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Everett Richard Cook (1894–1974)

Everett Richard Cook was a Marianna (Lee County) cotton broker who became a World War I flying ace, a successful businessman, and Deputy Chief of Staff of the Eighth and Twelfth Air Forces during World War II.

Everett Richard Cook was born on December 12, 1894, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of Jesse Cook and Ollie Belle Everett Cook. The family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1899. After an education in the Memphis public schools, Cook got a job at the Dillard and Coffin cotton firm, where he learned about the cotton business. In 1916, with $1,000 he had saved, Cook moved to Marianna to run his own business from an office in the Bank of Marianna. “I was rather successful in a small way and made money from the beginning,” Cook wrote in his memoir, until Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare, depressing the cotton market, “and I lost overnight all I had made since I was in business.”

Cook enlisted in the U.S. Air Service on May 5, 1917, and graduated on August 8 from the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Illinois, where one of his roommates was Arkansas native John McGavock Grider, for whom Grider Army Air Field near Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) is named. After shipping out to France, Cook received additional training before joining the Ninety-First Aero Squadron on April 1, 1918. He became commander of the squadron on August 31 and earned the title of ace after downing five enemy fighters in September and October. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for valor in a September 26, 1918, photo reconnaissance mission behind German lines during which his plane was attacked by seven German fighters. Despite his aircraft being riddled with machinegun bullets, Cook stayed on course until his comrade finished taking photos, then returned to Allied lines, downing an enemy plane during the encounter. Cook also received the French Croix de Guerre.

He returned to Memphis after the war and married Phoebe Willingham on June 4, 1919; they had a son and a daughter. The couple moved to Marianna and lived there until returning to Memphis for good in 1921. Cook joined the Memphis Cotton Exchange and became its director in 1931. That same year, he founded the Memphis Cotton Carnival to promote cotton and its uses; the annual celebration continues in the twenty-first century.

When World War II broke out, Cook was asked to return to service as deputy chief of staff to General Carl Spaatz, commander of the U.S. Air Force in Europe, and he served in that capacity for both the Eighth and Twelfth Air Forces. Entering service as a colonel, Cook accompanied the U.S. military representatives to the official German surrender ceremony in 1945. In 1948, he was made a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve, leading the Twentieth Air Division, which included personnel in eastern Arkansas.

Cook continued his business and civic activities after the war, serving on the Board of Directors of Eastern Airlines and running his own Cook & Co., Inc. A friend of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Cook was among a large group of notable Americans invited to the White House for the kickoff of the Radio Free Europe campaign, with Eisenhower pulling him aside to say, “Everett, you’d better introduce these people, because some of them I don’t know as well as I’d like to.” Cook also was a longtime member of the Memphis Auditorium Commission, and when the city’s downtown convention center was built in 1967, it was named in his honor.

Everett Cook died on January 21, 1974, and is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery Midtown in Memphis.

For additional information:
“Everett Cook.” The Aerodrome. http://www.theaerodrome.com/aces/usa/cook1.php (accessed November 30, 2018).

“Everett Cook Dies; Cotton Shipper, 79.” New York Times, November 24, 1974, p. 40.

“The Party with a Purpose for 87 Years.” Carnival Memphis. http://carnivalmemphis.org/carnival-history/ (accessed November 30, 2018).

Riggs, Joseph, and Margaret Lawrence, eds. Everett R. Cook: A Memoir. Memphis: Memphis Public Library, 1971.

Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 11/30/2018

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