WILLIAM R. COOKE, LT, USN
William Cook '38
Date of birth: March 7, 1916
Date of death: September 15, 1942
From the 1938 Lucky Bag:
William was lost when USS Wasp (CV 7) was sunk by a Japanese submarine on September 15, 1942.
His wife was listed as next of kin.
REMEMBERING WILLIAM R. "BILLY" COOK
By Joe C. Fling
This year marks 60 years since the first full year of American involvement in World War II (1942). Therefore it has been 60 years since our fallen heroes of World War II made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for the freedom which we today hold so dear. Which we have all been so painfully reminded of last September 11.
Sixty years ago this month, Eagle Lake suffered its first battle death of World War II, when William R. "Billy" Cook died in the South Pacific, although this was not known for some weeks later.
Cook was the son of George E. Cook of Lissie, and graduated from Eagle Lake High School in 1933. He was active and athletic, and reportedly well-liked by all who knew him. Congressman J.J. Mansfield appointed Cook to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, where he finished, receiving his officer's commission in 1938. Before the war, Billy served on numerous ships, reportedly virtually sailed the seven seas, visited numerous ports of call around the world. While aboard the Battleship Colorado, Cook passed thorough the Panama Canal.
As World War II broke out, Cook was aboard the U.S.S. Wasp, which was on loan to the British Royal Navy for the transport of fighter planes to the besieged Mediterranean island of Malta. When Wasp completed a second shipment of badly needed Spitfires, a grateful Winston Churchill cabled President Franklin Roosevelt, "Who says a Wasp can't sting twice."
The day those planes were delivered, the carrier Lexington was lost in Coral Sea. Wasp was rushed to the Pacific theatre of operations. During a brief stopover in its home base at Norfolk, Virginia, Cook was married to Charlotte West, on May 30, 1942. Cook wrote to his parents about his action in the Mediterranean Sea, "The angel of God was with us." Lest than four months later, Lt. Cook was lost when the ship went down in the Solomon Islands.
In the hard fighting in and around the Solomons, after the marines landed on Guadalcanal, the Japanese sank in a period of three months, Japanese air and sea power decimated the U.S. Navy. On September 15, 1942, Wasp was hit by three torpedoes from two Japanese submarines. Time magazine reported that "Wasp died so fast that there was no time for an orderly Abandon Ship." Explosions ripped the ship from stem to stern and she went to the bottom in a matter of minutes. Although over 1800 men survived and were rescued from the sea, 193 others, including Billy Cook went down with the ship. No doubt many died in the fires and explosions that destroyed the carrier. Yet, Richard Hummel writes in his book on the carrier war in the Pacific, "If ever a warship went to its doom with her last mission fulfilled, it was Wasp. The transports she had been covering landed 4000 men of the 7th Marines to join the garrison on Guadalcanal."
Ironically, Franklin Reese of Eagle Lake was serving on the same ship, and returned home on an unexpected leave on October 14. He was tight-lipped about the reason that he was home, and about what had happened in the Pacific. Reese's situation proved awkward indeed since the Cook family was anxious about news of the their own son until the U.S. government released news of the sinking of the Wasp a couple of week's later.
Lizzie Westmoreland dashed off a poem, printed in the Headlight on October 30 which concluded with the words:
"Our own lives must reflect that courage In the will to give ourselves in service constantly As other boys at home and overseas must carry on Until the fightings done and Freedom and the right to live For all the world is won."
Miss Lizzie's own son John Westmoreland would die in the service less than 90 days later.
Lt. W.R. Cook is memorialized with a marker in the Masonic cemetery in Eagle Lake, only a short way from Congressman Mansfield. As many of you know of course Cook has numerous family still living in and around Eagle Lake, including a namesake Billy Cook and State Representative Robbie Cook.
Memorial Hall Error
William's last name appears as "Cooke" with his classmates and on the killed in action panel at the front of Memorial Hall. All other references have "Cook," including the Lucky Bag and Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy 1937-1938.