Fifty years ago, Jerris “Jerry” Cook sat in Gloucester High School watching the start of the Vietnam War.
Two years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was on his way to Okinawa.
Cook — who would later serve 30 years in the Gloucester Police Department, retiring as a lieutenant — became a sergeant in the Air Force 6994th Security squadron, and worked as a radio analyst aboard aircraft looking for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces during the Vietnam War, where he volunteered to serve in 1964 and flew roughly 14,000 hours in 2012 combat missions during his two years in the war.
His unit flew in converted DC-3s, the oldest aircraft in the sky during the war. He listened over the radio searching for the Morse code communications of the North Vietnamese army. Cook said by finding radio signals his aircraft could find the troops hidden in the jungle and give the American troops an idea of where they were.
”You’d see arc-light bombs or artillery shells (head there),” he said.
While he made it out of the war unscathed, save a few bullet holes in his old aircraft, he lost friends and commanders — and he, of course, was far from alone. The first stepped-up U.S. involvement in Vietnam came in 1962, and the 50-year anniversary of that date is being noted in Veterans Day ceremonies Sunday in Gloucester, around Cape Ann, and around the country.
The ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. at Gloucester High School tomorrow.
“Maybe we can get some closure and go from there,” said Mark Nestor, a Gloucester attorney, Vietnam veteran and longtime veterans’ advocate whose Veterans Day letter on today’s Opinion page notes that he is from the “Vietnam, Class of ‘70.”
”It’s a token, and symbolic,” Nestor said, “but if one guy can tell me (he’s) finally able to say (he’s) a Vietnam veteran because of what’s happened than it’s absolutely worth it.”