Local Hero Leads Way for Soldier Grandchildren
by Shari Simpson - special to The Citizen
Engraved into one wall of the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, D.C. is the idiom, “Freedom is not free.”
These words came back to me when I first learned that my nephews Shane and Nathan would be deployed to Afghanistan. In times of war, brave men and women have to pay a price for our freedom.
In 2010, just shortly after Nathan had been deployed, we were on our way to Ottawa. We pulled off the 401 at Trenton to fill up with gas. A large crowd had started to gather on the overpass, over which Canadian flags were draped. This motorcade scene on the Highway of Heroes will be etched in my mind always. Consumed with emotion, I couldn’t help but think how war changes the lives of families forever.
When we arrived home, I tied a yellow ribbon around a tree on my front yard and it remained until both my nephews had returned home safely from Afghanistan this past summer. The ribbon has left a permanent mark around the tree trunk, a constant reminder of the courageous men and women who gave their lives for my freedom. The ribbon will go back up on Nov. 11, Remembrance Day, to show my support for all Canadian soldiers.
I’ve penned these articles to honour the Canadian soldiers who have fought so valiantly for the freedoms we enjoy and, in particular, the members of my family who are serving in the Canadian military.
– Shari (Loder) Simpson
“Our sons, Shane and Nathan, believe in helping others and doing what is right,” says Keith Loder. “They feel every person should have the right to freedom, something that their grandfather, Russell Cook strongly believed as well.”
Cook was born on August 1, 1924 and raised in Westfield, northwest of Blyth. He worked on a farm stooking wheat but at the age of 19, as World War II carried on, he had a strong calling to enlist in the army. He felt it was the right thing to do.
After only seven months of basic training, Cook sailed from Halifax, to Liverpool, England, on the troop ship, Isle de France. From there, he was transported to Aldershot, a town located about 60 kilometres southwest of London, known today as the “Home of the British Army”.
On June 6, 1944, an announcement came over the loud speaker as the soldiers were eating breakfast saying that British allies were invading France. After breakfast, the soldiers were told to collect their pay. When they were paid in francs, Cook knew for sure that he was heading to France.
Only four days after D-Day, Cook found himself trudging in the English Channel towards Juno Beach, the same shores where thousands had been gunned down just days earlier. Many of the men had become deathly ill from being tossed around in small, 10-person boats.
An army truck transported them about eight miles inland to the front lines. Here, Cook bunked with Wally Bowen, also from Blyth. This was the second person Cook had met from Blyth while overseas. He ran into Bert Elliott at a bus stop when he first landed in London. Unfortunately, both men were later killed in battle.
At first, there wasn’t much action in the front lines. Then one evening, near the city of Caen, air bombing attacks on the Germans could be heard all night. In the morning, the troops moved forward into the bombed wheat fields, expecting that the Germans had retreated because of the earlier air attack.
Without warning, bullets began flying in all directions. As Cook stepped into the hedgerow, a bullet pierced his leg and he fell forward. Blood poured from his wound.
As he reached for bandages to tie his injury, he heard a German tank coming toward him. Looking to the sky, he said to himself, “If there’s a God in heaven, then get me out of this mess.” Miraculously, the tank blew up in flames.
Cook made his way back about a quarter of a mile, where another soldier helped him to a nearby farmhouse that was packed with wounded soldiers. They attempted to transport the injured men to safety but every time they tried, they were bombarded with more shells. Later that afternoon, at the back of the house, where many suffering men lay waiting for help, a shell hit and the room blew up.
The next morning, Cook and the rest of the wounded were transported to a hospital south of London.
After he waited on a cot in the hallway with no food for three days, the bullet was finally removed from his leg and handed to Cook. He carried the bullet in his pocket as a constant reminder.
About a week later, his commanding officer asked, “Mr. Cook, how do you feel about going back to France?”
Cook replied, “I don’t want to go.”
“You’ll be all right,” the officer reassured and Cook was sent back to France.
When Cook returned to Caen, the city had been completely demolished by German troops. They were on the move and the British forces and their allies chased them through France, Belgium and Holland.
One evening while in Holland, Cook and his comrades were being trained on a land/water tank when it got stuck in the mud. The Germans heard them trying to free the tank and began firing. Tracers lit up the sky and Cook was able to escape to a nearby dike where he hid until the Germans left.
On Oct. 17, the Germans attacked again. Cook made his way through a ditch filled with water, and then ran from one barn to another closer to the dike.
Finally inside, he squatted down to look through a two-foot square hole to see where the strikes were coming from. He stood up to turn, but the force of a bullet to his thigh knocked him down, the pain unbearable.
One of his compatriots cut off his pant leg, bandaged the wound and then assisted him back to the first barn. Cook believed that this was when he lost the bullet that he had always carried in his pocket.
Because Holland had no hospital, Cook had to be driven to Belgium. It was a long and painful ride, made somewhat easier by a shared bottle of cognac.
When he awoke from surgery, he had a cast on his leg, with the words ‘nerve injury’ written on the plaster. He didn’t know what this meant until another injured man mentioned to Cook that he would be going home because he had a nerve injury. Then it registered; he was going home too.
Cook was transferred to a hospital in Colchester, England and remained there until Christmas. He returned home by boat in January 1945, landing in Halifax.
On a weekend in January, leaving hospital on a pass, he proposed to his long-time girlfriend, Marion Garritt. With his hospital days finally over, he married Marion on his birthday, Aug. 1.
For years Cook didn’t like to talk about the war and it took decades for him to share.
“It was the worst experience of my life. If anyone who is fighting on the front line says they’re not scared, then they’re not telling the truth,” he said.
Even though he didn’t like to share his war stories, Cook took great pride in serving his country. He passed away on April 28, 2010.
Clearly, Cook’s beliefs have been instilled in his grandchildren. He has three grandsons serving in the military: Major Shane Loder, Corporal Nathan Loder and Private Derek Cook.
“My grandfather was a proud Canadian,” says Derek. “He did what he felt was necessary for his country and I hope I can do the same.”
Derek was born and raised in Blyth. He has been a Weapons Technician at CFB Petawawa (2nd Service Battalion) for the past four years. Derek has not been called overseas but he did assist at the G8 event in Huntsville in June 2010, the biggest domestic security operation in Canadian history. He is furthering his education by taking additional university courses to become a social worker within the military.
Cpl. Nathan Loder says, “My grandfather didn’t speak much about his experiences as a soldier in World War II. However, the few stories that he did share with me put into perspective the amount of sacrifice that has been made for our country and I know how lucky I am to live in this time and place. When I think of what he must have gone through, it’s what gets me through the rough times.”
“Dad was a quiet man,” says Linda Loder, Cook’s daughter, “a man who loved his family dearly. He would pile all seven of us kids in the car for summer camping trips, which always included some fishing and taking in the beauty of our wonderful country. His faith in God made him the man he was, a man who loved to help others. He frequently could be seen around town gathering someone’s mail or getting their groceries for them.”
“When Mom was alive, they would provide home-cooked meals, or offer rides to people in need,” she says. “I often came home to find that Dad had cleaned and put away my sink full of dirty dishes. We said it was the ‘dish fairy’, but we knew it was Dad.”
Cook’s example has inspired his grandchildren to help others and, to honour his legacy, they are doing what they believe is the right thing to do – serve their country.
When asked how they felt about their sons’ decision to join the military, Nathan and Shane’s father Keith says, “We had mixed feelings but it was what they wanted to do. The scripture says ‘to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord’. We had faith that we would see our boys again, if not in this life, then the afterlife. For this reason, Nathan had expressed that he had no fear of death. We feel blessed that they both returned unharmed.”
This story first appeared in the November 10, 2011 issue of The Citizen