James Cook was born in 1941 in Wilmington, North Carolina. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on September 5, 1962, and was trained as a flight control mechanic on the TM-76A Mace missile system. His first assignment was with the 38th Missile Maintenance Squadron at Sembach AB, West Germany, from December 1963 to December 1965, followed by the 507th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Kincheloe AFB, Michigan, where he served as a missile guidance specialist from December 1965 to December 1966. Sgt Cook then served with the 328th Munitions Maintenance Squadron at Richards-Gebaur AFB, Missouri, from December 1966 to August 1967, when he deployed to Southeast Asia. He served with the 388th Munitions Maintenance Squadron at Korat Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from August 1967 to September 1968, and then with the 3417th Consolidated Maintenance Squadron at Lawry AFB, Colordo, after returning to the United States. Sgt Cook then cross-trained as a B-52 Stratofortress gunner and served with the 51st Bomb Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, before being assigned to the 307th Strategic Wing at U-Tapao Air Base, Thailand. He was forced to bail out of his stricken aircraft over North Vietnam during Operation Linebacker II on December 26, 1972, and was taken as a Prisoner of War. After spending 48 days in captivity, he was released early due to his injuries during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. Sgt Cook was medically retired at Lowry AFB, Colorado, on May 30, 1974.
His Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Citation reads:
Technical Sergeant James R. Cook distinguished himself by heroism while participating in aerial flight as a B-52 Gunner in Southeast Asia on 26 December 1972. On that date, Sergeant Cook participated in high priority bombing missions against vital military targets in heavily defended areas of North Vietnam. Despite the intensity of the hostile defensive reaction and the hazard of surface-to-air missiles and hostile interceptors, Sergeant Cook displayed extraordinary courage and a remarkable ability to perform under severe stress. He showed a willingness to place the mission requirements above his personal safety as he maintained a constant watch for enemy fighter attack and other threats, thus enabling his crew to deliver their ordnance on the designated targets. The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant Cook reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.