Harvey Weir Cook: Looking for the Action

Much of the leadership in World War II came out of the destruction of World War I.  Dwight Eisenhower was running a tank training camp in Pennsylvania.  Chester Nimitz was chief engineer of a ship, then became an aide to a rear admiral.  During the next war, most of these men contributed their invaluable wisdom and strength behind the scenes, although there were exceptions like Theodore Roosevelt Jr, who had volunteered in World War I and fought in France.  During the second World War, General Roosevelt let troops in battle in North Africa then insisted on landing at Normandy with his men.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, many of air mail pilots and former pilots came to serve their country during World War II.  Most served in civilian roles, such as test flying the bombers coming out of the Boeing plants.  Several already worked for Boeing, and others hired on to perform the task.

Harvey Weir Cook was not content to stay at home.   He was born in 1892 in Wilkinson, Indiana, a small town about 30 miles east of Indianapolis.  In 1917, Cook went to France and enlisted in the French Army as an ambulance driver.  When the United States entered the war, Cook was assigned to the 94th Pursuit Squadron, better known as the “Hat In The Ring” Squadron which included Eddie Rickenbacker.  He became an ace and earned the Distinguished Service Cross.

Cook joined the air mail service in August of 1920, as it was preparing to launch the new transcontinental route.  He only flew the mail until December of 1920.  I can’t find information on why he only served for a few months, but I have a couple of thoughts.  Cook served in the western division, flying west out of Cheyenne.  This was a difficult section of the route with few natural landmarks.  Combat flying during the war was no easy feat, but I can imagine flying over the desolate Wyoming landscape going into December and wondering if this is really the best career option.  Also, Cook had strong ties to Indiana.  He was a member of the Indiana National Guard, worked in aviation, and spent his spare time promoting aviation in Indianapolis.  He helped the city create its first airport and successfully pushed for Indianapolis to be a stop along the transcontinental air mail route.

Cook had devoted his life to aviation.  So when World War II erupted, it is not surprising that Cook wanted to be involved.  He took after Theodore Roosevelt Jr., in that he refused to sit behind the scenes.  He lobbied for a front line assignment and was sent to New Caledonia, an island northwest of Australia where the United States had an air base.  He died in a crash on the island in 1943 and was buried in Hawaii.

Cook’s legacy lives on in Indianapolis, the place where he devoted so much of his time.  The Indianapolis airport was initially named after him.  Although it was eventually renamed the Indianapolis National Airport, a terminal is named after him and it is located on Col. H Weir Cook Memorial Drive.   Although Cook was one of many aviators who passed through the air mail service en route to other achievements, his experience helped the Post Office ensure that they had the manpower to carry the mail from coast to coast during the launch of that endeavor.  In 2015 a statue of Weir Cook was erected near the entrance to the Indianapolis Airport.  It is a fitting tribute to a man who devoted his life, and eventually gave it up, in the name of flight.


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