`Patient' veteran gets his medal

Dundalk man, 77, awarded Purple Heart after 58 years

November 12, 2003|By Matt Whittaker | Matt Whittaker,SUN STAFF

In a Veterans Day ceremony, former Pfc. James Robert Cook Jr. received recognition for his combat service in World War II and was formally awarded a medal that was a mere 58 years overdue.

Last night, he recalled being wounded in a mop-up operation during the Battle of the Bulge and his time in a monastery in Liege, Belgium, that doubled as a hospital. A mortar shell had exploded and sent shrapnel into his knee, qualifying him for the Purple Heart.

But until last month, he had only memories and bits of shrapnel in his leg to show for it.

He received the medal in the mail last month, and last night -- at Baltimore Christian School, where his daughter Betty Rushing is a teacher -- about 90 people turned out for the ceremony for Cook, 77, originally from East Baltimore and now a Dundalk resident.

"He's a patient man," said Army Col. Rudolph V. Bryant, who formally presented the Purple Heart, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal. "I will pin these on Mr. Cook and ask that you forgive Operations for the delay."

Mr. Cook said he tried several times to get his Purple Heart.

The Army had run out of Purple Hearts when he was in the monastery, and again, he said, at the time of his 1945 discharge.

In 1950 he wrote to the Army, which said it would send him the proper paperwork. Those papers never arrived, he said.

After a military records warehouse in St. Louis burned down in 1957, he gave up. But last year, as Cook recovered from replacement of the knee at a Veterans Affairs medical facility, he told a nurse, "You know, I never got my Purple Heart."

She encouraged him to apply, and after that, Cook said, "it was just a series of paperwork."

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