Cook Cleland, SBD pilot

Lieutenant Cook Cleland

Dauntless  SBD Dive Bomber Pilot

Artwork and Research is by; Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette


Cook Cleland, SBD pilot 12×18″

There are 750 limited edition prints in this series.

Limited Edition Prints are signed and numbered by the Artist and Cook Cleland. $60.00

All signatures by both the Aviator and the Artist is done in soft graphic pencil.

Shipping $6.00 anywhere in the world.

Poster Print $14.95

Poster prints are autographed by the artist only.

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Cook Cleland Story

By Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette

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Painting by Ernie Boyette. 2×4 Feet autographed by Cook Cleland. Price $3,500.00

In June 1944 Lieutenant Cook Cleland was serving with Bombing 16 abroad the aircraft carrier Lexington. Bombing 16 was equipped with 34 SBD’s. At this time the SBD was being replaced in the fleet with the new SB2C Helldiver. Cook was known as Cookie and had a reputation with his rear gunner W. J. Hisler as being an aggressive duo who thrived on combat.

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Cook on left and his killer rear gunner Hisler.

During the Battle for Guadalcanal Cook told me that he was on the aircraft carrier Wasp. He said that when the carrier crossed the equator for the first time he was already in the air flying on his way to a beautiful Pacific island. During this battle Cook was flying combat air patrol looking for enemy submarines. His rear gunner who was named Hisler spotted one and dropped a smoke flare to mark the location. By the time Cook circled around and came back to the spot that was marked the submarine was gone. Cook then flew over his carrier and dropped a message saying that they had spotted a submarine in the area. The message was received by the crew on the flight deck of the Wasp and taken right up to the Admiral. Cook added that the Admiral on board the Wasp did not heed the warning. He got the warning and ignored it. The Admiral did nothing to put the carrier and the group on alert. An enemy submarine is nothing to ignore.

Cook landed back on the carrier when his flight was over. Once he landed he unbuckled and stepped out of the cockpit onto the wing. He then jumped off onto the carrier deck. As he was walking towards the carrier island the ship was hit by a savage explosion followed by another and then another. Three huge geysers of water flew up higher than the carrier deck along the side of the Wasp showing the hits that were caused by three torpedoes that had been fired from the very enemy submarine that Cook and Hisler spotted.

The WASP had been hit by three Japanese twenty-one inch torpedoes. Cook was knocked his knees onto the metal deck. He got up and started to run down the deck away from the blast. Many of the ships crewmen were running towards the damaged areas to help and many others were running away to safety. Not far from Cook another ship mate was running just ahead of him in the same direction. Suddenly another explosion went off. Cook said that a deck plate was blown free and as it was flying through the air he said it looked like it was a piece of paper. The heavy metal section hit the sailor in front of him and cut his head clean off. Cook said that he was amazed because the sailor’s body was still running like nothing had happened as his head was rolling down the deck in another direction! Cook had been right in the mist of the flying debris and the heat and flame from the explosion. He too was hit by some of the flying pieces of metal but he was indeed lucky.

He ran to the rear of the ship and stopped. He was getting his head around the fact that he was about to go over the fan tail or the end of the ship. Cook told me that he was exposed to be below eating and drinking coffee yet here he was looking down at the ocean below. As Cook was measuring up his options the Admiral, the ship’s Captain and a few others from the bridge came back to go over the end of the ship with Cook and a few others that had gathered. They also brought one of the men from the ships bridge that had been badly injured.

Cook and others helped the injured man into the water by rope and then started after him by jumping into the water. Just before Cook jumped he noticed that the Admiral had taken off his pants and shirt before jumping in the ocean. Cook was shocked to see that the Admiral was wearing long-johns! Cook commented that it was so hot that most men did not even have a shirt on and here was the Admiral wearing long-johns in the heat of the Pacific! Cook and the others who witnessed this said that the Admirals naval tactics were as old as his drawers! After all he was responsible for their misery.

The carrier blew up sank. Cook received wounds from scrap-metal which got him the Purple Heart for his injuries. He said that his hair and eyebrows were burned off as well. While he and the other survivors were floating in the water an American destroyer was lobbing depth charges into the ocean not very far from them as they floated awaiting rescue. Cook said that every time one of the explosive charges went off he got water shoved up his butt! So he and the others around him in the water shoved a finger up their butts to keep it from happening! I guess this is where you would say, “Desperate times calls for desperate measures.” The explosions were also painful to the men. Everyone I have interviewed who have been in the ocean when explosions were going off describe it as being hit in the gut by a heavy weight boxer.

The Navy Strikes Back

During one four hour interview I had with Cook my brother John was with me. Cook told my brother and me one story after another. On one mission they were attacking an island classified as an Atoll. These land areas were often just above the ocean level. Cook was following behind another SBD who dropped a thousand pound bomb into the jungles below. The explosion was so great that it threw up debris right in front of Cook’s bomber. After flying through the explosion Cook realized that they were flying too low. He was lucky that his bomber was not injured by debris thrown up from the detonation of such as large ordinance.

Enough of the small talk lets get to the grit of the story. Cook had a nickname and was known as Cookie. He was good friends with his rear gunner, W. J. Hisler. They both had a reputation of being an aggressive duo. They thrived on combat. I understand that they were both a pair of aces both in the cockpit as well as out of the cockpit. Of course their adventures out of the cockpit were quite mischievous. In June 1944 Lieutenant Cook Cleland served with Bombing 16 abroad the aircraft carrier Lexington. Bombing 16 was equipped with 34 SBD’s. At this time the SBD was being replaced in the fleet with the new SB2C Helldiver.

During a raid on Mili Atoll, Cleland spotted a Japanese “Betty” bomber flying away from the battle scene. Even though Cook was flying a dive bomber he gave chase to the enemy bomber. Cook pulled in behind the twin-engine aircraft determined to shoot it down. Cook weaved back and forth in an effort to avoid the 20mm machine gun in the tail of the enemy aircraft. He fired into the bombers left engine causing it to smoking. The SBD was only equipped with 7.9 mm machine guns in the cowling. These are considered small caliber machine. After firing a few burst into the engine and wing of the “Betty” his machine gun froze up or jammed. Cook was excited and wanted to bring down this enemy bomber. He then increased power and pulled up alongside of the Betty.

He flew side-by-side with the Japanese medium bomber while Hisler fired broad side at the enemy. The machine gun in the side of the Betty was firing back on their SBD as well. Both planes flew together slugging it out with Hisler firing into the Jap plane with his twin 30-caliber machine guns. Bullets from each aircraft raked the other. Imagine two sailing ship sailing side by side firing broadside after broadside at the other. This is what happened in the air.

Cook realized that he would not be able to bring down the Japanese bomber this way and that he and Hisler were at risk of damage or death. The bomber was losing speed from the damaged engine. Cook called back to Hisler and told him to wait for the right shot. Cook then poured on the power of his SBD and pulled ahead of the “Betty.” As Cook pulled ahead of the bomber he was able to look right into the cockpit and into the face of the Japanese co-pilot. He noticed that the pilot was wearing glasses. He also saw much concern in the enemies face. Its moments like this that lives with the aviator forever. To look into the eyes of your enemy before one of you is killed.

As Cook pulled past the bomber he got far enough ahead and then told his gunner to fire into the cockpit. Hisler fired his twin machine guns directly into the windshield and faces of the Japanese pilot and co-pilot. This brought the Japanese bomber down nose first into the sea. That is truly one of the best stories I ever heard. They did received proper credit for this aerial victory however in the future they would be denied such claims because a dive bomber is not a fighter. Plus the fact that Cook always had his commanders unnerved or let’s say pissed off at him a lot of the time, they gladly denied him his honors.

To read more about Cook Cleland then please consider one of our prints or one of our upcoming books. Thank you.

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Cook and SBD at the Pensacola Naval Museum.

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Cook signing my original painting.

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This is a photo of a model I found on the internet of “Old Number 39”.

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VB 16 Squadron Patch

Cook at the Pensacola Navel Museum with an SBD.

Cook Cleland Famous Air Racer

Thompson Trophy Winner 1947 and 1949

Artwork and Research is by: Sir Hamilton

When Cook was a young man he was totally infatuated with the famous air racers of his day. Jimmy Doolittle and Roscoe Turner were bigger that life itself. These famous air racers caused many of our famous aviators, aces and bomber pilots to pursue flying. Gabby Gabreski who was the top Ace in Europe told me that when he was a child he watched Doolittle race and how he knew in his heart that one day he would fly. Cook was drawn into aviation by his boyhood heroes and entered flight training and became a fearless dive bomber pilot in the Pacific War.

After the war Cook turned to racing airplanes. He was able to obtain three F2G Corsairs and put all of his time and money into his dream. His dreams came true when he won the 1947 Thompson Trophy and then again he won the Trophy in 1949. His goal was to win the Trophy three times like Roscoe Turner but in 1948 when using an experimental fuel he blew the carburetors of both his competing aircraft putting him out of the race.

Below are rare color photographs of Cook’s racers and the limited edition prints I published honoring his achievements.

You can access the pages of Cook’s racers by clicking on the print titles.

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1947 Thompson Trophy Winner

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1949 Tinnerman Trophy Winner

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1949 Thompson Trophy Winner

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Cook Goes back to War

Korean War F4U-4

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Cook flew the Corsair above in Korea in 1951. Cook was shot down and rescued off the coast of Korea.

The picture above is not my artwork. I scanned it from the book “Corsairs in Korea.”

Cook’s return to combat in the Korean war could have saved his life. My personal opinion was that the more Cook raced, the thinner his luck was running. Yet he was shot down in the freezing cold water off the coast of Korea! He loved combat and did not shy away from it. Just as in WWII, Cook was a go-getter. This got on the nerves of some people. Cook could get on people’s nerves yet he was the life of the party. Everybody loved him, some tolerated him. Up setting his commanding officers occasionally was a stroke of bad luck for Cook. Cook was the top of his class at getting into trouble.

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My hero, my friend, Cook “Cookie” Cleland.