempting to assist members of his unit to safety, and was then
captured. He continued to receive promotions while interned as a Prisoner of
War and his personal valor and exceptional spirit of loyalty during his three
years of captivity resulted in his posthumous award of the Medal of Honor.
Mrs. Laurette A. Cook, widow of Colonel Cook, received the Medal of Honor on
behalf of her husband 16 May 1980 during ceremonies at the Hall of Heroes in
the Pentagon. The Honorable Edward Hidalgo, Secretary of the Navy, presented
the Medal to Mrs. Cook while Cook’s parents and four children looked on along
with General Robert H. Barrow, Commandant of the Marine Corps.
A list of Colonel Cook’s medals and decorations includes: the Medal of Honor,
the Purple Heart with one bronze star, the Combat Action Ribbon, the National
Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and the Republic
of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
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 1964 to 8 December
1967. 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. 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.