ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — At age 85, Robertsdale resident Donald Cook is happy with the way his life has turned out.
“I have lived a long life,” he said. “I have lived a good life.”
A native of rural Crenshaw County, located south of Montgomery and north of the Florida Panhandle, Cook graduated from Dozier High School.
“My middle name is Dozier, my father’s middle name was Dozier and my grandfather’s middle name was Dozier,” he said. “I used to get teased about that, but I’m proud of my name and where I’m from.”
In 1952, he got a job at the Alabama Dry Docks in Mobile and shortly thereafter he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He went through basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, before shipping out from Camp Pendleton in California to serve in the Korean Conflict.
“Serving in the Army turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I learned a lot in Korea that stuck with me for the rest of my life.”
Cook said he missed seeing any heavy fighting during his tour of duty. He got what he called “the best job in the Army,” serving as a parts supply clerk for 2 ½ ton military cargo vehicles known as “deuce and a half’s.”
“We had 67 vehicles total in our Company,” he said. “My job was to make sure they had the parts they needed. They gave me a Jeep to drive around in and I had everything I could want.”
Cook said the living conditions were primitive. He lived in quad tents that were little more than a tent with just a sleeping bag between him and the floor. He and his fellow soldiers lived without a phone, electricity or running water.
“I grew up in the country,” he said. “I didn’t mind it as much as some of the other guys.”
In Japan, Cook said he bought a cheap camera for $13 and took dozens, probably hundreds, of photos during his time in Korea. He took photos of everything from the countryside, places where he stayed and people he met along the way.
“They were good people with good heads on their shoulders,” he said. “They just didn’t have much in the way of resources.”
In all, Cook spent 18 months in South Korea, starting out as a private, eventually rising to the rank of corporal.
“It took me 14 months to go from private first class to corporal,” he said. “They wanted me to go another six months and if I had I would have made sergeant, but all I wanted to do was go home.”
Cook returned stateside by ship to Seattle, Washington, where he boarded a train to Fort Smith, Arkansas, then took a bus to Greenville. He then headed back to the Alabama coast, getting a job at a shipyard. He met and married his wife Geraldine and the two raised a family. In 1971, they purchased land in the small community of Robertsdale. In 1978, they sold their home and purchased another plot in Robertsdale where they built the current home.
Cook got a job at the shipyard as a second-class helper, spending the last 20 years as assistant general foreman, until the shipyard closed. Geraldine got a job working for Lee Drug Store in Robertsdale. They were together for more than 60 years before her death in 2015.
From their home in Robertsdale, the Cooks watched their three sons grow up and make good lives for themselves. Youngest son Gerald is an analyst for a major investment firm in North Carolina; oldest son Michael is vice president of a maritime company in Mobile; and middle son Tim is president/CEO of Apple Inc.
“I am proud of all three of my boys,” he said. “They are all smart and they are all good with computers. I’ve lived my entire life striving to be an honest man and I raised them to be honest men. That’s really all I could ask for.”
In addition, Cook has a granddaughter who lives in Bayou La Batre and a grandson who recently won top honors in a math and science competition in North Carolina, earning the right to compete at the National level.