FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. — It was nearly six decades after being released from a Japanese Prisoner-of-War camp before Dick Cooksley was presented a Bronze Star Medal, earned as a captive for more than three years during World War II.
On Tuesday, Cooksley, who was taken prisoner in the Philippines and survived the infamous Bataan Death March, was officially presented the medal during a short but significant ceremony before an audience of friends and current soldiers in Fitch Auditorium.
Of Cooksley, Maj. Gen. Gregg Potter said, after talking with him he came to the conclusion ". it's never too late to present a medal."
What the retired Army captain went through as an enlisted man during the war was a determination to live, said Potter, who commands the Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca.
"It's really a thrill and an honor," the general said.
The medal was presented after a person contacted Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Barber's Sierra Vista office. Saying
Cooksley's Bronze Star Medal should have been presented much earlier and that being able to ensure it finally was awarded, Barber said having the honor to do so, "is incredible."
Calling the 92-year-old former soldier's time within the horror of the Japanese prison system "a period of cruelty," the congressman noted Cooksley should have received the medal sometime during his 20 years of Army service. The oversight was unfortunate, Barber said, saying now it has been made right.
It was a friend of Cooksley who informed the congressional office of the error. Being able to present the medal is a personal honor, Barber said.
"I hope he (Cooksley) will forgive us for taking too long," the congressman said. There was no denying Cooksley was happy for the belated recognition. The Bisbee resident talked a short time about his life as a POW, noting after the death march, which some experts say claimed the lives of 10,000 American service members, he helped bury "500 (Americans) a day for a month" because of the brutality of the Japanese. Later in the war he and other selected POWs were shipped to Japan to work in various activities supporting the Japanese war effort. Of a 15-ship convoy, with each vessel carrying 900 POWs, 12 were sunk by American submarines after they left the Philippines; leaving three ships, including his to make it to Japan.
He was sent to work in a copper mine.
An Aug. 3, 2011, Herald/Review article about Cooksley outlined the horror of his imprisonment and told of his later life in the Army. He told the ceremony audience after he was freed he made a decision to remain in the service, and he served in the Korean War and the Cold War.
Retiring in 1960 as a captain, Cooksley said one of the things he is proud of was living so he could testify against some of the Japanese who maltreated American POWs. The 1948 war crime trials ended up with 17 Japanese being found guilty and sentenced to hang, a type of death which is considered dishonorable by the Japanese, Cooksley said.
Noting his father served in World War I and his three sons served in Vietnam, Cooksley looked out at the audience, telling them the enlisted and officers on the fort are continuing to do great work in defending the nation.
As for receiving the Bronze Star Medal, "It's great to know people came," to the awards ceremony, the old soldier said.