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Colonel Donald Cook Square

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This square honors Colonel Donald Gilbert Cook (1934-1967), a Brooklyn native who served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam and died there while being held as a Prisoner of War. Colonel Cook attended St. Francis Xavier High School where he excelled at football, earning the name “Bayridge Bomber.”  Upon graduation, Cook studied at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. There he enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), but dropped out after meeting his future wife, Laurette. In 1957, Cook joined the Marine Corps and trained at Quantico, Virginia. He also graduated at the top of his class in Army Intelligence School.  Spending three years with the First Marine Aircraft Wing in Hawaii, Cook was reassigned on December 11, 1964 to the Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, Third Marine Division in Saigon, Vietnam. On New Year’s Eve of the same year, he volunteered to lead a nine-man reconnaissance mission in search of a downed helicopter. During a surprise enemy attack on a jungle mountain, Colonel Cook was shot and captured.

Throughout his time as a Prisoner of War, Colonel Cook rigidly abided by military procedures and the Code of Conduct. Refusing to provide the enemy with information regarding the U.S. Armed Forces, he received less food from his captors and was often placed in solitary confinement. Although his means were limited, Cook gave most of his food and medicines to other prisoners whom he felt were more in need. 

Colonel Cook remained in this first camp from the time of his capture until May 1965. The second camp, where he was moved, remained operative until October 28, 1966 when the enemy moved the camp further into the dense jungle. On this two-week hike Captain Cook contracted malaria. Once settled in the new camp, his malaria symptoms subsided, and Cook willingly took on the workload of those sicker than he was. Colonel Cook rallied the spirits of the men in his camp, and did everything he could to stay fit in his cell. Cook also provided physical therapy to fellow prisoners by administering heart massages, moving limbs, and keeping men’s tongues from blocking their airway. Although he refused to succumb to his illness, a march to yet another P.O.W. camp proved fatal for Cook.  Weakened by a resurgence of malaria, Colonel Cook was last seen in November 1967. He was reported dead by the Viet Cong on December 8, 1967.

On February 26, 1980, Cook was officially declared dead and a tombstone in his honor was placed in Arlington National Cemetery. President Jimmy Carter (b.1924) posthumously awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor and increased his rank from Captain to Colonel in recognition of his refusal to break the United States Code of Conduct for Prisoners of War, and the outstanding sacrifice he demonstrated towards his fellow prisoners. The Navy christened the U.S.S. Donald Cook (DDG 75) Aegis Guided Missile Destroyer on May 3, 1997, at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia.

Colonel Donald Cook Square, a Greenstreets traffic median located directly south of historic Greenwood Cemetery, forms the intersection of Ft. Hamilton Parkway, McDonald Avenue, and Caton Avenue. Greenstreets, a joint project of NYC Parks and the NYC Department of Transportation, began in 1986 and was revived in 1994 with the goal to convert paved street properties, such as triangles and malls, into green spaces. 

NYC Parks made the improvements to this busy traffic triangle in 1997.  A memorial plaza was added on Veterans Day, 2011 (11-11-11) by volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 237 with a flagpole donated by neighbors grateful to Colonel Cook’s service. The landscaped area contains several woody plants and shrubs, including dwarf red barberry, burning bush, bridal-wreath, and linden viburnum. The trees in the area include both silver linden and willow oak. 

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  • Colonel Donald Cook Square

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