Editor’s Note: The following story was initially printed in celebration of Veterans Day on Nov. 11, 1999.
It was a perilous time for six brothers from Boone during World War II.
It was perhaps as difficult, or even more so, for their parents, Roscoe and Ina Cook, when five of their sons were in combat at the same time.
Grant, the youngest, was drafted at 18 and soon followed his older brothers to war. He was the lucky one, he said, as the war was nearly over when he went in.
Even so, said the family’s eldest son, Bill, when they interviewed in November 1999, “it shouldn’t have been that way. They weren’t supposed to take the last son.”
Having grown up together on the family farm in the Bamboo community of Watauga County, the boys played well and worked hard together, and in the early 1940s, they went off to war together.
Until just a few short years ago, when death began to claim them, one by one, five of the Cook brothers lived within a mile each other in the same area where they were raised, and remained as close as they were before the war took them away.
With just two years between each, from the oldest to the youngest, the men agreed to share their stories in 1999, with the exception of brother Mac, who had died several years earlier from cancer.
They said they enjoyed getting together and reminiscing about a time in their lives that seemed so far away, but yet so close.
The Cook brothers are now deceased; death claimed the last two recently, Grant in 2013, and Dane, this past March.
While Doc found his way to North Africa and Italy in the Field Artillery; Bill and Mac were in the Infantry Division; Boyd in Topographical Engineering; and Dane and Grant in the Armored Division, all serving in France, Germany, Belgium and surrounding areas.
They all remembered “catching the boat” across to foreign soil, and then spending endless hours, it seemed, in cramped railcars, where men and animals shared the same space.
Boyd, in particular, remembered spending two Christmases on the boat, as fighting left no room for celebration. He was terribly sick at sea, he said.
He was on his way to invade Japan when the war was over, but, as part of the first wave of island attack, he said, he had seen enough fighting in his eight months in the South Pacific to last a lifetime.
“I saw 9,000 bodies pushed into one hole, 6,000 in another,” he said, “but the worst thing that bothered me was the kids starving to death.”
Eventually, he said, “war death got to where it didn’t mean much, because you saw it every day.”
Boyd said he and his brothers always knew their lives were in constant jeopardy.
“We were on the line every day with no protection,” he said, as he described the bullet that passed between his arm and body, and then hit the soldier of his comrade standing next to him.
Bill was married and had two children when he was called into the Army, heading to England after basic training.
Six days after leaving port in New York, he arrived in England, then took a train to France, on to Belgium and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, where he was wounded.
“Somewhere along the front lines is where I earned my Bronze Star, though I can’t tell you exactly when or where it happened,” Bill said.
He fought under U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton’s leadership, part of the time, in the 83rd Infantry Division.
Bill, Dane and Mac were all drafted at the same time and crossed over much of the same land and sea. Sometimes, they learned later, only within a few miles of each other.
Dane recalled meeting up with both brothers in one day, only hours apart, and moving from New York to France, the day before Christmas.
Needless to say, thoughts of home weren’t far away.
Serving in the 9th Armored Division, Dane recalled three days and three nights on a train, during which his hands and feet were literally frozen from the cold coming through the wide cracks in the boxcars.
“We got through the Battle of the Bulge,” he said, and he remembered clearly, driving the third tank across the Rhine River and “running into a bunch of Germans that were real mad — they blowed off the top half of the tank and killed our commander.”
Bill said he was within 10 miles of Dane when he crossed the Rhine.
“That was one of the greatest things,” Bill said. “I just knew he had been there.”
As part of the 28th Division, Grant guarded thousands of war criminals — until they hung, he said, adding, “Some of the meanest you ever saw.”
He also remembered underground factories that were “blown away by the Germans.”
Among the more fond memories the brothers had of that era included the Autobahn Highway, where warplanes landed in the night, and throughout the day, as well.
“It was the most beautiful road I had ever been on,” Dane said.
The Blue Danube River stuck out in their minds, too.
As the last to leave home — and the last to return — Grant remembered how little the war was discussed with their parents.
“They didn’t talk about the war much with us,” he said. “They didn’t really want to know the details — and there was a lot we didn’t want them to know.”
While it must have been a difficult time for their parents to have had all six sons away at war at the same time, they all agreed that their mother did a lot of letter writing and praying.
The golden years
When they shared their stories, more than 50 years had passed since the Cook boys left Boone to serve their country, uprooted from a life they loved, and as members of the champion Bamboo baseball team, a reputation of being the best baseball players around.
During the interview, Bill, who was 81 at the time, sat in the comfort of his home, surrounded by his brothers who all remained faithful to the cause, each one sharing what serving their country meant to them.
They all agreed that they had had a good life. All but Mac had built their homes and settled close to the family farm.
Mac had moved to South Carolina, where he worked for Standard Oil Co.
Bill, Doc and Dane all retired from TRW after 31, 32 and 27 years of service, consecutively; Grant worked for the Watauga County Board of Education as bookkeeper for 34 years and eight months; Boyd spent much of his adult life as a painter.
They had attended Bamboo School and on to Appalachian High; Grant and Dane were taken out of school to serve in the Army and graduated only after the war was over.
The men were lifetime members of Mount Vernon Baptist Church.
In their free time, and even near to their deaths, they enjoyed playing golf — and were quite good at the game, just as they had been with baseball, many years ago.
From Bamboo to Berlin, Battle of the Bulge and back, brothers they remained, standing for what was right, serving their God and country in the midst of war, as well as in times of peace.
Soldiers, like these Cook brothers, who helped fight for our freedom and whose courage, loyalty, allegiance and memory are who we honor today.