Polk County

Lester Bernard Cook

(above) Korea photo


They Fought in the Bloodiest Battles of World War II

By Nick Lamberto
Many of them came from Iowa communities; some had never traveled beyond the next farm or a neighboring city or town before they joined the Army.

But before the end of World War II, these same men – members of the U.S. Army Rangers – had participated in seven invasions, leaving a trail of bravery and blood from the sands of North Africa and the scraggy cliffs of Normandy to the jungle trails of Luzon in the Phillippines.

Rugged Training.
. . . . Some received early training in the swamps of Louisiana before America entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

Iowa’s 34th Infantry Division, originally a National Guard unit, and the First Armored Division furnished cadre members for the newly formed Rangers when they started training at Achnicarry, Scotland, in the summer of 1942.  At least two men died in training there.

Killed in Italy.
The Rangers trained under the British commandos with intensive schedules laid down by Col. William O. Darby, a West Point graduate credited with organizing the First Ranger Battalion in Northern Ireland June 19, 1942.  Darby was killed in Italy in 1944, two days before all enemy forces in Italy surrendered.

Source:  The DesMoines Register, Sunday, July 27, 1975 p. 21 (his WWII photo included)

Lester Bernard Cook, 97, passed away August 9, 2020 at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. Lester was born September 25, 1922 in Des Moines, Iowa, to Otis and Florence (Beebe) Cook.

Lester graduated from East High School and immediately began his long and decorated military career with the US Army. In February of 1941 he enlisted into the Iowa National Guard 168th INF BN, 34th INF Division. Les volunteered and was selected to serve in the 1st Ranger Bn, Darby's Rangers. He served all of WWII with the 1st and 4th Ranger Bn's. He then served as a paratrooper with the 187th Airborne INF, Rakkasans, during the Korean War. Lester was selected to the 77th Special Forces Group serving as an advisor at the beginning of the Vietnam War. During his time with the Army he earned two silver stars, four purple hearts, and numerous other awards before retiring from active duty. He was extremely proud to be an original Darby's Ranger. Lester would have been jumping out of airplanes to this day if the Army would have let him.

After serving in the Army, he moved back to Des Moines and met his wife, Carolyn Lange, at the Post Office where he worked. They married on February 10, 1973.

Lester was known for being stubborn, but funny, and could be seen out on his bicycle until he was in his 70's. He also enjoyed his model trains, fishing, reading books, and watching The History Channel where he was always pointing out the inaccuracies in the military programs. To sum up Lester's life, he set an example for others to follow.

Lester is survived by his wife, Carolyn; and daughter, Andrea Lea Cook (Joe Stiles). He is preceded in death by his parents; and sisters, Louise and Betty.

A memorial services will be held at a later date.

Source: Memorial Services of Iowa (online)

It is with great sadness we learn that Lester Bernard Cook, one of the last Darby’s Rangers, has passed.

Lester was from Des Moines, IA. He enlisted in the Iowa National Guard while still in high school after the US entered World War II. His unit was the 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Division “The Red Bull”.

“I had no idea what I was getting into when I saw a notice on the bulletin board about the Rangers. I was stationed in Belfast, Ireland with the 168th Infantry.”

In 1942, he volunteered and became part of the 1st Ranger Battalion. Out of 1500+ men who volunteered when the 1st Ranger Battalion was assembled, only 500 were chosen to undergo training so realistic and rugged it was conducted under live fire.

He served the full tour with Darby’s Rangers. He was awarded his first Silver Star Medal for action on the Winterline in Venafro, Italy. After fighting the Germans at Cisterna, Italy with the 4th Rangers as a SGT he had enough time to return home with 197 other seasoned Rangers.

By the time VE Day was finally achieved, he was back at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, “I wasn’t there (in Europe) then, so I don’t remember really celebrating,” he said. “But I sure was glad that it was over.”

He then embarked on a military career that spanned three wars and 26 years. He earned 2 Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, Presidential Unit Citations among many other accolades for intrepid exploits in faraway battlefields ranging from North Africa, Sicily, Italy to Korea and Vietnam.

He served as a Platoon Sergeant with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team during the Korean War. He earned another Silver Star Medal during his tour. In Vietnam he served as the Sergeant Major of the 77th Special Service Group. Afterwards, he was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame and also received the Primicerius Order of Saint Maurice during a visit at the National Infantry Museum.

“My understanding is that I am the only one of us still alive,” said Cook by telephone recently. He was known to be one of the last veterans of the original 1st Battalion US Rangers.

Recently the US Senate unanimously passed the United States Army Rangers Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act.

Source: National Infantry Association FB Page, 08/18/2020