POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - Poplar Bluff High School students got the increasingly rare experience of talking to a World War II veteran when Cloyd Cook visited their history class on March 9.
Cook is a recipient of four Bronze Star Medals and he spoke to the advanced American history students about his involvement in fighting Nazi Germany and Japan over 70 years ago.
One of less than a million remaining World War II vets, Cook was featured in the Daily American Republic in advance of his 95th birthday celebration.
Some Poplar Bluff high school students read the article and asked their teacher if he could be a guest lecturer. Social studies instructor Paul Conover just happens to attend Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, which Cook also attends, so he made the necessary arrangements.
Cook was greeted by members of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) lining the hallway of the high school, standing at attention.
Born in Stoddard County, Cook moved to Butler County when he was 9-years-old. Because of the Great Depression, Cook did not enroll in high school, so as a young man he spent a few years serving the Civilian Conservation Corps in Caledonia, Mississippi, as part of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.
When work dried up, Cook decided he would join the U.S. Army. Unfortunately, he failed to pass a physical in St. Louis, so he returned home.
However, Cook's military career was not over yet. Shortly thereafter, Cook said he heard about Japan bombing Pearl Harbor. The following day he went to a neighbor's house to listen to Roosevelt declare war over a dry cell radio.
"It wasn't very long before I got a letter saying, 'We want you,'" Cook stated. "They drafted me, and put me in charge of 17 other men! I made some friends on that trip, but they didn't all come home."
Upon completing basic and advanced training, Cook was assigned to the 94th Infantry Division. In 1944, he headed to the British Isles by way of New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth, along with 15,000 passengers and an 825-person crew to run the troopship, he said.
He noted that it was an armored outfit with yet an additional 2,500 troops to protect from enemy attacks in the English Channel. After zigzagging across the North Atlantic for several days, the soldiers landed near Glasgow and headed to Southern England, some on a duty train while others walked, he recalled.
Cook's first assignment was to guard 60,000 German prisoners of war. Later the 94th joined Gen. George Patton's Third Army when Cook first stepped foot on German soil.
Cook served a total of 209 days on the front lines before the war ended on Sept. 2, 1945, according to a letter signed by Pres. Harry S. Truman that he read to students.
He said he passed on many of his military artifacts to his grandchildren, and sold other items when he later fell upon hard times in Rombauer. He showed students a scrapbook, which included a remaining set of dog tags, a letter of recommendation after being honorably discharged, along with various black and white photos.
He gave a shoulder patch from the 94th Division to one of the students in attendance, freshman Gaelan White.
As a very small token of appreciation, students presented Cook a signed painting of an American flag, which he said he will display in his living room. "I'm no hero," said Cook, as the class gave him an ovation. "I just done what they asked me to do to the best of my knowledge."