Clarksburg Preserves Memory of Fallen Vietnam Soldier
Patricia Wol, left, Sandy Cook pose at the sign installed last year.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Peter A. Cook's comrades in arms have ensured that his name will not be forgotten within the town of Clarksburg.
The town field was dedicated in honor of the fallen soldier on Saturday in a ceremony the included the presentation of a Massachusetts Medal of Liberty to his sister, Sandy Cook.
It was the final step in preserving the memory of Cook as the Veterans of Foreign Wars' post that holds his name is slowly disappearing.
"This has been a goal of ours for probably three years," said Edward Denault, current commander of Post 9144. "It's something that needed to be done and we wanted to do it. And it's the right time to do it. As post numbers are getting older, time is ticking away. So it was very important for us to get this project done. We wanted to get it done right."
Alternative options had been considered, but renaming the field seemed the best and most prominent setting. The effort first began with approval from town meeting
and the installation last year of a sign
at the entrance and a bronze plaque bearing Cook's image and his story near the flagpole.
"What better way to say thank you and to continue his legacy than by dedicating Veterans Memorial Field as Private First Class Peter A. Cook Veterans Memorial Field, where his name and memory will continue throughout generations," said Select Board Chairman Ronald Boucher.
Filling out the ranks for the ceremony was a color guard from Richard A. Ruether Post 152 American Legion of Williamstown, which gave the salute and taps. The post's Chaplain Kevin Hamel provided a benediction and closing words.
Cook was killed in action in Vietnam on May 7, 1970. He was only 20 years old and had been in Vietnam barely three months. He was the first casualty in Berkshire County that year and the town's only loss in that war — and the last of any conflict.
Sandy was five years older than her brother and said she regrets that they were not able to grow old together
"It's difficult for words," she told the gathering. "I wasn't prepared to really say anything. But I always remember my brother, he was very special for me."
Later she recalled her brother as a child sitting in a rocker and playing an imaginary guitar. And the time when he was 6 and suffered a broken arm after a swing in neighbor's apple tree gave way. A broom handle was used to keep his casted arm out from his body, she said, smiling at the odd image.
And there was the time he and his fiancee, then Patricia Lemaire, and Sandy and her friend Elaine had ridden motorcycles over the back mountain road from Stamford to Bennington, Vt.
Patricia Wol and Peter's marriage was tragically brief. They had dated for two years before marrying in 1969. He was drafted shortly afterward and they saw each other for two weeks that Christmas before he shipped out as a member of the 101st Airborne.
"The Christmas he came home, it was one of the worst snowstorms we had," she said. "I didn't realize it, was a surprise my parents had made and they had somebody pick them up over at the Albany airport. And it was a treacherous ride. It's before roads were kept as well as they were and it was just an horrific."
The only contact was through letters and there were few because of the difficulties in delivery. Then the terrible news came.
Wol said her memories are fuzzy of that time nearly 50 years ago because doctors had medicated her because of the trauma.
"It was such an awful time," she said. "And when Peter died, that was my brother's birthday. He joined the service a few weeks later."
Denault had contacted her and Sandy about VFW's plans. Wol said she helped with the wording on the bronze plaque and it was determined that Sandy, who has a son, would get the Medal of Liberty, awarded posthumously to Massachusetts servicemen and women who died because of injuries received in action.
"He was very, very close to Sandy," Wol said. "Sandy was definitely his mentor."
Both women lauded Denault for all the work he had done in getting to this day. Denault, however, said many members were instrumental in the effort, including a number who have recently passed. Saturday was the first anniversary of the death of longtime post commander, Ray Vachereau, who died at 87.
Denault had spearheaded the establishment of the local VFW in 1985, said member Joseph Bushika.
"He was able to encourage local veterans that served on foreign soil during a time of war to join him," Bushika said.
"The Peter A. Cook VFW Post 9144 was born and in honor of Peter A. Cook, we will continue to serve the community and strive to instill pride and loyalty in his name. We will forever be grateful for his devotion to duty and his ultimate sacrifice. The tribute we bestow on him today will long ensure that he'll be remembered."
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