Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 3, September, 1995 Page: 117
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Supreme Sacrifice: Colorado County's World War II Dead
With the Solomon Islands campaign underway, sea and land power were
essential to protecting the marines on Guadalcanal, which was considered essential to
the defense of Australia and the Allied supply routes to the southwest Pacific. On August
9, 1942, two days after the marines were put ashore on Guadalcanal, Admiral Frank Jack
Fletcher ordered his task force to withdraw to the south of the Solomon Islands. His
withdrawal left U. S. ground forces without air or sea cover, and did not serve its
intended purpose of preserving the U. S. fleet. So many ships were sunk between Rabaul
and Guadalcanal that the area was nicknamed "Iron Bottom Bay." The cruiser Quincy
and several destroyers were sunk at Savo Island, and Wasp was sunk by a submarine's
Lt. William Raymond Cook
1916 - September 15, 1942
William R. "Billy" Cook was born in 1916, the son of Mr. and Mrs. George
Edwin Cook. According to Cook's niece, Karen Beken, he graduated from Eagle Lake
High School in 1933 and the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1938. Serving on the
U. S. S. Colorado before the war, he already had seen much of the world.
The Wasp had been launched in April 1939. Her first war service was as a
temporary attachment to the British Home Fleet in 1942. In April and May she had ferried
RAF Spitfires from Glasgow, Scotland, to Malta in the Mediterranean. The second
delivery of planes took place on the very same day Lexington was lost at the Coral Sea.
This, of course, necessitated that Wasp quickly move into the Pacific theater of
operations. Now serving on Wasp, Cook arrived with her at Norfolk, Virginia, where, on
May 30, 1942, he married Charlotte West. Less than four months later, around three
o'clock on the afternoon of September 15, 1942, in the Pacific, two Japanese
submarines hit Wasp with three torpedoes. Unlike the slow, painful deaths of Lexington
and Yorktown, Wasp died so fast that there was no time for an orderly "Abandon Ship."
Shattering explosions from stem to stern, made even more devastating when one of the
torpedoes detonated depth charges on the No. 2 elevator, tore at the ship. Time
Magazine reported that "a whole piece of heaven seemed to catch fire." The ship had
been particularly vulnerable because its planes had been refueling, and the torpedoes had
hit near the fueling system. Gasoline fires spread to the magazines, bombs, and gasoline,
all of which helped trigger the fierce explosion. Most of the crew was rescued, however,
193 men were killed. Yet, as Richard Humble writes in his United States Fleet Carriers
of World War II, "If ever a warship went to her doom with her last mission fulfilled it was
Wasp. The transports she had been covering landed 4000 men of the 7th Marines to join
Alexander A. Vandergrift's weary, fever-ridden garrison on Guadalcanal." The loss of the
Wasp cost Admiral Fletcher his job, and brought Admiral William F. Halsey to the
forefront in the war effort. It also taught the navy the valuable lesson of draining fuel
lines and purging them with inert gases, to prevent the massive fuel driven explosions
that cost the U. S. three carriers in five months.13
13 Time Capsule, History of the War Years, 1942 (New York: Bonanza Books, 1967), p. 79; Richard
Humble, United States Fleet Carriers of World War II (New York: Blandford Press, 1986), p. 84; Edwin T.
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 3, September, 1995, periodical, September 1995; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151395/m1/9/: accessed July 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.