Ray Cook at the age of 19 was working as a Linotype setter for the Jackson County Floridan. Cook’s ties to Marianna are long standing as he was the brother of longtime Floridan writer Retilla Cook Miller. When WWII erupted, he immediately left to join the Eighth Air Force.
Cook served as a bombardier on a B-47. Ray’s story comes two-fold. Part of his story comes from a museum on the Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Georgia and the most interesting part comes from notes, handwritten on the inside of cigarette wrappers during WWII. All of Cook’s records were portrayed through a movie in the museum. The movie showed a homesick young man about to leave on a bombing raid and missing his mother. The teenager in the movie did not make it back from the war but Ray Cook did after he survived a German POW camp and what later became known as a Death March.
As the allies moved closer to POW camps, the Nazis moved the prisoners to locations further away. If the prisoners were not able to keep up or if they fell, they were shot on the spot. Ray Cook put his journalistic mind to work, keeping notes on what he had available which was the cigarette wrappers. Cook referred to his captors as ‘jerries’ and to his food as R. C. (Red Cross) parcels.
Serving as a rear gunner was considered dangerous and difficult work. After serving 25 bombing raids, Cook was allowed to return to the states, but instead of going home he signed up for another round. It was his 26th raid that he was shot down. Ray survived and was sent home to the states. He remained in New York to be ‘fattened up’ but his family was shocked when a skeleton in a khaki uniform stood outside their door. Cook lived to see his 80th birthday. Below are his ‘notes on the Black March’.
February 6 Began the “March” at 10 a.m. Hit a farm at dark. Rough night, couldn’t stretch legs.
February 7 Walked four more kilos than the main group. Ice and slush terrible. Quite a few men fell out before we finally reached a farm after dark.
February 8 More Ice, snow and rain. The spring thaw has just begun. The mud is worse, it is usually up to our shoe tops.
February 9 A day of rest
February 13 The situation is beginning to look black. When we started out we were told that the trip would last a week. This is the eighth day and no end in sight. We were at Cammin. Food (RC) is out and the meager supply of potatoes we get from Jerry is next to nothing. We pick up and eat what raw vegetables we can find on the road of fields. It’s dam cold!
February 14 X..Red Letter Day! The Krauts marched us 40 kilos today. 7:30 to 6:30. We are just out of Sueinemusole and sleeping in the open fields.
February 15 What a night! Sleeping on the ground in an icy rain. We crossed the Odar and thus ‘escape’ the Russian Army. Had our first water in 2 days.
February 16 We’ve done 230 kilos. Rumor of the day – 30 kilos and 3 days to go.
February 21 Rumor 2 or 3 days from destination. It’s terribly cold.
February 22 Finally an issue of R.C. a third of a parcel per man but no bread.
February 23 We were supposed to go into a “Permanent Lager” or farm today but after marching 8 kilos turned and came back to the same farm. More rain!
February 28 Full R. C. Parcel!! Just in time too, for I have been sick for 3 days. I have the G.I.’s bad.
March 1 Really came in like a lion.
March 2 Marched 20 kilos in the damdnest wind I have ever been in.
March 3 Marched 25 kilos and passed Waren. Rumor – Rest tomorrow and catch a train for Bavaria. Ha!
March 4 Twenty kilos in snow, rain and mud. Dam it all! What a filthy life. I’ve got a beard a full half inch or so. I’m dirty, I’m lousy. Nothing since I came over for combat has bothered me so much as this God-awful lice. Marched through Malchow.
March 5 Contrast! A warm sunny day. Passed through Karaw.
March 6 Another nice day. Passed Liibz.
March 7 Day of rest. Cold as Hell!
March 8 Rumor – destination Lubeck. 70 miles from here.
March 11 After a two-day layover we passed Parchum.
March 12 Passed through Brantz, Muchow, and Ziercow.
March 14 Jerry tells us we are to walk no more. We’re to catch a train from here to southwest Germany.
March 18 Four days at this farm, existing on Jerry rations alone. Rough!
March 19 Fifth of a R.C. Parcel and two fifths of bread, one meal!
March 21 Ran into Blackie yesterday and today we stopped at Tanneburg with a sick group. We ride the train from here into our supposed camp.
March 29 Finally got the train ride and have reached a camp between Hanover and Bremen. Men of every nationality are here. Russians, Serves, Poles, French, etc.
There is where Cook’s ‘diary’ stops.