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Veteran's family set to "bring him home"
Times Snohomish County bureau
The U.S. government declared her father dead — killed in action — in 1972 after his Hercules transport plane was shot down during an emergency resupply mission over An Loc City, Vietnam.
Yet on her wedding day 20 years later, Melissa McCoy half-expected to see him among the crowd of loved ones who filled the church sanctuary.
"I thought, if he's out there, he's going to show up," said McCoy, 38, of Marysville. "You just cling to hope."
Three weeks ago, a phone call ended any lingering. It was from her Aunt Darlene in Virginia, who said a military laboratory in Hawaii using DNA tests to identify remains from Vietnam had positively identified those of her father, Staff Sgt. Calvin Coolidge Cooke Jr.
"I started crying the instant I heard," she said. "It was a shock. It was like, you finally know."
As McCoy spoke with her aunt, a concerned coworker fetched her a tissue and hovered nearby to see what was wrong. She grabbed a pad and scribbled a few key words: "Dad found — 34 years — Vietnam — remains."
Calvin Coolidge Cooke Jr.
www.virtualwall.org was created in 1997 and has links to personal pages for the men and woman who died in Vietnam. Cooke's page, which is maintained by his brother, David Cooke, features memorials, photos, poems and other messages posted by friends, family, fellow soldiers and people who wear Cooke's MIA bracelets.
Patriot Guard Riders
Vietnam vets who knew Cooke have contacted his daughters through the Web site www.patriotguard.org, and some plan to attend his June 20 memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The motorcycle club's main mission is attending the funeral services of "fallen American heroes," as a gesture of respect and to shield families from any political protesters. Melissa McCoy said she found the site, and posted on its message board, through "the karmic intervention of Google."
A Washington, D.C., television station has posted a video about Cooke at http://wusa9.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=48968.
For a complete Defense Department list of Washington state residents unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War, go to www.dtic.mil/dpmo. Click on Vietnam War and go to POW/MIA list. Click on PMSEA Database Reports Page, then click on Washington state, then click on Unaccounted-for.
She left work early, then started spreading the news. First she called her older sister, Angela Cooke, in Everett. Then her younger sister, Laurel Cooke, in Wisconsin, and finally their mom, Carol Anderson, who lives in Everett with her second husband.
"She just blurted it out," said Angela Cooke, 39, who was 5 when her father's plane crashed. "I was in shock — I made a lot of mistakes when I went back in to work."
Now the three sisters and Anderson plan to fly to Honolulu to escort Cooke's coffin to Arlington National Cemetery for a June 20 memorial and burial. While in Hawaii, they'll go to the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory to thank the scientists who solved the mystery of their father's fate.
"I think it's fitting that all four of us are going," McCoy said. "He never got to come home to his family, so we'll go to him and bring him home."
The POW/Missing Personnel Office on Monday publicly announced the identification of Cooke's remains. He was among seven people — six American and one Vietnamese — on a C-130E when it was shot down April 26, 1972. Remains of two of the Americans haven't yet been identified.
The U.S. military and the Vietnamese government for decades collected skeletal remains and personal belongings found at the crash site. Some items were in the safekeeping of local villagers; others were excavated by search teams, the Department of Defense said.
The first trace of Cooke surfaced in 1985, when the Socialist Republic of Vietnam sent the U.S. a rubbing of his dog tag and offered to deliver "one set of U.S. remains." Other potential remains were recovered in 1989 and 1991.
Cooke's family first was thrown in the national spotlight eight years ago, when the Tomb of the Unknowns at the Arlington cemetery was opened to remove some bones. DNA tests, unavailable when the bones were interred in 1984, were to be used to determine the soldier's identity, and Cooke was among nine possibilities.
But the bones belonged to Lt. Michael Blassie, an Air Force fighter pilot whose plane went down in the same general area as the one Cooke was on.
"At that time, we all wanted closure," McCoy said.
Cooke's family wasn't aware that the lab in Hawaii had continued to work on Cooke's case, using genetic material originally obtained from two of his sisters for the 1998 tomb investigation.
"Our story is going to give a lot of people hope," McCoy said. "Just knowing that we finally have our closure, and that the government is still working to identify them."
Cooke grew up in Maryland and joined the Air Force after he graduated from high school. He met Anderson, a Stanwood native, while stationed at the former Paine Field Air Force Base. They married young — he was 19, Anderson 18.
"The young ladies back then, they thought that if you were in love, you should get married before they left" for Vietnam, she said.
Their youngest child, Laurel, was only 20 months old when Cooke died; unlike her sisters, she has no memories of him. That's hard, she said.
"I have my good days and my bad days," she said. "Every time I hear anything or see anything, I start crying. I guess it's just a long drug-out grief."
Laurel Cooke said she has found some solace through an Internet exchange with one of her father's Air Force friends whom she recently "met" on the Web site www.virtualwall.org.
"He said my dad talked about me, and that's nice. He's going to come to the funeral."
Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company