BRENTWOOD, Calif. — Dale Cook lived and breathed the Marine Corps, his home office a virtual museum of military history books, artifacts and awards. As one of a dwindling number of survivors of the Battle of Iwo Jima, the 92-year-old was a frequent speaker at veterans events and gave a talk only days before he passed away at his home on Feb. 28.
The Purple Heart recipient and former newspaper reporter, a native of Coeur d’Alene, was former president of the national 4th Marine Division Association of World War II veterans and a member of many veterans groups in Northern California. He also was president of the Joe Rosenthal chapter of the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondents’ Association, named after the Associated Press and later San Francisco Chronicle photographer who took the iconic flag-raising photo at Iwo Jima, credited with boosting soldiers’ morale.
Working to get a warship named after the famed photographer — so newer generations would remember him — had become one of Cook’s passions in later years, and he collected hundreds of petition signatures in that effort. He also spoke at veterans’ events and visited newspaper offices, including the Antioch bureau of the East Bay Times, and showed the iconic photo to encourage the correct naming of the soldiers pictured. There had been some confusion with a military photographer’s earlier shot that showed a smaller flag, so the Marine Corps investigated the issue following an Omaha-World Herald article and revised the names of the soldiers in 2016.
“Somebody in my platoon noticed the flag and called our attention to it,” Cook told an East Bay Times reporter in 2017. “It was on top of Mount Suribachi. I remember one of my sergeants saying, ‘That’ll keep them from shooting down on us.’ Guys around us were being killed, but you were happy it was there.”
Cook’s granddaughter, Stacey Simon, said her grandfather was driven to succeed in causes he took up, including the recent one about getting a ship named after Rosenthal, which has yet to happen.
“That was an incredible part about him, he never took ‘no’ for an answer,” she said. “He was dedicated to everything he did — he was the definition of putting 110 percent in. Once he set out his mind to do something, he would do it — and he would apply that to everything he did in his life.”
A 1944 graduate of Coeur d’Alene High School, Cook had joined the Marines while a senior in high school, and only a year later in early 1945 he would land on Iwo Jima. In a story he often repeated, Cook recalled being promptly handed an automatic rifle at age 18 and told to capture the south airfield. His Fox Company took the airfield, but suffered heavy casualties and he would go on to fight a bloody battle 36 more days. In the end, 6,821 were dead, and Cook, having been wounded by a grenade, was flown to a hospital in Guam.
The Battle of Iwo Jima was considered by many the fiercest and bloodiest of the wars in the Pacific, and Cook had later said he was happy to have won his Purple Heart at that historic battle, said his friend Tom Graves, historian of the USMC Combat Correspondents Association.
When Cook came home, Simon said her grandfather had nightmares and a professor hypnotized him to suppress the memories of combat. But in 1993 he underwent open-heart surgery and all the memories flooded back after that.
“He remembered everything from Iwo Jima,” she said. “He had incredible memories. He could tell you very specific things that were happening — like who was in the foxhole with him on a specific day and the like.”
After the war Cook would join the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and later many more veterans groups. He led an annual Iwo Jima commemoration on many occasions in San Francisco and returned to Iwo Jima for several reunions, Graves said.
Having studied journalism after the war, Cook worked as a reporter and photographer in Washington’s Tri-Cities, and later became a public information officer for what was the forerunner of the Atomic Energy Commission. He later joined the Army Reserve and worked as a PIO for the 6th Army command at the Presidio of San Francisco before retiring as a major.
But the Marine Corps wasn’t Cook’s only passion, according to Simon. For many years, the former Danville resident was a Boy Scout leader, taking Scouts on long hikes in the Sierra Nevada and other places.
“He helped 50 young men become Eagle Scouts,” said Cook’s sister, Jewell Wooldridge, of Coeur d’Alene.
Wooldridge said, although her brother didn’t live in Coeur d’Alene, he always loved the town where he grew up, and returned often through the years. His last visit, she said, was two years ago for Coeur d’Alene High School’s All-Class Reunion. “His best buddy Jim Shepperd was still alive then,” Wooldridge said.
Shepperd, a local veteran, was known for his participation each year in the city of Coeur d’Alene’s Memorial Day ceremony.
A lover of dogs, Cook raised English Bulldogs (the Marines’ mascot), was president of the Contra Costa Kennel Club for many years and was a sought-after dog show judge, his grandaughter Simon said.
“He was full of life and had such a caring heart, but he never coddled you, but gave you great intelligent and intuitive advice,” Simon said. “Most everyone had these stories how he impacted their lives — his stories from his past would help you with whatever you were going through.”
The son of J. Lester and and Ruth Cook, he was preceded in death by his wife, Mary, who passed away in September 2018. He is survived by brother Ken Cook; sisters Ruthie Simons, Jewell Wooldridge, Kay Vancleave and Kathy Cook; daughters Debra Kobold and Marie Wynn; sons Dale Jr. and Jim; seven grandchildren, four step-grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Services were held earlier this month in Brentwood.