After 42 years, a coast veteran finds the man who saved his life

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - By Jeff Lawson – bio | email

BAY ST LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - There are two dates that define Henry Cook's life: February 3, 1968 and September 14, 2010.

Cook is a Bay St. Louis attorney. But he's also a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army's Special Forces, who was wounded twice while serving in Vietnam. Cook still vividly remembers that night, 42 years ago.

"It was about ten o'clock that night," Cook said. "We had suffered a heavy ground attack on a Special Forces headquarters."

Henry Cook was to leave Vietnam for home the next day. But when the Viet Cong attacked, Cook grabbed his weapon and ran to the perimeter of the base.

"I was in a raised fighting position that was blown up. And when it was blown up, I found myself lying among the debris. There was a crate of burning ammunition lying across my legs. Actually, I thought my leg was gone."

The leg was broken in five places, and the pain was excruciating. Cook couldn't move, and he thought the ammunition he was on top of would explode. All the while, the attack from the enemy continued.

"Suddenly a hand grabbed me from the back of my collar, dragged me out of the fire, and then stood over me. And this guy started firing his weapon because we were being overrun," Cook said.

The soldier put Cook in a nearby culvert to protect him from incoming fire. He stayed there all night, while still fighting the enemy. He literally kept Cook alive.

The next day, before being moved to a hospital, Cook jotted down in a notebook the name of the soldier who had saved his life. But 24 hours later, the hospital Cook had been sent to was attacked.

"The intensive care unit that I was in was destroyed," he said. "An orderly was killed, the nurse wounded. I was wounded again, and I lost my notebook. So I lost his name."

For 42 years, Henry Cook has tried in vain to remember the name of that soldier and to find him, but to no avail.

Then last month, at a reunion of Special Forces, something occurred that Colonel Cook will never forget.

"This man came up to me and said, 'Did you used to be Lieutenant Cook?'" With a smile on his face, Cook told him, "Guilty as charged."

It was Jim Salaga, the man who saved Henry Cook's life. The man Cook had been trying to find for 42 years.

"He said, do you remember February 3, 1968? I said, 'Oh my God, do I.' I said, 'I can't believe it.'"

Suddenly, that night in Vietnam so long ago seemed real again to both men.

"It happened to both of us, at the same time. We both laughed, we cried, we were very emotional. And all the people around us got the same way. It was amazing," Colonel Cook said.

Now, there is a bond between Henry Cook and his savior that maybe only these two Vietnam veterans can truly understand.

Colonel Cook calls it a moment that truly defines his life. Early next year, Cook and his wife plan to visit with Jim Salaga and his family at their home in Las Vegas. Cook told us that he can't wait.

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