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Interview conducted as part of the Nash County Cultural Center’s Oral History Project. Cooke, a WWII veteran who goes by W.C., was born Sept. 21, 1920. He grew up in Nashville, NC, where his father was Chief of Police. His father also worked as an ABC officer, destroying illegal whiskey stills, and was Chief of Police for the town of Bailey. Cooke played football in high school and mentions some of his teammates and rival schools. He briefly speaks about attending the county fair and hanging out with his friends before he enlisted in the Navy. He served as a signalman aboard the USS Quincy (CA-39), a heavy cruiser which was sunk, along with USS Astoria (CA-34) and USS Vincennes (CA-44), by Japanese ships during the Battle of Savo Island in the pre-dawn hours of August 9, 1942. Cooke recounts the fight for survival that took place as the ship quickly began to sink. He mentions being hit by shrapnel and having serious burns from his life vest and clothing catching on fire. With all of the lifeboats destroyed during the attack, he says he had no choice but to remove his clothes and dive into the water. He describes treading water for hours alone in the darkness, and then clinging to the side of a raft for several more hours with sharks and dead bodies around him, before finally being rescued. After a few weeks on a hospital ship, he says he was sent back to the area to guard POWs. He say he was later assigned to the USS Competent, a minesweeper, where he served until the end of the war. Cooke reminisces spending time on shore leave in Boston with fellow servicemen, and staying in touch with them after the war. He recounts meeting his wife while visiting home, getting married in 1944, and the birth of his first child while he was deployed. The couple had two children together, Robert and Elizabeth. After 6 years of service, he returned to Nashville where Hazel Valentine offered him a job at the Post Office. He mentions a few other co-workers and says he greatly enjoyed the experience. Cooke speaks on his 24 years of volunteer work at Nash General Hospital, and discusses helping to make a difference in the lives of others.

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