Cook Donald Gilbert

Name: Donald Gilbert Cook c105p
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Marine Corps

Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division
Date of Birth: 09 August 1934 (Brooklyn, NY)
Home of Record: New York, NY
Date of Loss: 31 December 1964
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 104517N 1073622E (YS850900)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Prisoner of War
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing)


SYNOPSIS: On 31 December 1964, then Capt. Donald G. Cook was an advisor to the 4th Battalion, Vietnamese Marine Corps station at Binh Gia, South Vietnam. Capt. Cook and the Vietnamese unit he was advising were engaged in a fierce firefight with Viet Cong (VC) guerillas on a small, but steep jungle covered mountain. During the battle, Capt. Cook was wounded in the leg and captured. However, because there no witnesses to his capture, Donald Cook was immediately listed Missing in Action. The location of capture was approximately 11 miles northwest of the coast, 12 miles northwest Ham Tan, 24 miles east-northeast of Binh Gia and 60 miles southeast of Saigon, Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam.

Capt. Cook was moved to a POW camp where two US Army advisors, Sgt. Harold G. Bennett and Pvt. Charles E. Crafts, were held. The Army advisors were captured two days earlier approximately 14 miles east-northeast of the battle site where Donald Cook was captured. The three Americans were held in 4 different camps constructed deep within enemy-held territory and all hidden in the dense jungle of extreme southern South Vietnam. All of the camps were located between the area of capture near the coast to the Cambodian border. They would join another group of American POWs, referred to as "The Camacho Group" and so named for SFC Issac Camacho, the senior POW in the group.

Some of the camps were actually way stations the VC used for various reasons, others were regular POW camps. Regardless of size and function, conditions in them frequently included the prisoners' being tied at night to their bamboo bunks anchored by rope to a post in their small bamboo shelters. In others they were held in bamboo cages, commonly known as tiger cages. In yet other camps the dense jungle itself provided the bars to their cage. There was rarely enough food and water to sustain them, and as a result, the Americans suffered a wide variety of illnesses in addition to their injuries and wounds. Harold Bennett and Donald Cook adhered strictly to the Code of Conduct, the code all military personnel are required to follow should he/she become a Prisoner of War. Both men proved very uncooperative, a situation that infuriated the communists. Then in March, Capt. Cook and Sgt. Bennett escaped, but a guard alerted the camp before they could even clear the perimeter.

In May 1965, the guards broke camp again and began moving the POWs westward. On 28 May, as they were being moved from one camp to another, Charles Crafts saw Harold Bennett for the last time. As Pvt. Crafts watched, the guards kicked and punched him to make him move faster along the trail. Two weeks after the prisoners departed their 4th POW camp, Donald Cook and Charles Crafts settled into the new camp.

On 16 June 1965 Capt. John R. Schumann, was assigned as an advisor to the Cai Be District Chief, Dinh Tuong Province. After capture, the VC moved John Schumann north to join Charles Crafts and Donald Cook in captivity. Despite his size, he was described by fellow POWs as "a man of gentle spirit and quiet courage." By May 1966, John Schumann became very ill. Charles Crafts was allowed to stay with him and to nurse him from May until his death at 1330 hours on 7 July 1966. Pvt. Crafts later reported, "they (the VC) gave him everything they had available." Pvt. Crafts believed the communists held a special respect for him and he "received more medical treatment than any of the other POWs." The guards removed Capt. Schumann and buried him at an unknown location.

Knowing Pvt. Crafts was profoundly affected by John Schumann's death, the VC pushed him for a propaganda statement by threatening to kill Donald Cook and him if he did not comply. During one of these intimidation sessions, a guard put a pistol to Donald Cook's head to demonstrate the extent to which they would go to extract that statement. Donald Cook defused this situation by reciting the nomenclature of the pistol held to his head.

In January 1966, Douglas Ramsey was a State Department Foreign Service Officer attached to the Agency for International Development (USAID) stationed at Hau Nghia as the Chief Provincial Representative. On 17 January 1966, he was riding in a truck that was transporting food and medical instruments to a village to assist refugees from a joint ARVN/US search and destroy mission. A VC ambush party captured him and marched him off to the POW camp where the others were being held. Even though Douglas Ramsey was aware of other prisoners in the camp, he did not speak to them until July when he made contact with Donald Cook and Charles Crafts at the funeral service held for John Schumann. The prisoners did not talk again until they broke camp three months later. However, in the interim, they were able to slip notes to each other.

On 7 October 1966, Army Sgt. Sammie N. Womack was a squad leader whose infantry unit was ambushed and decimated in a firefight with VC forces. As with Douglas Ramsey, Sammie Womack was marched north to the VC prison camp. Shortly after Sgt. Womack arrived, the guards broke camp on 28 October and began a two-week trek over some of the roughest terrain in South Vietnam. Donald Cook, Charles Crafts, Douglas Ramsey and Sammie Womack clambered across steep ravines on slippery log bridges and plodded through dense forest heavy with humidity and mosquitoes. The move was hard on all the POWs, but it was especially difficult on Donald Cook. He contracted malaria the day before they broke camp, and suffered from night blindness that affected his equilibrium. Douglas Ramsey reported that "by sheer willpower, Capt. Cook traversed the march's 150-200 miles. It was a super-human performance." Donald Cook's courage and adamant resistance always impressed his fellow POWs.

SSgt. George Smith, another prisoner who was released early and held for a time with this group, said admiringly that he was "really hard nosed. I believe that he would have stopped shitting if he had thought 'Charlie' was using it for fertilizer." Later SSgt Smith testified: "If you don't count eating, Capt. Cook was being one hundred percent uncooperative, to the point that he wouldn't tell them his symptoms when he wasn't feeling well. They wanted him to write them down, but he's refused to write anything since his capture, even his name. In his view, writing violated the Code of Conduct." Donald Cook paid dearly for his commitment to adhere totally to the Code of Conduct. He received less food than the others and spent more time in solitary confinement. After the forced march, the other POWs believed even the VC came to admire him, subsequently, they seemed to accord him more respect and better treatment.

The VC could not have found a more inhospitable location for the new camp. Torrential rain and poor soil prevented cultivating crops to the point that even rice was in short supply. Prisoners and guards alike had to make do with a meager diet of manioc, bamboo shoots and an occasional rat for protein supplement. Shortly after arriving in this camp, Douglas Ramsey and Charles Crafts also came down with malaria. Mr. Ramsey's case was particularly severe. In spite of his own serious illness, Donald Cook's caring attention; along with a senior cadre's decision to share the guerrilla's limited supply of quinine with their prisoner, brought Douglas Ramsey out of a sinking coma.

By January 1967, all the men were reasonably healthy and being given indoctrination up to 6 hours a day with the sessions split between the morning and afternoon. The guards now numbered 10 men who rotated shifts and were for the most part considerate and friendly. Shortly after the first of the year, the communists informed Pvt. Crafts that he and SSgt. Womack were candidates for release. Neither man knew what the VC had in mind, except that with Tet (the Vietnamese New Year) approaching, the communists' might try to make propaganda points by releasing a pair of POWs with one being black and the other white in a non-discriminatory manner.

On 7 February 1967, Charles Crafts and Sammie Womack were taken to a specially constructed hut for a formal release ceremony presided over by a senior official and attended by the entire camp including Capt. Cook and Mr. Ramsey. However, because Pvt. Craft's malaria flared up, they did not actually leave the camp until 16 February. As they left, they carefully studied the area noting a small clearing that could serve as a drop zone for a rescue operation. Unfortunately, they were unable to identify enough landmarks along the departure route to ever find the place again. By 23 February they reached a main highway where their escorts put them on a civilian bus that took them to a US checkpoint that afternoon.

Charles Crafts smuggled out a letter from Douglas Ramsey to his parents and two letters from Donald Cook, one to his wife and the other to "Big Sam," his cover name for the US government should the letters be intercepted by the enemy. Prior to their release, Donald Cook regained his strength to such a level that Charles Crafts remembered him being "as strong as a bull" when he last saw the Captain. In spite of appearances, he was running a low-grade fever from malaria. Before long Donald Cook was gravely ill. Although the VC had stepped up their care of him, Capt. Cook could not keep any food down. According to Mr. Ramsey, "his abdomen swelled up as if he'd swallowed a basketball."

On 29 June 1967, Capt. William H. Hardy, an agricultural development advisor assigned to Team 91 and on temporary duty to USAID when he was captured. William Hardy was marched toward the north and he arrived at the prison camp in September. In late 1967, the guards again broke camp; moved Douglas Ramsey, Donald Cook and William Hardy northwest toward the Cambodian border and the drier climate of the highlands. Because he was in the best shape, Capt. Hardy made the trip in 10 days despite having to carry the bulk of the prisoners' equipment.

Donald Cook and Douglas Ramsey followed at a slower pace. After a month of struggling to climb the steep slopes, Mr. Ramsey arrived at the new camp. As soon as he arrived, he noticed that Capt. Cook was not there. He asked the guards where Donald Cook was and was told that he had been taken to "a distant camp." It was not until his own release that Mr. Ramsey learned from a VC interpreter that his friend had died along the trail, probably from another malaria seizure, only a week or so after the two were separated.

On 22 December 1970, the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), better known as the Viet Cong, released a list of names of American POWs who they reported died while under their control. The PRG list included Harold Bennett, Donald Cook and John Schumann. According to the communist's list, Donald Cook died on 8 December 1967.

Harold Bennett, Donald Cook and John Schumann died while under the control of the communists, and each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American POWs remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.
Donald G. Cook was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his devotion to other POWs, Duty-Honor-Country and the Code of Conduct. On 3 May 1997, a newly commissioned guided missile destroyer was christened the USS Donald G. Cook, DDG-75, in his honor.