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William Frederick Cook

Soldiers of the Great War

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial


William Frederick Cook

"World War I claimed an estimated 16 million lives. The influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. One fifth of the world's population was attacked by this deadly virus. Within months, it had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history."

The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918, National Archives and Records Administration

On August 20, 1891, William Frederick "Fred" Cook was born at Newton, a small unincorporated community in the Geary District of southern Roane County, West Virginia, near the northern border of Kanawha County. He grew up in Wanego, another small village in the Geary District.

William's parents were Jacob Cluster Cook and Huldah Clementine Drake Cook. Huldah was the daughter of Charles Frederick Drake Jr. and Sarah Ann Luster Drake. Charles Frederick Drake Jr. served in Company G, 9th Regiment, of the West Virginia Infantry during the Civil War. John Cluster Cook's parents were James "Jim" Cook and Mary "Polly" Jessey Cook.

John and Huldah Cook raised a large family consisting of Elbert Ambrose, Flora Ann (married name: Mrs. William P. Rogers), Lucy Belle (married name: Mrs. John R. Bonnett), William Frederick, Robert E., Cluster Cummins, Thomas I., Burl B., and Eva Maysel (married name: Mrs. Chester Isaac Radanof).

World War I, the "War to End All Wars," began in 1914 when a Serbian nationalist assassinated the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne. On April 6, 1917, following the sinking of American merchant ships by German submarines and an attempt by Germany to engage in a military alliance with Mexico, President Woodrow Wilson reluctantly committed the United States to join the Allied countries in the war against Germany. When the call for volunteers failed to produce the needed one million troops to support the war effort, the Selective Service instituted a draft with the first registration on June 5, 1917, for all men between the ages of 21 and 31.

William Frederick Cook registered in Roane County for the World War I draft on June 5, 1917. At that time, he was employed as a tool dresser for a gas company in Welford, West Virginia. He declared that he was single and was described as short and stout with brown eyes and black hair.

Cook Draft Registration Card

World War I draft registration for Pvt. William F. Cook National Archives and Records Administration

When he was called into service in the U.S. Army, he was assigned to Company K of the 162nd Infantry Regiment, 81st Infantry Brigade, which was part of the 41st ("Sunset") Division of the 1st Army Corps. In 1917, the Division received training at Camp Greene at Charlotte, North Carolina.

The <i>USS Madawaska</i> in port. National Archives and Records Administration

The USS Madawaska in port. National Archives and Records Administration photo # NH 103145

On August 6, 1918, Pvt. William F. Cook departed from Norfolk, Virginia, as a member of the 30th Provisional Company July Infantry Replacement Draft aboard the ship USS Madawaska, originally the German steamship Konig Wilhelm II. The ship had been seized in April 1917 at Hoboken, New Jersey, and was converted to a troop ship. Upon arrival in France, the 41st Division served as the 1st Depot Division from January 1, 1918, until December 31, 1918, during which it supplied 263,395 replacements for the combat units.

While his entry in Soldiers of the Great War indicates he died of wounds, in reality, when Pvt. Cook arrived in France, he became ill with Spanish influenza and pneumonia.

According to Carol Byerly, who has written extensively about the influenza/pneumonia pandemic,

The Army and Navy medical services may have tamed typhoid and typhus, but more American soldiers, sailors, and Marines would succumb to influenza and pneumonia than would die on the industrialized battlefields of the Great War. The story of the influenza epidemic in the military is often lost in the historical narrative of the Great War, included merely as a coda to that four-year horror, coinciding with the final battles and the Armistice. . . .

One of the tragedies of the influenza epidemic is that by the 1910s, the medical profession held many of the scientific and epidemiological tools to understand the nature and extent of the damage influenza and pneumonia were wreaking on their patients, but lacked the tools to effectively fight them. While virology would not emerge until the 1930s, physicians could identify many of the bacteria causing the deadly pneumonias that were killing their patients, but without antibiotics they could do little to fight the infections. ("The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919," Public Health Report 2010, 125 [Suppl 3]: 82-91, accessed 8 July 2019,

William Frederick Cook died on September 13, 1918, and was returned to the United States for burial. He was laid to rest in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Wallback, Roane County, West Virginia, near the graves of his parents and other members of his family.

Article prepared by Leon Armentrout.
July 2019


William Frederick Cook

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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