His name wasn't really "Cookie;" it was Cooke, spelled with an E at the end, but since he -- like everybody else in the Army -- wore his last name in capital letters over his pocket, the E was there for all to see, and for all to pronounce, which we did.
Cookie was in charge of fixing radios for the tanks in my company, Bravo Company, and he was very good at it. In fact, he was, all around, a "strac" soldier. Now, I haven't the vaguest idea of the where the word "strac" comes from, and I'm not even sure I'm spelling it right. Buy whatever its origin, it meant one who played by the Army's rules, who's fatigues were always clean and pressed, who always tried his hardest to be All-Army.
Though Cookie was strac, being so didn't seem to help him much.
There was, for example, the incident in which someone on guard duty from my platoon broke into a bunker, stole an armload of high explosives and rigged it to a radio in the attic of the barracks. He wired it so he could go down to the motor pool, turn on a radio in a tank, dial the proper frequency, click the handset and blow the top off the barracks.
A sergeant discovered the broken lock on the bunker and the military police searched our barracks, finding the bomb. Unfortunately, the would-be bomber borrowed Cookie's laundry bag to hold the explosives.
So the investigators put Cookie through the third degree. But it soon became obvious he hadn't anything to do with it. Actually, everybody knew who did it, they just couldn't prove it.
In any case, because Cookie was so good at fixing radios, he was given more and more to fix. He was overworked and burned out.
And that is how I found him one Thursday evening, I believe it was, when I stopped by to see if he would like to go to church with me.
He and I were not exactly close friends, but we really liked each other. What I mean is that when we talked we really communicated.
I found him in his room on the first floor, sitting discouraged at his desk smoking and drinking whiskey and Coke. The desk held several empty Coke cans, the ashtray several cigarette butts, and the whiskey bottle stood half empty.
"You ready to go to church?" I asked.
"Church," he told me without conviction or enthusiasm, "is just a crutch."
"Come on," I urged him, "You said you'd go with me."
He wavered a bit -- I think his word really meant something to him -- but finally said, "No, not tonight."
So I went alone.
For some reason we were off duty the next day, so about 7:30 in the morning I dropped by to see him again.
He was sitting red-eyed at the desk smoking and drinking whiskey and Coke. There were Coke cans strewn all around, the ashtray was full and he was working on his second bottle of whiskey.
I don't know exactly why this scene sticks with me. Perhaps it is because it appeared he had been sitting there all night, though I'm sure he must have gotten some sleep. Or perhaps it is because of his comment about Christianity being a crutch. I think I suggested that morning that if Christianity was a crutch, it is a far better one than he was leaning on. It seems -- though maybe I'm imagining it -- that he agreed.
I don't know what happened to Cookie, though I'm sure he's no longer in the Army. But every once in a while I think of him and his sad smile that night, and I pray for him.
Note: Actually, now (2020) I DO know what happened to him. He contacted me after I posted something on a military page on Facebook. One of the first things he asked is if I was "keeping the faith." Obviously I was a bit startled at that question, but told him I was. He then told me he stayed in the Army, and during the preparation for Desert Storm, a man dressed like a medieval monk approached him and talked to him in the middle of the desert about God, for about an hour, he estimated. Since then, he said, he's never looked back. Whether by the "middle of the desert" he meant in Kuwait, or at the Desert Training Center in California, I don't know, and am afraid I'll never find out in this life, because, having not heard from him in a while I checked his Facebook page and found that he had died. Sad. But I look forward to seeing you again, Cookie!
Copyright 1996, Brad Haugaard.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
– Jesus, John 10:10