WWII Meigs soldier to be buried in Arlington

ARLINGTON — Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Sidney Asa Cook was among 12,000 2nd Marine Division troops that landed on the island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands on Nov. 20, 1943. The battle lasted three days.

Cook was one of 3,166 Marine casualties, and now, 74 years later, his body has been recovered and will be laid to rest with full military honors.

According to a Dec. 30, 1943 article in The Daily Sentinel, Cook’s mother received a telegram stating her son had been killed in action, and that his body was “buried, temporarily, where he fell.”

The Marines encountered heavy Japanese resistance on Betio, and Sgt. Cook was among those who fell on the first day of what is considered by many to be one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific arena. Due to heavy casualties and extreme tropical heat, approximately 1,000 U.S. service members, including Cook, were buried in cemeteries on the island.

After WWII ended, recovery efforts were conducted on Betio Island by the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company from 1946 and 1947. While many of the battlefield cemeteries were located, at least 500 Marines, including Cook, were not found. A military review board declared his remains “non recoverable” on Feb. 8, 1949. Cook was awarded a Purple Heart and his name was placed on a memorial erected in Hawaii to honor MIA and non-recoverable soldiers.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is the official government organization continuing the search for missing soldiers, often overlapping with several non-profit organizations.

In June 2015 one of these non-profit groups, History Flight, Inc.,reported “finding the a burial site and recovered remains of what the group believed were 35 U.S. Marines, remains of 35 bodies on Betio” according to the DPPA.

The group turned the bodies over to the DPPA and DNA analysis and circumstantial evidence were used to identify several of the remains. Cook was officially listed as accounted for Jan. 4, 2017, and his re-interment will take place Sept. 6 in Arlington National Cemetery.

The 1943 Sentinel article reported Sgt. Cook was born Feb 18, 1911, to Hugh Rice and Estella Blanche Cook of Hemlock Grove. Siblings listed were brothers Ray, Charles Franklin and Royal Jerome and sister Dorothy Cook Seyfried. Charles and Jerome also served during WWII.

After graduating from Chester High School in 1932, he worked on his father’s farm and was a member of the Athens unit of the Ohio National Guard. He joined the Marines in 1934 and was honorably discharged after serving four years. Cook spent the next three years at home and was active in church and social affairs.

In February 1941, he again enlisted in the Marines and was stationed in San Diego, California, before being sent to the South West Pacific. Cook was deployed to Guadalcanal Island, where U.S. Marines engaged Japanese troops from August 1942 to February 1943. After spending six months in “hard fighting,” he was given a few weeks rest in Australia.

He dated his last correspondence to his family Nov. 11, 1943; less than 10 days later Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division landed on the beaches of Betio. Despite heavy casualties, the mission was considered a victory, securing a strategic base for the U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

Far from the farm lands of Hemlock Grove in Meigs County, Ohio, Sgt. Cook was buried in a sandy grave along with other Marines who helped secure the Gilbert Islands, and now he is coming home.

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By Lorna Hart

Special to the Sentinel

Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.