Lewis Cooke of Tionesta, Pennsylvania grew up in Rhode Island. As a young man he was a merchant mariner, but in the mid 60s he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War.
“That year in Vietnam was the worst of my life,” he says with humor rimmed sincerity. “I can’t believe I made it out alive. Just stupid luck maybe.”
Lewis’ infantry job was to “seek and destroy” the enemy. That meant countless helicopter trips deep into the jungle, where his squad would roam the countryside for days and weeks with one goal—to kill the enemy. “We weren’t on good will missions, and I’m not proud of that,” Lewis says. “I had a job to do, but I never wanted to hurt anyone.”
Despite being the first day of spring 2014, it snowed the day we preserved the stories of five veterans from Tionesta, Pennsylvania: Victor Miesel, Lew Weingard, Rick Witherell, Lewis Cooke, and Bernie Polar.
We were enthusiastically invited to Tionesta by Mr. Miesel, an energetic 94 year old veteran of the Army Air Corps. We set up our mobile studio at Mt. Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. The quiet country location made for a perfect recording location.
We could not have asked for a more interesting day of amazing stories, the likes of which we’ve not heard before–ranging from the southern islands of the Pacific, post war Japan, the Kuwaiti desert, jungles of Vietnam, and the mountains of Korea.
“You’ve had a long day,” Victor consoled us. Sixteen hours from door to door. Sure, it was a long day, but we’re known to go the extra mile for a great story . . . or in this case, five of them!
I’m Much Different Today
Lewis Cooke was drafted into the Army when he was eighteen. He served a year in Vietnam as an infantry soldier, mostly deploying into the vast countryside on search and destroy missions. In this audio story, Lewis talks about a very important momento from. One day Arnold Benson loaned a pair of fresh pants to Lewis Cooke, who desperately needed a change of clothes after being in the field on extended missions. Unknowingly, Arnold left his dogtags in the pants pocket. When Lewis was searching for Arnold to return his dogtags, he learned that he had been killed in an ambush. Lewis was devastated by the news, and to this day he has kept Arnie’s dogtag linked to his own. “It is my prize possession of the war,” Lewis admits.