It’s been more than 50 years in coming, but U.S. Army retired Capt. Richard Cooksey was officially presented with a Bronze Star for his service in World War II, being a Bataan Death March and prisoner of war survivor, and for service during the Korean and Cold Wars.
Arizona Congressman Ron Barber presented Cooksey with the award in Fitch Auditorium, Tuesday morning. The Department of the Army authorized personnel on Fort Huachuca to present Cooksey with the Bronze Star medal earlier this year.
The Bronze Star is awarded to any person serving in any capacity in the U.S. after 1941 who distinguished themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement or service
in connection with military operations against an armed enemy.
“Just talking to him is an incredible history lesson. And the Army in proving that it is never too late to award a Soldier,” said Maj. Gen. Gregg Potter, commanding general, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca. “If you listen to his bio[graphy] and what he has been through, it is really a thrill and honor to be able to participate in this ceremony.”
Cooksley, who is 92 and a resident of Bisbee, has seen more than his fair share of history. He was a Japanese Army prisoner of war from 1942-1945 and is a Bataan
Death March survivor. He enlisted in July 1941 and was assigned to the Headquarters Squadron, 20th Air Base Crew (Army Air Corps) and was taken prisoner on April
9, 1942, at Bataan, Philippines.
During his imprisonment he suffered from malaria, Dengue fever, pneumonia, beriberi, pellagra, scurvy and malnutrition. He was finally liberated at Osaka, Japan, on September 12, 1945, and was evacuated to the United States in October 1945. In 1946 he reenlisted and served until his retirement in 1960 at the rank of captain.
“It’s an opportunity that comes from time-to-time where we get to help a veteran — who should have been awarded his medal many years ago — to finally give him the honor and recognition he deserves. It is an honor, Captain, having you with us today representing that small group of men who endured great torment and came home,” said Barber.
“It was an oversight for sure that Captain Cooksley did not receive this medal earlier; he should have received it sometime during his 20-year career in the Army. I want to thank you for your service and not being mad at us for taking so long,” Barber added.
The Bronze Star Medal is an individual military decoration that is awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service. It is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces and the ninth-highest military award (including both combat and noncombat awards) in the order of precedence of U.S. military decorations.
Cooksley discussed some of the torment he endured while being held captive after being awarded the Bronze Star.
“The death march that we are talking about; if you couldn’t keep up they ran over you with tanks and killed you or they ran over you with a car or chopped your head off, so the idea was keep walking. There was a gentlemen that was named skull and he loved to chop heads off and he shot many heads off,” Cooksley said in a somber voice.
“When I got back to the states the FBI got ahold of me and said we need you to testify at these war crimes that happened in Tokyo. I very happily took their job. I testified and we hanged 17 of the bad ones. Now the reason they were hung was because they lose face and the whole family suffered.
If we would have shot them, that would have been an honorable death,” he added.
Ending his speech on a lighter note, Cooksley spoke of the crowd that was in attendance. “I think it’s great that we have people like these officers here at the fort;
I’m glad that they are here and they are doing their job.
If at any time I can help, I’d be glad to. I want to thank all you … military people and civilians for being here.
It’s great to know that people care.”