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Veteran with no family in Michigan to be buried at Ft. Custer, friend says he had ‘big heart’

Posted at 7:47 PM, Feb 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-20 20:11:43-05

AUGUSTA, Mich. — Tia Berryhill said the moment she married her husband 13 years ago, she became friends with one of his lifelong buddies Jimmy Cook.

Her husband and Cook had known each other for decades.

“He had a big heart,” Berryhill said during an interview with FOX 17 on Thursday. “He had a big heart and would do anything for anybody.”

Berryhill said Cook, who was in his 70s, was an introverted man and was ‘extremely intelligent.’ He had a PHD in ballistic science.

“He served four years in Vietnam,” Berryhill said. “As an addition to being a pilot, he worked on the planes like a mechanic.”

She said he didn’t talk too much about his time in the Air Force but he was proud of it.

A few weeks ago, Cook passed away unexpectedly after experiencing health complications.

He had no next of kin, she said.

“He brought a lot of smiles to us, a lot of laughs,” she said. “We miss him. We’re heartbroken.”

She added that in the 30 years her husband knew Cook he rarely talked about his family.

After his death, they wanted to cremate Cook's body at Ofield Funeral Home in Grand Rapids, she said. However they didn’t have the money.

“Ofield Funeral Home decided that they were going to give us a huge discount and have a funeral for the cost of what it would have been to cremate him,” she said. “So they said they can do the military out at Fort Custer in Battle Creek. We were so overwhelmed.”

The funeral is scheduled for Friday February 21 at 11 a.m. at Fort Custer in Augusta.

Ft. Custer Director Christopher Morris said that Cook will receive a full military service.

“Here at Fort Custer National Cemetery and the National Cemetery Administration as a whole, we have a vision that no veteran ever dies,” Morris said during an interview at Ft. Custer. “It’s said that you die two deaths: the first when you physically leave your body and the second is the last time someone speaks your name or tells your story.”

Friday, they plan on speaking Cook’s name and telling his story, he said. Hundreds are expected to attend the service. The public is invited.

“Sometimes veterans get distant from their families and unfortunately lose contact,” Morris said. “But he has a family here at Fort Custer National Cemetery. Over 90 percent of my staff are veterans. So he’s one of my brothers in arms.”

Berryhill is grateful, she said, and is happy Cook will get the burial he deserves.

“He was just a wonderful man,” Berryhill said. “He served his country and he needs the support. He needs the sendoff.”