When I was 13, I found a photo album in my Grandma’s home office. Inside it, there were several photos of a handsome young man in uniform. I didn’t recognize him, so I asked my Grandma who he was. She told me that he was her cousin, Gil Cook. He had been killed in World War II. I instantly wanted to know more about Gil, and this was my first nudge into the world of genealogy. Of all the stories in our family’s history, Gil’s is one that I come back to time and time again. He was only 25 at the time of his death, so his was a life cut short, and the lost possibility of his life is incredibly powerful to me.
Lawrence Gilbert Cook, known as “Gil,” was born in Los Angeles on July 24, 1918. He was the son of Magdalene Barrett and Lawrence Cook, who would divorce when Gil was a small child.
Gil Cook with cousin LaVerne Rutherfurd and his mother, Magdalene Barrett, probably 1920.
Gil was just a few weeks older than my Grandma, LaVerne Rutherfurd, who was born in Los Angeles on August 10, 1918. LaVerne said this about Gil in the brief autobiography she wrote:
My two boy cousins, Gil (Lawrence Gilbert Cook) and Buddy (Stephen Patrick Barrett) visited often and we had great fun. Many times when Gil came, I managed to cut a chunk out of his “bangs.” I don’t know why I wanted to do that because it got me in trouble every time.
My cousin Gil, who was just my age, lived not far away and we spent a great deal of time together. On weekends my uncles [Stephen, Charles and Bernard Barrett] would be home and Gil and I used to like to see them because they played and joked with us. We always played catch because they had baseballs and mitts on hand.
|Cousins LaVerne Rutherfurd (L) and Gil Cook (R)|
|Cousins (L-R): LaVerne Rutherfurd, Stephen "Buddy" Barrett, Gil Cook|
After his parents’ divorce, Gil lived with his mother at his grandmother, Nellie Barrett’s house. Later, Magdalene Barrett remarried Bob Rutherfurd and in 1928 Gil’s sister Patricia Mary “Patty” Rutherfurd was born. The family lived together in Los Angeles, then moved south to San Pedro, Wilmington and Long Beach.
On February 27, 1941, Gil enlisted in the United States Army. While America had not yet entered World War II, war was certainly on the horizon. On his enlistment paperwork, Gil, a high school graduate, listed his occupation as “Frameman, Telephone and Telegraph.” Much of the family worked in the telephone business. His mother had been a telephone operator, as had his aunt Julia Barrett Rutherfurd. Julia and her husband George Rutherfurd (half brother of Gil’s stepfather Bob) had met while working at Pacific Telephone and Telegraph in Los Angeles.
Gil was 22 years old at the time of his enlistment. He was just shy of 5 feet 6 inches and weighed 131 pounds. He enlisted as a private and later became a second lieutenant. Gil was assigned to the Army Air Corps, serving in the 436th Bomber Squadron in the war's Pacific Theater. From his letters, diary entries and the telegrams sent after his death, I've been able to piece together some of the details of Gil's service and the events that led to the downing of his plane.
Link to all posts about Gil Cook