News: War Hero visits Fort Wainwright Soldiers
Story by Spc. Thomas Duval
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Serving in the Army at the age of 88 is nearly impossible and probably frowned upon by the medical community, but when given the chance to once again serve his country, retired Sgt. Maj. Lester B. Cook, did just that Jan 6-7.
As an act of selfless service and loyalty to the U.S. Army, Cook, a Des Moines, Iowa, native, traveled to Fort Wainwright to join forces with the soldiers of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, as they prepare for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
Cook, a retired U.S. Army infantryman, and one of the original members of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, said he often remembers a time when his age was not a factor and uses his war stories to help motivate the soldiers he encounters.
“If I could help save the life of one soldier, I’ll make the sacrifice to come see what I can do to help,” Cook said, referring to his decision to come to Alaska.
A Silver Star citation document explains one of the stories that helped define Cooks’ military career:
During a heavy German counterattack seven American Soldiers, occupying positions on a knoll became cut off from the main body of troops. Moving forward on an adjacent knoll, Sergeant Cook, with two of his men and four artillery observers, encountered a group of eight German Soldiers. While his companions withdrew, Sgt. Cook reorganized his small group of men, led them back to the hill, and directed the fight to hold the position. Under Sgt. Cook’s leadership, and almost solely through his own personal efforts, the sector was held despite three casualties. His courage and resourcefulness in combat made it possible for his company to retake the hill and save the seven men who were cut off by the enemy.
Surrounded by soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1-25th SBCT, the decorated war hero relived similar stories about his days serving in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
“He’s one of the guys who has lived the war stories and has returned to become a great motivating factor,” 1st Lt. David Darling, platoon leader in the1-24th said. “He embodies the Army values and Warrior Ethos.”
When comparing his stories with those of today’s Soldiers, Cook admits there were significant differences between equipment used in the wars in which he served and those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’m a retired [sergeant major] and I can’t even put one of the weapons together,” Cook said as he explained the differences in the equipment during WWII and now. “There’s a big change in technology. I put on a field helmet with night vision, but there’s just one thing wrong with it: you can’t use it to cook in, wash your socks in or make your coffee.”
One thing that Cook says hasn’t changed since the beginning of WWII is the quality of soldiers.
“There are not enough words to describe the way I felt seeing the soldiers … I admire them so much,” he said. “Today’s Army is just out of this world.”