Howard Cook

Howard Cook, a lifelong resident of Centreville, Maryland was born on March 27, 1931. Mr. Cook was born into a farming family and has continued the farming tradition during his lifetime.  His mother, who had a college education, was a schoolteacher, and his father ran the farm. Howard had two brothers who also worked on the farm, and his brother Eddie served in the Korean War. Howard, now 87, got married at 21, and he now enjoys watching baseball and hanging out with his friends at the American Legion.

In this interview, Howard Cook shares his memories of life in Centreville during World War II. Howard spoke at length about farm life, but he also discussed the local boys who served in the War. Mr. Cook also shared his stories of working with German POWs on his family’s farm and keeping in touch with the prisoners after the conclusion of the war.

Working Alongside POWs

Yuh! My God! We had a POW—I’m glad you asked that question. We had a POW building up here as you go on Route 213 up here by Church Hill. They had prisoners there. We was husking corn, and my father [would] go up there, and we’d get four German prisoners. My father would go up there and pick them up, and they’d bring them back, and they’d husk corn for my father. So anyway, we’d go up there, and my father would get four of them, and I felt sorry for them. They come here, and they was well educated people. One of them was a doctor, and one, I don’t remember, but they was Germans. And I don’t think sometimes the people up there treated them right, but they was prisoners; they was killing our men. So they come here one day and my mother looked and see what they had—for bag for dinner. It wasn’t much. So my mother said, “You come on in the house,” and my mother fed ’em everyday until [unintelligible], and they was so appreciative. I can’t find the letter. When they got out—one of them was a doctor—he wrote my mother a letter thanking her for the kindness she give him. But that’s what they was, prisoners of war. They were good people, but they couldn’t control their lives because of Hitler getting in.

Heroes Head Off to Fight

What was it like when you were younger seeing a lot of your heroes go off to fight in the war? Bob Feller, Ted Williams. Bob Feller and Ted Williams gave up their career. If Bob Feller hadn’t gave up his career, God knows how many strikeouts he’d had, and if Ted Williams hadn’t gave his up, he’d been the greatest home run hitter of all time. There’s two guys that deserve recognition, those two; and there’s plenty more down there, but those were two great ones. Johnny Pesky, he was a good one too, he gave up his career. But Bob Feller and Ted Williams. And then Yogi Berra give up a lot of his, and so did a lot of them did. A lot of them did. Frank Robinson did too.

Plane Spotting and White Lightning

Well, I was only 10 or 11 years old. They sat up there all night. It was all men out there spotting these airplanes. I wasn’t involved in that. Who knows, sometimes they might of been out there—one guy I knew—I shouldn’t say this, but he liked his white lightning a little bit. Do you know what white lightning is?
That’s Tennessee and Arkansas hard liquor. We called it white lightning.
Well, maybe one would take, just one an outfit maybe take a little shot of it.

Can you walk us through the duties of a plane spotter? Did they ever see any planes?

No, I don’t think they ever did. I never heard my father say they ever saw a plane, but that’s what they was there for just because it could be. But they never saw no plane. If he did, then he never told me.

What would they have to do if they did see a plane?

There was some kind of phone rigged up to some information. I don’t know where that would {be}, I never asked him where that call would go to, but it would go to someone that was in law enforcement some where’s where they pick it up real quick to get back if it was a certain airplane or something like that. That’s about all I know about that.

Financial Struggles

So did you guys make a lot of money during this time?

You gotta be kiddin’. We had nothing. A pack of cigarettes was twenty-cents a pack back in the day…about that. Sell–Sell like half you’re lucky you get ten dollars for it. Sell a sheep, you may get ten dollars [inaudible]. And your milk prices weren’t that much either. So, things were rough. There was no — Nobody had no money in them days, nobody.

Herman Huber’s Letter to Mrs. Cook

We wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Years. We hope that this will help. He couldn’t write too much English. He was German. He made no more peace on earth, stay healthy, thank you for your touch with us. Herman, his last name was Herman. Huber! Gotcha. Herman Huber, thank you.

Photo Descriptions

Do you mind just running through these pictures and just so y’know, just giving us a little bit of information about each one?

Okay. That’s my father and mother. That’s my mother. That’s my grandmother, my father’s mother. That’s the cows we had on the farm. That’s my father’s, he loves fox hunting. This guy here was Frank Beaver. He was in Company K. He lived right on side of us. He got back okay. That’s my two brothers and me and Frank there. Frank was nine or ten years old and I was. He was in Company K and he got back okay. And that’s my Uncle Herb, and this is my other grandmother here too.

And which one are you in this picture?

The good looking one. No, here. That’s me sitting there. And that’s Eddie right here and Frank Beaver the guy that was in World War II. He was same age as my brother-in-law. I kept these pictures a long time.