WWII Navy veteran Lonnie Cook tells Pearl Harbor story
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Friday, December 07, 2012
12/07/12 at 7:15 AM
It’s been 67 years since World
War II ended and the Greatest
Generation returned home, but
their memories survive. Read
stories about Oklahoma’s World
War II veterans.
MORRIS - The locker shook as Lonnie Cook got dressed aboard the USS Arizona and prepared to spend the day on leave celebrating a successful dice game the night before.
"Of course, we didn't know what it was," Cook said of that day, Dec. 7, 1941. "The chief turret captain comes in the bottom of the turret and said the (Japanese) are bombing us."
That day - 71 years ago today - was the beginning of the attack that would launch the nation into the bloodiest war in all human history.
About 2,400 Americans were killed that Sunday morning, and about half of those were aboard the USS Arizona. Only about 10 of those who survived aboard the Arizona are still alive today.
Cook, now 92 and living in Morris with his wife, Marietta, vividly remembers the attack and all his time in the Navy, which took the boy from rural Oklahoma across the equator and around the world.
Cook grew up in Morris and moved to a small town in Haskell County, where he played football in the 1930s. In 1940, he signed up for the Navy and was shipped out to start his training.
He wasn't anxious about becoming a sailor, but it would be a change from landlocked Oklahoma.
"I just figured I'd like it better," Cook said about his decision to join the Navy. "Probably safer in the long run, too."
Cook signed up April 1940 and by June, he was assigned to the USS Arizona. The ship would take him across the equator for the first time and across vast oceans. His station was in the No. 3 gun turret, where he would help load the massive projectiles.
On the night before the attack, 21-year-old Cook stayed aboard ship to play a little dice game. He won $60 that night and wanted to take his friend to Honolulu for a fun day off.
He just finished his shower and was getting ready at his locker under the turret to which he was assigned when the attack started.
His battle station was up a flight of stairs from where he was. As he climbed up, the bombs hit his ship.
"I was halfway up there on the shell deck where they stored the projectiles, and it blew up," Cook said. "It blew the lights out."
Any light wouldn't have helped them see because of the thick smoke billowing up from the lower decks of the ship.
Once some of the strafing stopped, the men went out on the deck to get some of the injured men off the ship. It was a horrific, chaotic scene, Cook said.
Most of the sailors were wearing shorts and T-shirts, nothing to protect against the extreme flash burns from the explosions.
"The people who were below decks and up forward got the flash," Cook said. "Some people coming out of there were burned so bad, you'd catch hold of them and the skin would slip off and the other arm might be burned crisp."
Cook said he knew these men who he had served with on the ship, but they were burned beyond recognition.
"They'd still call me by name and they were burned so much I couldn't tell who they were," Cook said.
The sailors worked to fight off the attack and get injured sailors off the ship while it was quickly sinking.
The ship's damage control officer, Lt. Cmdr. Samuel Fuqua, was near Cook during the chaos. He received the Medal of Honor for keeping calm on the ship while helping to put out fires.
"He was right there with us," Cook said. "No hat on, smoking a stub cigar and fighting fires with his hands."
By the time Cook and the other survivors abandoned the sinking ship, they didn't have to go far.
"When I left the ship, I could step off the quarterdeck into a motor launch," Cook said. "It was just about 3 or 4 feet above the water."
Cook made his way to Ford Island, where he rested.
The next day, he and a group of other survivors from the Arizona went to volunteer for assignment on other warships. They were ready for a fight.
Cook sailed around the world during the rest of the war and engaged in battles all over. He saw the American flag raised on Iwo Jima, he was on a ship off Midway from the first day of the battle to the last and was off Okinawa until the Japanese surrendered in 1945.
Cook was discharged in 1948 and came back to the states. He married Marietta Cook and they started their life. He worked as a welder at different jobs across the country. They eventually came back to Morris so they could be near their family and Cook could hunt and fish.
They have been back to Hawaii three times since the attack, including on the 70th anniversary last year. It will most likely be the last meeting of the Arizona survivors in Hawaii, though they do meet every year on the mainland.
This year, he will commemorate the day with the handful of other Pearl Harbor survivors in northeastern Oklahoma, though the number of men who experienced one of the deadliest attacks in U.S. history falls each year.
Original Print Headline: Still a vivid memory
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
World War II veteran Lonnie Cook is pictured at his home in Morris. He was aboard the USS Arizona when it was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
A book about the Navy, a portrait of Lonnie Cook and a painting by his wife are displayed at their home in Morris on Wednesday. Cook was aboard the USS Arizona when it was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
Lonnie Cook looks through an assortment of medals he received for his service in the Navy during World War II. Cook was aboard the USS Arizona when it was attacked at Pearl Harbor. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
An assortment of medals lies on the table at Navy veteran Lonnie Cook's home in Morris. Cook was a survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World