Wolfowitz Presents Purple Heart to Patient at Walter Reed
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2004 Today was a special day for Army Cpl. Eli F. Cook: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz presented him with a Purple Heart on his 23rd birthday.
Army Spc. Jose Echevarria, left, holds the Purple Heart Medal
and certificate as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, center, talks about
presenting the medal to Army Cpl. Eli F. Cook, seated, who was wounded in
Afghanistan. Standing behind the soldier is his father, Barry Cook, who closed
his used bookstore in Ore City, Texas, and, along with his wife, was at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center when their son arrived for treatment on Aug. 11. Photo
by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
After visiting war-wounded patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here with a group of family members of 9/11 victims, Wolfowitz joined the visitors in a special dining area during lunchtime to award Cook his medal.
Wolfowitz told the group that Cook, who was wounded in Afghanistan, helped make it possible for that country to hold democratic elections and elect a democratic president for the first time in that country's history.
"Corporal Cook was wounded in Afghanistan in August," the deputy secretary noted. "It's just as important to be fighting the enemy when they're still out there trying to defeat us. And that's what's happening in Iraq.
"We had a huge victory in Iraq in April of last year," Wolfowitz said. "But the enemy didn't stop fighting when they left Baghdad. In fact, Saddam was still paying people to kill Americans until he was captured."
Wolfowitz said Dec. 16 is the 60th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge. "We thought the Germans were licked, but it turned out that they weren't," he noted. "Half a million Americans, many of them with summer uniforms in the middle of winter fought for six weeks. More than 10,000 of our kids were killed.
"But at the end of the day, we whipped them," Wolfowitz said. "We not only beat a terrible enemy, which we've done in Afghanistan and Iraq, but if you stop and think where Germany is today, 60 years later, it's an ally of ours, it's a prosperous, free, peaceful country. So is Japan."
He said the same thing is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it's happening with an enormous sacrifice.
The deputy defense secretary said when Hamid Karzai was sworn in as president of Afghanistan on Dec. 7, he said: "Whatever we've achieved in Afghanistan, the peace, the election, the reconstruction, the life of the Afghans are living today in peace, the children going to school, the businesses, the fact that Afghanistan is again a respected member of the international community is from the help America gave us."
Wolfowitz then told Cook, "You're a major part of that, and you're about to get an award that George Washington was the first to create -- the Purple Heart -- and it was reinstituted on the 200th anniversary of his birthday."
The group sang "Happy Birthday" as a large birthday cake was brought to Cook as he sat in his wheelchair.
The corporal gave the first slice of cake to Wolfowitz.
"I went to Afghanistan last April and was hit in August," Cook said. "I was an infantryman driving a Humvee gun truck with the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. The truck got hit by three rocked-propelled grenades, a mortar and a .50-caliber machine gun.
"The mortar is what got me," said Cook, who expects to be discharged in a few days so he can return home to Ore City, Texas. "It flipped the truck over and I helped the guys get out who were on the underneath side and then they helped me get out. I don't know where I was crawling to, but I was crawling, and then they did buddy aid on me."
He said he never really thought he was going to die, even though he was told he had to be revived six times. Joking about a cat having nine lives, Cook said, "I have three more."
His father, Barry Cook, said he and his wife have been at Walter Reed since their son arrived Aug. 11., Cook, who owns a used bookstore, said, "We closed the door, locked the door, and came up here."