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Veterans memorial inspired by Sault Tribe war veteran

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Holding a need in his heart to remember the brother he lost April 14, 1970, to the Vietnam War, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians member Ed Cook hopes the memory of all those lost in war will be remembered by the ones they loved and the country they fought to protect.

Toward that goal, Cook envisioned and created a monument for Native veterans of foreign wars. He was there in 2006 to see it placed where it now sits today, on the grounds of the tribe’s cultural center.

“It helps me a lot to do these types of things: there are not many days that I don’t think about Vietnam,” said Cook, who grew up with three brothers and a sister. “We were all in the Army. My father, Joseph Gurnoe, fought in the Second World War. It is something that I have always been honored to do.”

Cook was stationed in Vietnam from November 1966 to June 28, 1968, with the rank of specialist in Company B, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. He was honorably discharged as a sergeant.

“There were almost three of us brothers in Vietnam at once. I was on my second tour in Vietnam when my brother, LeRoy, was supposed to go; but when he was on his way there they found out I was already there. So they turned him around and sent him to Germany. I got out of the service a few months later and they sent my other brother, Jimmy, over there. Jimmy was there in ’69 and ’70,” he said. Jimmy never made it back home.

“I think it would be nice for all young people to go into the service to see what it’s like. Not to go to war; to learn how to follow orders and to respect people. Once I am gone, I hope there is someone who steps up and does this kind of stuff that I try to do. I hope my sons come around and paint the bottom of the monument when it needs to be done.”

A scrapbook with loose pages, money from his tours in Vietnam, a letter from the family of a friend who was killed in action, a “V device” for valor and his three Bronze Stars have a special place in his home. “I have it but my son’s never look at it or ask me about it,” he said. “Maybe someday they will get interested and go through it. I wrote a small book, about 40 pages handwritten, about different experiences there and how I felt about them. I have two sets of it, one for each son.”

Cook also helped bring the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall to Sault Ste. Marie in 1999 and again in 2005. “After the wall left the first time, I felt that bringing the wall here was one of the most fulfilling things I had done in my life. That is why I do a lot of things like that: to keep the memory of all those ones who are gone now fresh in people’s minds. I am working on trying to have the traveling wall come to St. Ignace next August.”

The Sault Tribe board of directors approved funding for the monument and local funeral home owner Clint Mulder donated $8,000 and his time. The monument began as a tribute for Vietnam War vets, but as word spread and veterans of other wars asked about it, the design changed a few times to include other foreign wars. The $53,000 monument has black marble from India at its center and granite on both sides. The top of the monument honors female veterans and depicts a Vietnam nurse and a woman in combat gear. At the monument’s apex are traditional American Indian feathers, honoring all warriors.

“Remember the loved ones that went away and didn’t come back and the veterans in the service now and their families. Without them, we might not have all the freedoms we have now. It is not very long in a person’s life, but when you are away from home 365 days is a long time. When you are on the other side of the world, you can’t just hop on a plane and come home for the night.

“Those warriors are doing things that the normal person here wouldn’t want to do. We can’t let them be forgotten. That is my mission; this is what I do to help.”

The monument today offers two granite benches for those who wish to sit and reflect. Flying proudly behind it are the POW/MIA, Sault Tribe, U.S. and Canadian flags.