Requiem for a damaged warrior

The Boston GlobeMay 25, 2014 

When he was a kid, growing up in South Boston, Tim Cook liked to fix everybody. If somebody was crying in the schoolyard or got hurt playing hockey, it was Tim Cook who was at their side, a comforting arm on the shoulder, trying to say the right thing.

Tim Cook had a big smile and a bigger heart, and he followed that heart from Boston College High all the way to Liverpool, into college with an English girl he got sweet on when they worked as counselors at a camp for city kids.

It didn’t work out, and he came back to Southie. No one was surprised when, with war raging in Iraq, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, as a corpsman. Navy corpsmen are the medics who take care of and fight alongside Marines. He volunteered for combat.

He was in Fallujah and Haditha when they were the most dangerous places on earth. He had a young Marine bleed out in his arms. He bit his lip and blinked hard as he tried futilely to save an Iraqi girl who was shot in the head in a crossfire.

After they struggled to fit a stretcher carrying a wounded Marine into a Humvee, Tim Cook and Marine Sergeant Sean McLaughlin had an idea. They refitted a 7-ton truck with retractable beds, so they could evacuate up to six Marines at a time.

“Every Marine unit in Iraq was equipped with the mass casualty vehicle Tim and Sean designed,” Joe Cook, Tim’s dad, was saying.“Tim and Sean saved lives, even after they left Iraq.”

Joe Cook is a third-generation ironworker and tried to help his son get a job after Tim got out of the service. Like a lot of veterans, Tim Cook found it hard to find work after war. He followed his heart again, this time to Ireland, where his girlfriend lived.

He wasn’t there long when he started screaming in his sleep. He would wake up and remember nothing. He looked at cars, parked in a sleepy Irish village, and worried they might explode.

Tim Cook, jumpy and anxious, came home to Southie, and his father tried to get him help with the Department of Veterans Affairs for post traumatic stress.

“The waiting list for the 90-day program in Northampton was ridiculously long,” Joe Cook said. “That program is not even long enough, and he couldn’t get in anyway.”

One day, Joe Cook found a noose in Tim’s room.

“What were you thinking?” Joe Cook asked his son.

But Tim Cook wasn’t thinking. He was hurting, hurting so bad that he wanted to die. Tim was drinking and taking drugs, self-medicating. His father kept calling the VA.

“They just don’t have the resources,” Joe Cook said. “The people in Washington paid for the war, but they haven’t paid to take care of the warriors who fought it.”

Last March, Tim Cook sneaked out of a detox center and took something that killed him. His death certificate lists the location of death as Worcester. But they could have put down Haditha or Fallujah, and it would have been just as accurate.

The people who loved Tim Cook are organizing small events – a road race, a time the Saturday after – but Joe Cook dreams bigger. He wants all Americans to demand more for kids like Tim Cook, who survived war only to die back home, alone and sick, untreated and hopeless.

“Would people march?” he asks. “Could we get millions to march in Washington, and demand more for these kids who gave so much?”

Sometimes, Joe Cook drives down the Cape, over the Bourne Bridge, to the national cemetery, and stands before his son’s grave. He tells Tim he wishes he could have done more for him.

“Tim spent his whole life taking care of people,” his father said, “and when he needed help, it wasn’t there for him.”

And after Joe Cook said that, there was nothing else to say.

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