Decorated American World War I flying ace also served in WWII
By Jeff Stoffer
via the American Legion web site
In a normal year, more than 9.5 million travelers fly in and out of the Indianapolis International Airport. Those who enter the passenger-ticketing terminal pass a 7-foot statue and an acrylic wall display honoring the namesake of the structure, Col. H. Weir Cook, a pioneer of early U.S. aviation. Without question, he was that, promoting commercial air travel, developing community airports, encouraging young people to learn to fly and continuously extolling the virtues of his beloved mode of travel.
Cook was also a highly decorated World War I flying ace, American Legion staff director and trainer of World War II combat pilots. He died in the South Pacific Theater at age 50, believed to have been the only World War I ace to have also enlisted for combat service in World War II.
The famed Eddie Rickenbacker, who joined Cook on the American Legion’s Aeronautical Commission in the 1930s after they fought together in the in the 94th Pursuit Squadron during World War I, had visited Cook in the South Pacific just weeks before he crashed a Bell P-39 Airacobra into a weather-shrouded mountainside in the New Caledonia archipelago. “He died as he would want to, still serving the country he loved so well,” Rickenbacker said after learning of his friend’s fate.
To have not volunteered for World War II combat service, Cook reportedly wrote in a letter to a friend “would have left me feeling that I should be hanged as a traitor to my country.”
The Indiana native left college in 1917 to serve as an ambulance driver just prior to U.S. entry in the Great War. He enlisted as a private in the aviation section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps and trained in France. Once trained, he went into action, flying with Capt. Rickenbacker and the so-called “Hat in the Ring” squadron. Cook was known for fearless, aggressive air offensives and shot down seven German planes. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for individually confronting and turning back a swarm of six enemy planes on Aug. 1, 1918, and three more, also by himself, three months later.
He flew missions over Chateau-Thierry, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and the Meusse-Argonne before he was sent into Germany as part of the Army of occupation there. He came home a captain, continued his service in the Indiana National Guard, flew airmail routes when that was an Army function and helped establish the U.S. Air Mail Service. He was extremely active in community organizations and was a member of American Legion Aviation Post 171 in Indianapolis. A vocal advocate for the advancement of commercial air travel at the time, he was also a leader in the American Legion Department of Indiana’s aeronautics program, later leading in that area at the national level.
Read the entire article on the American Legion web site.
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