When Richard Cooke headed off to the Pacific Theatre to serve in the Navy during World War II, he wasn’t looking for accolades or even a Car Parade, such as he got last Saturday, but rather to make an escape.
“Hey, it got me off the chicken farm,” the 96-year-old South End resident said with a laugh from his stoop at the corner of Dartmouth and Columbus Avenue last Saturday.
Veterans Commissioner Roberto Santiago led the charge with Councilor Ed Flynn – both who also served in the Navy – to honor Cooke with a Car Parade past his home full of police cars, fire apparatus, decorated cars and family and neighbors ready to shower him with a much-belated thanks for his extraordinary service.
Cooke, with a member of the state VFW Color Guard beside him, took it all in from his stoop – stopping occasionally to wave or stand up and salute.
“I’ve been all around the world, but Boston is the place for me,” he said after the Parade. “I spent two years in the Pacific against the Japanese. I was in Guam, Saipan, all through the Philippines and the worst of all New Guinea. My last combat was in Iwo Jima. I went from there to a destroyer and they took me to Hawaii. They put me on a carrier and shot me over to San Francisco. Needless to say, I was happy to get home in one piece. I still think about all my buddies that didn’t make it – still over there laying in the swamps where they fell. It was worth it. I look at all of you here and I see how happy everyone looks and you just can’t beat that.”
His daughter, Heather Cooke, said the occasion was a rather sad one. Last week, they found out Richard Cooke had terminal cancer and wasn’t going to make it. She said he had never been honored for his service, and agreed to let them do something for him.
“It was a lot today,” she said. “I feel like we need to appreciate our veterans, our family members, while they are still here and before it’s too late and they’re gone. I’m so thankful.”
Beyond his service in the war, Richard Cooke was also on the front lines of the fight against Urban Renewal, Heather Cooke said. The family lived at 116 Dartmouth St. and Cooke proclaimed he lived at his home in Tent City 50 years before it was built. Owning a plumbing and heating business, the family had their home taken during Urban Renewal and stood along-side Mel King in the fight for affordable housing at Tent City.
“We were the first family that came back to Tent City,” Heather Cooke said.