Would you disregard your own safety and health in exchange for the relief and comfort of your comrades, as Captain Cook did?

Donald Gilbert Cook was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 9, 1934. He went to Xavier High School in Manhattan and was a football lineman known as the “Bay Ridge Bomber.” He attended St. Michael’s College in Vermont, where he would meet his future wife, and then enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 1956 as a private. But this was short-lived as Cook was quickly sent for officer training at the Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. The Brooklyn native was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1957, subsequently attending the Army Language School in California to study several languages, which would become handy as he worked in intelligence and interrogation. By 1962, Cook had achieved the rank of Captain and served a series of Marine Corps assignments before volunteering for deployment in South Vietnam in late 1964. There, he would serve as an advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Division until he was unfortunately captured several weeks later.

The Viet Cong and the People’s Army of Vietnam launched a coordinated attack on Binh Gia, Phouc Tuy Province, from December 28, 1964, to January 1, 1965. Cook was in Vietnam for exactly eighteen days when he was in the vicinity of Binh Gia to check for survivors of a helicopter crash when the Viet Cong suddenly surrounded his unit.

The Marine officer was shot in the leg and passed out from blood loss, and when Cook regained consciousness, he found himself among the prisoners of war. He and several other POWs moved from one primitive camp to another for the next three years in harsh captivity. Despite his deteriorating health, Cook would take on the responsibility to care for the men around him, often leading to more brutal treatment and punishments.

He established himself as a senior prisoner, and when interrogated, he never indulged information besides his name, service number, and date of birth. His captors didn’t even know Cook was a Marine. They just assumed he was an Army officer.

According to POW survivors, despite struggling, Cook would share his food and his small ration of medicines with his fellow prisoners. He was tempted by his captors multiple times, but he remained loyal and steadfast, refusing to cooperate every time even though his life was on the line. Cook held the US Military Code of Conduct close to his heart, stuck to his gun no matter what. Because of this, he was highly respected by the POW around him, and even his captors found themselves astounded by his level of fighting spirit.

Cook went above and beyond what was expected of him even though no eyes were looking at him nor orders, and that alone gave strength to his fellow POW, inspiring them to endure and eventually survive. But unfortunately, Cook died of malaria in early December 1967 at age 33, buried by his fellow prisoners in the jungle.