Stalag Luft III "I Wanted Wings"
Posted 15 January 2013 - 12:43 PM
My grandfather is Alexander Yonych; the Navigator on Emmet's crew. He and Emmet were friends, flew together, were shot down together, imprisoned together and later liberated together.
It's remarkable to stumble onto your 6/27/07 post only to find my grandfather looking back at me (April 1943 AAF Memorial - far right). My grandfather rarely spoke of his wartime memories. If it weren't for a few photos and a few of his habits (after returning from the war, he refused to go to bed without indulging in the inexplicable luxury and comfort of a bedtime snack). If you're still out there and listening, I'd love to hear from you. Does the name Yonych appear in any of your accumulated treasures?
Posted 23 January 2013 - 11:57 PM
Emmet E. Cook Sr. was born in Fort Worth Texas on March 5th, 1918. His father was a Superintendent at Armour and Company meat packers and his mother was a housewife. Cook had studied Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University and enlisted in the Cadet Air Corps in September 1940. Eliminated from pilot training at the Allen School of Aeronautics, Cook returned to Texas and obtained his commercial pilot’s license in 1941.
Before America’s entry into the war, Canada had joined Great Britain in declaring war on Germany. The Royal Canadian and British Royal Air Forces actively recruited American pilots for fighter squadrons battling Germany’s best airmen. A contractor called the Clayton Knight Committee contacted Cook to see if he would be interested in flying with the R.C.A.F. Cook passed the contractor’s flight exam and was on his way to Canada by train when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Cook was recalled and reported for bombardier training at Ellington Field on December 10th, 1941. In 1942 Cook’s unit, the 301st Bombardment Group, flew to England and it was from there Cook flew his first ten missions.
Cook recalled, “Our first mission in August of 1942 – well, the British said during the briefing that going over in daylight, no one would return! As it turned out, it was a cakewalk. The sky was full of FW-190s and ME-109s but none made a pass and the flak was not accurate. I believe the Germans were leery of the Flying Fortress. We missed our target by at least ten miles on the first mission. I think my bombs went through a church at Rouen.”
“But, the fifth mission was a lot different over Lille, France. The Abbeyville Kids shot the Hell out of us. We lost two engines real quick, had two wounded airmen, and were lucky to make it back over the Cliffs of Dover landing on an emergency field. There were over 450 holes in our plane. We named her Holey Joe. That day I was too busy to be scared. I did get credit for one FW-190 and was awarded the Air Medal. The only time you really got scared was after the mission is over and you are having a Scotch and water.”
Cook’s plane, Holey Joe, was transferred to General Doolittle’s 12th Air Force stationed at the Tafaraoui Airfield in Oran, Algeria, North Africa. From this base the 301st Bombardment Group participated in Operation Torch and raids on Bizerte, Tunis, Sfax, Souses, La Goulette, Medinite, Tripoli, and the Kasserine Pass.
On March 22nd, 1943, Holey Joe was out of service with mechanical problems in engine #3. Emmet and his fellow crew were reassigned to a plane named Junior, which had previously participated in only three operations. The targets on this day’s mission were several ammunition ships anchored in Palermo Harbor that were destined for Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
During the raid Junior was hit by flak between engines #1 and #2. The bomber’s left wing caught fire and eventually tore-off, sending the plane into a spin. Five men including the Pilot 1st Lt. James Hair, Co-Pilot 1st Lt. Lonnie Miers, Engineer T/Sgt. Louis Patriquin, Radio Operator S/Sgt. Edwin Byrnes, and Ball Turret Gunner S/Sgt. Andrew Seman were trapped and perished in the crash.
1st Lt. Emmet Cook was able to bail out. “[I] had a rough landing in cactus as large as Texas cactus. [I] was captured by six goat herders, one with a gun. [They were] all very scared. The older one with [the] gun spoke broken English. He acted very nervous and scared. Later that evening they turned me over to the military. Treatment was okay except for medical attention. Our Tail Gunner had a severe head wound and they had nothing to help him.” Besides Cook, the survivors included Navigator 1st Lt. Alexander Yonych, Waist Gunner S/Sgt. Jimmy McLaughlin, and Tail Gunner T/Sgt. Douglas Upton.
Emmet was eventually transferred to Stalag Luft III taking up residence in Block 108 in the North Compound. “I was impressed how well the senior R.A.F. officers and U.S.A.A.F. officers were organized. [I] stayed busy working with Flight Lieutenant Brian Evans on maps. I played on the championship softball team [and] did a lot of oil painting and cartooning in books. [I] ran about five miles every day, weather permitting, around the circuit. I stayed busy and in top physical condition despite the lack of food. I tried to stay busy – help[ed] the time to go by."
Emmet told me when he went to bail out the escape hatch wouldn't open so he started jumping up and down on it. When the exit finally popped opened he got trapped with his body half in and half out of the plane, which was then starting to go into a spin. He had no idea how he exited the plane. He said he blacked-out, and when he came to, his parachute was open and he was floating down to earth.
Edited by disneydave, 24 January 2013 - 12:01 AM.
Posted 27 January 2013 - 11:11 AM
You're very kind to have taken the time to search and respond. I'm appreciative of that; thank you.
It's interesting to learn of Emmet's account of his exit from the plane. My grandfather was similarly unaware of how he escaped the plane and how his parachute was opened. Oddly enough, March 22nd was my grandfather's 26th birthday!
I believe the airfield near the Cliffs of Dover where the Holey Joe earned it's namesake is Earls Colne Airfield.
Posted 28 January 2013 - 07:51 AM
That certainly was a birthday to remember, that's for sure - surviving a bail out.
Hard to believe how young some of these guys actually were, and the responsibilities they took on at such a young age. I interviewed another fellow (his unit had a Disney-designed insignia), and he was a bombardment squadron C.O. at the age of 21! In his case he was a B-17 pilot, then instructor pilot, then transferred over to B-24s where he was a pilot, then instructor pilot, he flew 50 missions in B-24s,, came back home, was training on the B-29 when the war ended, then flew C-47s on the Berlin Airlift, then became the C.O. after the war of an air refueling squadron. He initially joined the military at age 16 as the Bugle Boy for a Minnesota National Guard unit.
The funny thing about Emmet's bailout - he told me when he was floating down to earth he was enveloped in silence. He said there was no sign of his stricken aircraft and he could see no other parachutes in the air. Like I mentioned, for the life of him he had no idea how his parachute deployed.
Posted 28 January 2013 - 06:23 PM
I found the Missing Air Crew Report over on 301bg.com. It includes two descriptions of the incident from Emmet and two from other crew members. It's over 17MB so be (relatively) patient...
Here's the link to the landing page: http://www.301bg.com...ils.cfm?MID=141
Here's the direct link to the MACR: http://www.301bg.com.../MACR 16153.pdf
It turns out that there may be a sketch from Emmet in my family's possession. I'll know for certain shortly.
Posted 30 January 2013 - 10:03 PM
Posted 30 January 2013 - 10:14 PM
Posted 31 January 2013 - 10:25 PM
It's well known to the WW2 aviation guys due to this particular P47D. There are numerous photos out there of it, and I'm sure there are decals and many a model that has been built of this particular bird. It was on this plane in mid-44 so it clearly got passed around!
Posted 31 January 2013 - 10:38 PM
Remembered that I even tried to replicate it way back when I was trying to teach myself to make aircraft profiles. Never finished it, but still on the computer. Flashbacks
Edited by 38Driver, 31 January 2013 - 10:46 PM.
Posted 31 January 2013 - 10:53 PM
Posted 01 February 2013 - 11:07 PM
Posted 21 June 2013 - 11:02 AM
After some searching, I found two Emmett Cooke relics in the "family archives." The first is a 1989 Christmas card from Emmet to my grandparents. There’s a nice note on the reverse side: “[Merry Christmas] and a jolly holiday season to you. Wish you the best up there, now and always the true gifts of Xmas – peace, joy, and love.” Click here to view. The second is a sculpted figure titled “Exodus” which potrays the evacuation from Stalag Luft III in January 1945. Click here to view.
- Dave M.
P.S. I'm having difficulty inserting images into the reply editor. I hope the hyperlinks suffice!
Posted 22 June 2013 - 09:02 PM
The "Exodus" piece is great! He never mentioned that to me. He did say he made "Goon Towers" from scratch that were used as table centerpieces at one of the reunions. He was very artist and just a super portrait artist. He sent me copies of many of the pages from his YMCA diary - there were some drawings of men who he shared the barracks with and they are amazing. I have the original art for that Christmas card. He gave it to me. He said he made it in the camp. If you go back into the earlier post you'll see the two pages that I previously posted. Very cool stuff! Thanks for sharing!
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