John Cook
P.O.W. Says Thanks In A Big Way

by Lance Q. Zedric

      John Cook has spent almost sixty years thanking the men who liberated him from a Japanese POW camp and gave him a second chance at life. Through his determined efforts, a memorial plaque was dedicated at the Ranger Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia, on 11 August 2000, recognizing the 121 Rangers, 14 Alamo Scouts, and hundreds of Filipino guerrillas who liberated 513 prisoners of war from Cabanatuan Camp #1 on 31 January 1945.
      Cook, a surgical tech at Hospital 1 on Luzon, the largest of the Philippine Islands, was surrendered on 9 Apr 1942 on Bataan. "I’ll never forget the day we surrendered. It was 10 a.m, kilometer 168. A very sad day."
      For nearly three years Cook and the others endured hellish conditions at the hands of their captors. "A lot of guys didn’t come home," Cook recalled. "It was no picnic. I had about a half dozen diseases and got down to 110 pounds. At 6’2 that’s pretty thin. But a lot of guys had it worse than I did."
      But in early 1945, the end of the nightmare was almost over. On 9 January U.S. forces landed on Luzon and began their drive toward Manila. Walter Krueger, commanding general of Sixth Army, had learned of the camp several months earlier. Fearing that the prisoners would be executed as the Allies advanced, Krueger had plans made for a liberation. A reinforced company of the 6th Ranger Battalion would make the assault along with two teams of Alamo Scouts. Some Scouts would reconnoiter the camp prior to the assault while others guided the Rangers thirty miles through enemy territory to a staging area five miles away.
      On the evening of 31 January, the attack commenced. "We didn’t know what was happening," Cook exclaimed. "A Ranger busted into our quarters and said, "Let’s go. You’re free!" "I didn’t recognize the uniform and asked, "who the hell are you?" He said, "We’re Yanks." I said, "Not dressed like that you’re not! But I went anyway."
      By the next day, Cook and hundreds of others were safely behind American lines. "I thank my liberators every day," said Cook. "And I tell my fellow POWs the same thing. We need to get up and thank the ones who got our asses out of that camp!"
      In June 1945, Cook wrote personal letters to all the Rangers who participated in the raid. But he didn’t learn of the role that the Alamo Scouts played, or even who they were, for nearly 45 years. "Nobody knew of their existence during or after the liberation. We just thought the Scouts were Rangers. "Snake" Baker of the Alamo Scouts and Herb Ott, a former POW, told me about the Scouts in 1988," said Cook. "Two years later I attended an Alamo Scouts reunion in Orlando. That was the beginning of my association with them."
      Although Cook attended Ranger and Alamo Scout reunions and expressed his gratitude firsthand, he wanted to do more. "I had had an idea in the back of my mind for years," said Cook. "But it wasn’t until the induction of Captain Bob Prince into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1999 that I knew what I wanted to do for these guys."
      Cook spent the next year slicing through Army bureaucracy and red tape. "I got told ‘no’ so many times I started believing it meant yes," chuckled Cook. "But it was the least I could do. I ruffled a lot of feathers, but it paid off in the long run."
      Since dedication of the memorial plaque, Cook has appeared on several national television programs advocating for the Alamo Scouts and Rangers and was featured in Ghost Soldiers, the best-selling book by Hampton Sides "The attention has all been kind of crazy," added Cook. "Fifty-five years and nothing. Now what the Scouts and Rangers did is all over the news. I‘m happy for them. They deserve the recognition. "
      Although a permanent memorial is established and the role of the Alamo Scouts and Rangers in the liberation of hundreds of POWs is finally becoming publicized in film and print, Cook will not rest. "I owe these men everything," said Cook. "Nothing I do can ever repay them for what they did. But I’ll keep on trying. It’s the least I can do for my heroes."

John M. Cook passed away on May 31, 2003 and was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery. He was extremely thankful to all the Rangers and Scouts. This quote from his daughter Helen, "I repeat his thanks, you gave us all life!"

Documentaries that John appeared in: "History Undercover - Rescue of Bataan Ghost Soldiers," History Channel; "Ghost Soldiers," Evening Magazine; "Alamo Scouts WWII," History's Mysteries," "War Stories with Oliver North", Fox News; "Jessica Lynch Rescue Story," ABC for Biography Channel; "American Experience Bataan Rescue" featured July 7, 2003 on PBS. "Ghosts of Bataan," The Discovery Channel, featured August 11, 2005.

Defense of Bataan

More on the Cabanatuan Raid

Sound Bite 1

Sound Bite 2

Film Clip

Click on Images to View Larger
John Cook three months after his rescue - April, 1945
Memorial plaque honoring Sixth Army Rangers and Alamo Scouts located outside the Ranger Hall of Fame, Fort Benning, Georgia.  11 Aug 2000.
(U.S. Army Photo)
John M. Cook (left) and a representative of the Ranger Hall of Fame unveil the memorial plaque.  11 Aug 2000.
(U.S. Army Photo)
Left to Right:  MAJ Robert Prince (Sixth Rangers), COL Robert S. Sumner (Alamo Scouts), and former POW John M. Cook at the memorial dedication ceremony.
11 Aug 2000.
(U.S. Army Photo).
BG C.C. Hillerman presents SGT John Cook the Bronze Star at The Presidio of San Francisco, Aug 1945. Cook was one of the 512 POWs liberated from Cabanatuan POW Camp #1 by the Alamo Scouts and 6th Rangers.
(John Cook Photo)
Content Copyright 2003
Text by Lance Q. Zedric
Design by Russ Blaise