Donald Gilbert Cook

United States Marine Corps
09 August 1934 - 26 February 1980
New York, New York
Panel 01E Line 080

Medal of Honor

Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign

The database page for Donald Gilbert Cook

02 Mar 2007

Donald Cook was the first Marine captured in Vietnam, and the first and only Marine to ever earn the Medal of Honor in captivity. The USS DONALD COOK (DDG-75) was named in his honor. The ship's motto epitomizes Cook's life: "Faith Without Fear".

Cook was captured on December 31, 1964, while serving as an observer with the Fourth Battalion (Killer Sharks) of Vietnamese Marines at the Battle of Binh Gia. The Viet Cong held Cook in a series of primitive jungle POW camps. For nearly three years, Cook led ten fellow POWs in captivity, always looking out for their health and welfare, while complying with the spirit and intent of the Code of Conduct. He reportedly died on December 8, 1967, on a forced march to a new camp.

Cook was declared officially dead in February 1980. His remains have never been recovered. His wife and four children survived him, as well as seven of his former POW comrades.

For more information about Cook, go to the USS COOK's website and click on the lower right box entitled History Behind the Name.

From a fellow Marine,
Don Price
Col USMC (Ret)

A Note from The Virtual Wall

"Binh gia" means "happy house" in Vietnamese. It also is the name of a town some 65 kilometers east of Saigon in Phuoc Tuy Province. In late December 1964 there were no happy houses in Binh Gia ... the town was seized by the 9th VC Division on 28 Dec, setting off a major battle.

The 30th and 33rd ARVN Ranger Battalions were first to respond, airlifted into position by US helicopters from the 68th Aviation Company and other US units. On the second day of the fight the 4th RVN Marine Battalion arrived and was promptly ambushed by the 9th VC Division. It was an omen of things to come: of the 326 men on the Marine roster, 112 were killed, 71 were wounded, and 29 of the unit's 35 officers died in the fighting.

On 30 Dec a helo from the 68th Avn Co (UH-1B tail number 63-08654) was shot down, and on the 31st an element from the 4th RVN Marines attempted to get to the crash site. The VC were using the downed helo as bait and had established ambushes on the likely approaches, and again the RVN Marines were heavily engaged.

The VC began a withdrawal on the night of 31 December, but fighting in the area continued for several more days. The engagements on 28-31 Dec resulted in four deaths and three MIAs among the Americans involved; they were

  • 68th Aviation Company (UH-1B 63-08654):
    • WO Roy G. Azbill, Weaverville, CA (Silver Star)
    • WO Stephen E. Morgan, Saratoga, CA
    • SGT Franklin D. Porter, Cameron, WV
    • PFC Theodore A. Winowitch, Pittsburgh, PA (TDY from HHC 1/35 Infantry)

  • Advisors, 33rd ARVN Ranger Bn:
    • SSG Harold G. Bennett, Perryville, AR (captured 29 Dec 1964, executed 07/01/1966)
    • PVT Charles E. Crafts, North Jay, ME (captured 29 Dec 1964, released)

  • Advisor, 4th RVN Marine Bn:
    • Capt Donald G. Cook, New York, NY (POW) (Medal of Honor)
On 24 June 1965 the Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF) announced on Radio Hanoi that SSG Bennett had been executed by gunshot in retaliation for Viet Cong terrorist Tran Van Dong's execution by South Vietnam.

On 07 Feb 1967 Private Crafts was released by the VC. He confirmed the execution of SSG Bennett.

Captain Cook had been wounded and captured when the 4th RVN Marines were ambushed on 31 Dec; nothing further was heard of him until eight years later when his name appeared on a VC/NVA list of prisoners who had died in captivity - reportedly from malaria on 08 Dec 1967. Even so, the Marines continued to carry him as MIA until a Presumptive Finding of Death was approved on 26 Feb 1980. During the period after the US POW release in early 1973 the testimony of men who had been held in POW camps with Captain Cook gave rise to a nomination for the Medal of Honor, which was approved and awarded to his widow at a White House ceremony on 16 May 1980.

One account of the fighting around Binh Gia says there were "Two US advisors KIA", and that may be so. Three US advisors were killed in action during the period 28 Dec 64 - 10 Jan 65; regretably neither their assignments nor the location or circumstances of their deaths are known. The three men were

  • 03 Jan 65, SFC George C. Bigley. SFC Bigley had been a Ranger in WW2, was captured in Italy, and was repatriated at the end of the war.
  • 09 Jan 65, CPT James F. Ray and 1LT William T. Reach. It is not known if these two men were killed in the same or different actions.

The President of the United States
in the name of the Congress of the United States
takes pride in presenting the


posthumously to

United States Marine Corps

for service as set forth in the following


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while interned as a Prisoner of War by the Viet Cong in the Republic of Vietnam during the period 31 December 1964 to 8 December 1967. Despite the fact that by so doing he would bring about harsher treatment for himself, Colonel (then Captain) Cook established himself as the senior prisoner, even though in actuality he was not. Repeatedly assuming more than his share of harsh treatment, Colonel Cook willingly and unselfishly put the interests of his comrades before that of his own well-being and, eventually, his life. Giving more needy men his medicine and drug allowance while constantly nursing them, he risked infection from contagious diseases while in a rapidly deteriorating state of health. This unselfish and exemplary conduct, coupled with his refusal to stray even the slightest from the Code of Conduct, earned him the deepest respect from not only his fellow prisoners, but his captors as well. Rather than negotiate for his own release or better treatment, he steadfastly frustrated attempts by the Viet Cong to break his indomitable spirit, and passed this same resolve on to the men whose well-being he so closely associated himself. Knowing his refusals would prevent his release prior to the end of the war, and also knowing his chances for prolonged survival would be small in the event of continued refusal, he chose nevertheless to adhere to a Code of Conduct far above that which could be expected. His personal valor and exceptional spirit of loyalty in the face of almost certain death reflected the highest credit upon Colonel Cook, the Marine Corps, and the United States Naval Service.

"In-memory-of" stone at Arlington National Cemetery


The point-of-contact for this memorial is
a fellow Marine,
Don Price
Col USMC (Ret)

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 02 Mar 2007
Last updated 03/07/2007