Hundreds Gather for Hungry Horse Soldier’s Funeral

By Beacon Staff

COLUMBIA FALLS – The family and friends of 19-year-old Pfc. Nicholas S. Cook gathered here Saturday to pay their respects and lay him to rest under a clear March sky.

“I was proud to know him as a friend, proud to know his folks, his friends,” said Rev. Andrew Goodwin during the early afternoon funeral service.

Cook was killed in the Konar province of Afghanistan on March 7 after insurgents opened fire on his unit. Army officials said they could not provide more information about Cook’s death or mission in Afghanistan, or whether other soldiers had been injured or killed in the attack.

“He was a true hero who sacrificed his life for his country,” Rev. Pat Pierce said. “He stood between us and our enemy.”

About 300 people came to St. Richard’s Catholic Church as Goodwin and Pierce recounted Cook’s life. Gov. Brian Schweitzer and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester were also in attendance.

A Montana Army National Guard honor guard carries the body of Pfc. Nicholas Cook to his final resting place during the interment at Woodlawn Cemetery in Columbia Falls.

Born in Fresno, Calif., on Oct. 5, 1990, and raised by his grandparents Chuck and Kathy Taylor in Hungry Horse, Cook attended Canyon Elementary, then Columbia Falls Junior High, and graduating from Columbia Falls High School in 2008.

His love of sports ranged from football to hunting, but his passion was on the snow. Cook’s enthusiasm for snowboarding was reflected during Saturday’s service, with his snowboard on display over the casket draped in the American flag.

Cook was remembered as a man who loved his family and friends, and could always talk his way out of trouble. To those who knew him, he was playful and quick to tease.

“He could take his grandmother and just wrap her around his little finger,” Goodwin said.

Cook joined the Montana Army National Guard in April, 2009, and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Camp Ederle, Italy, where he took the opportunity to snowboard in the Alps. He left in the beginning of December for a 12-month assignment in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Salvatore Guinta of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, processed Cook into the Army, assigning him to his squad. Guinta left Italy to accompany Cook’s body from Dover, Dela., to Columbia Falls. As the unit escort, he stayed at Cook’s side from Dover until the burial at Woodlawn Cemetery in Columbia Falls was complete.

“He will be missed, he was a great guy,” Guinta said.

Guinta noted that Cook was motivated, excited, strong and fast – “everything you would expect in a soldier, a great soldier.”

Pfc. David Christensen, left, and Staff Sgt. Curtis Bunton prepare the American flag for presentation to the family of Pfc. Nicholas Cook during his interment ceremony at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Columbia Falls.

The Montana Army National Guard honor guard presented Cook’s graveside honors, including the traditional rifle volley and trumpet solo, “Taps.” Cook’s nieces wore homemade flower ornaments in their hair, with a message at the center, which read, “My uncle is a United States Army soldier.”

Army National Guard Brig. Gen. John Walsh presented Cook’s family with flags during the burial service. Members of the Frenchtown Rural Fire District honor guard and the Patriot Guard Riders also paid their respects during the burial.

His family and friends placed red and white roses on his casket as the sun shone on the snow-capped mountains that Cook loved.

“He was a friend to the end,” Goodwin said. “Always.”

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