History in Focus: Alonzo Edgar Cook, Junior — 1,003 days
February 7, 2016
Victory in World War II was brought about by a multitude of individual acts of duty and courage. The story of Craig's Alonzo Edgar Cook in the Philippines gives us a glimpse into how the fighting spirit and determination of each individual ultimately made the difference in victory over Japan.
A 1931 graduate of Craig High School, Edgar joined the Navy in 1933. Stationed in the Philippines, he was aboard the USS Canopus when the Japanese attacked in December of 1941. Already an aging submarine tender at the start of the war, the Canopus was hit by an armor piercing bomb on Dec. 27 that savagely ripped through several decks and killed six sailors. Then, on Jan. 6, 1942 the Canopus was hit by a fragmentation bomb that wounded 15 sailors, including Cook.
Instead of abandoning the crippled ship, the crew created an elaborate ruse to keep the Canopus in the fight. By day, the crew burned smoke pots to disguise her as a useless half-sunk hulk. By night, the crew would feverishly get to work and tend to submarines and other wounded ships. By daybreak, the elaborate hoax would continue, and, miraculously, the Japanese overlooked the Canopus for months.
By April of 1942, the beat up ship was in threat of capture. Instead of relinquishing her to the Japanese the crew moved the Canopus out into deep water in Manila Bay and scuttled her on April 9. However, Cook's war experience was just heating up.
The men of the Canopus joined the remaining troops on the island fortress of Corregidor, and Cook fought with the Marines in the last desperate battle before surrendering in May. Now a POW, Cook and the men of the Canopus were sent to Bilibid Prison in Manila (the site of the death of John Wagner, also from Craig), and then relocated to a variety of POW camps.
Meanwhile, the Craig Empire Courier reported in July of 1943, that Lillianne and Edgar had finally received news their son was a POW in the Philippines. By August of 1944, they received their first personal message from A. Edgar: "Dear Folks, everything well as can be expected. Working some and keeping in good health… looking forward to end of hostilities so I can come home… Tell me about Leonard."
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But unknown to Edgar, his brother Leonard had already been dead for over a year when his plane crashed during a training flight in Shreveport, Louisiana. With the loss of one son, the Cook family could only nervously pray Edgar could hang on and make it back to the friendly confines of the Yampa Valley.
By late 1944, with the U.S. moving in on the Philippines, the Japanese moved POW's back to the homeland. In January of 1945, Cook was transported back to Japan on board one of the infamous "hell ships." In the nasty and inhumane squalor of cramped, hot, and unsanitary conditions, Cook survived the journey.
As the war neared its conclusion, Edgar's health finally gave out. On Feb. 2, 1945 he died of acute bronchitis and malaria. From official records, Alonzo was a POW from May 6, 1942 to Feb. 2, 1945, a total of 1,003 days, 2 years and 10 months; one of the longest durations of captivity during the war!
On Sept. 2, 1945 the Japanese surrendered, and Alonzo's parents hoped for a miracle. His death was reported, but then on Nov. 7, 1945 the Craig Empire Courier reported that Mr. and Mrs. Cook received word from a Navy chaplain their son was "positively" alive! An answer to prayers! Then, on Dec. 12 the Navy informed the Cook's that the previous information was false and confirmed his death, which was a crushing blow to parents that had already sacrificed one son.
His name on the new World War II memorial sponsored by the Museum of Northwest Colorado will be a testament to how individual spirit, faced with extreme difficulty, truly marks the course of history.
History In Focus is written by James Neton, who has a passion for history. He also teaches at Moffat County High School. His column runs on the second Monday of each month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.History In Focus is written by James Neton, who has a passion for history. He also teaches at Moffat County High School. His column runs on the second Monday of each month. Reach him at email@example.com.History In Focus is written by James Neton, who has a passion for history. He also teaches at Moffat County High School. His column runs on the second Monday of each month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.