Retired colonel takes Purple Heart organization to court

Retired Colonel Henry Cook
Retired Colonel Henry Cook

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - As more than 20 supporters looked on, Retired Colonel Henry Cook took his seat at the front of the courtroom Tuesday to begin discussing pre-trial motions. Cook, who holds two Purple Heart Medals awarded for his service, sat across from those representing the organization he served as National Commander only a few years ago, the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

In 2007, while Cook served as the National Commander of the MOPH, the organization which funds the order (Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation) was given an F grading by the American Institute of Philanthropy.

"This grading is what first brought about this entire issue," Cook said. "And I am still disappointed that the organization, yet again, received an F in March/April of 2011."

Upon further investigation, Cook said he discovered that the organization was spending money donated by its own members on things that had no direct benefit to the veterans; including NFL football tickets, elaborate retirement parties for employees, and more. When Cook called this spending to the attention of the Board, he was removed from his position as commander and stripped of his membership in the order.

While the order is unable to remove Colonel Cook's two medals, he is no longer eligible to receive the Purple Heart magazine, nor is he allowed membership in his Diamondhead chapter, of which he previously served as scout master.

Of most importance and referenced in court, is that Colonel Cook is no longer allowed a Purple Heart ceremony upon his death and burial in Arlington Cemetery.

"He was a great scout master; one of the best I've had," said Jerry Willett, a member of the Diamondhead branch of the MOPH.

Willett, along with others, proudly displayed their Purple Heart paraphernalia in support of Colonel Cook.

"Cook was the ideal man to run the MOPH," said Blake McIlwain, a member of the Diamondhead Order of the Purple Heart. "He spent hours and hours after Katrina helping everyone to rebuild, more than any emergency association. It was a very petty, bureaucratic thing to do to kick him out."

Along with the MOPH, Cook filed complaints against 14 individuals who serve on the Board of Directors for the congressionally chartered organization, and the separate entity that provides funding to the organization, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation.

Cook gave a thumbs up to the spectators as the defendant's motion to prevent the 14 individuals from being held accountable in the state of Mississippi was denied.

The Service Foundation, which funds the Order of the Purple Heart, was dismissed from the trial, citing Cook's inability to prove a conspiracy between their organization and the congressionally ordered organization of the Purple Heart.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart was dismissed on counts of slander and unlawful retaliation towards Cook. But the claims of breach of fiduciary duty and contract are awaiting a response from the judge.

Cook was not entirely pleased with the outcome of Tuesday's proceedings.

"I'm sorry we had to orally argue this in court," he said. "It would have saved the MOPH's money they spent having to fly down a lawyer from Virginia and pay the legal fees for two more from within the state."

Cook hopes that his suit will bring attention to the unlawful action towards himself, but also to the misuse of the members' money they donate to the organization.

"I don't get to go to the football game and sit in the big seats… I want to see what the foundation is doing with this money," said Gene Jones, a two time Purple Heart recipient.

Discussions in the case will continue within the next two weeks, and the judge is hopeful that the parties can quickly reach a decision without the need for an actual trial.

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