The last veteran of the original 1st Battalion US Rangers which was formed at Carrickfergus in 1942 has passed away.
Lester Bernard Cook was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on 25th September 1922.
He enlisted in the Iowa National Guard while still in high school. His unit, the 168th Infantry Regt. 34th Division “The Red Bulls” was activated 10 February 1941. Mr Cook passed away on 9th August.
Stationed in Northern Ireland, following the United States’ entry into World War Two in December 1941, he came to Sunnylands Camp to try out for a new, elite special operations force being raised as the spearhead of all Allied offences against the enemy in the war in Europe.
He was one of up to 2,000 men who were put through a vigorous selection process – only 500 made the cut. The new unit was officially activated on 19th June 1942.
In a recent telephone interview, Cook said: “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.”
He went on to serve the full tour with Darby’s Rangers.
The original 1st Ranger Battalion was comprised 6 line companies. Eventually these would come to number 2,000 men.
The Rangers were instrumental in the Allied assaults on North Africa, Sicily and Italy. 198 Rangers were brought home in May 1944, most of these men were from the “Original Darby’s Rangers.” This elite commando style force remains the only US military unit to be formed on foreign soil.
Lester’s military career spanned three wars and 26 years. He earned two Silver Stars, Purple Hearts and Presidential Unit Citations among many other accolades.
This summer MSGT Lester B Cook (ret) was inducted into The Ranger Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia. Following a stroke, he passed away on 9th August.
His loss is felt by the wider WWII Rangers community of veterans and descendants, where he was an active member of their Facebook page on which he participated up until a few months ago.
Recently the US Senate unanimously passed the United States Army Rangers Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act. Pending approval by the House of Representatives, it is hoped a medal presentation will take place 2021, to honour and give recognition to the WWII Rangers.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Cllr Peter Johnston, said: “I am saddened to hear of the news of the passing of Lester Cook. I would like to offer my condolences to his family.
“Although he was not known to us personally, I can say that on behalf of Council, we feel and acknowledge this loss. The US Rangers Museum in Carrickfergus was established in 1994, following a visit by a number of veterans – original Darby’s Rangers who donated their photographs, uniforms, medals and much more.
“We are honoured to be the birthplace of the US Rangers and we are as committed to telling their stories and keeping their memory alive just as much today as we were then. We thank you for your service”.