SALEM — Army Pfc. Michael Cook was just one of several members of his Salem High School graduating class to serve his country
This week, he was the third from the Class of 2003 to die in the line of duty.
Cook was killed Monday while serving as part of Operation New Dawn in Iraq. He was among five soldiers killed when rockets struck their base in Baghdad.
It was his 27th birthday.
Cook and his wife, Samantha, have two young children, Hailee and Michael III.
Cook was remembered yesterday as a charismatic, intelligent man who was always willing to help others.
"He always had a smile and was always positive," said Curtis Killion, Cook's computer science teacher at Salem High School.
Killion and Superintendent of Schools Michael Delahanty recalled how Cook was the type of student who always stood out.
"He was very bright," Delahanty said. "There are some kids who stand out, and Michael was one of those kids."
Although it's been nearly a decade since Delahanty was principal of Salem High, he clearly remembered Cook's fondness for computers while he was a student at the school.
Killion told of how Cook volunteered to put together a yearbook for the district's elementary school students.
"He would always volunteer," Killion said.
"He was the kind of kid that all the younger ones were comfortable with."
Cook's two siblings are still students in the school system. Lucas is a student at Salem High and Kimberly attends Woodbury Middle School.
Delahanty also remembered Cook for his engaging personality, an important trait for someone sent to Iraq as an adviser.
"Michael had one of those personalities that would bridge any communication gap," Delahanty said.
Cook was the third member of the 2003 Salem High graduating class to die serving in Iraq.
The others were Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Moscillo and Cpl. Nicholas Arvanitis. Staff Sgt. Edmond Lo, a member of the Class of 2004, also was killed in Iraq.
Cook will be remembered with a moment of silence at the school's graduation tomorrow.
Yesterday, his body was flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
While Cook was away serving his country, hard times had fallen upon the family, neighbors said.
They were recently forced to move out of their home on Hitty Road and into an apartment.
A large yellow ribbon is tied to an oak tree in the family's old yard.
The house is empty, but a sign that says, "Pray until they are home" sits in the front window.
Marilyn Chirichiello, who lived next door to the family on Hitty Road for 13 years, said the Cooks were great neighbors and always there for others.
Chirichiello said she last saw Michael Cook last year when he came to visit his family.
"She really loved that kid," Chirichiello said of Patti Cook. "She used to say he was the perfect son."
The family moved two weeks ago, she said.
Two men in military uniforms came to her door Monday night looking for the family, presumably to notify them of Cook's death.
"I got scared," she said. "I thought, 'Her son is in Iraq.' It's very sad."
Chirichiello told of how the family tied the big yellow ribbon in the tree and Patti Cook put the special sign in the window, hoping for her son's safe return.
Another neighbor, Kathleen Osmer, said her children often played with the Cook children. Patti Cook was there for Osmer when her son, Kyle, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He's now recovering.
"I've known the Cooks for a long time," she said.
"There is no greater sorrow than losing your child. I can just sympathize so much with them."
Patti Cook and her husband, Michael Cook Sr., could not be reached for comment yesterday. Their son, Lucas, refused comment.
State dignitaries released statements, including Gov. John Lynch.
They offered condolences to the family and thanked Cook for his service.
"We are all deeply saddened by the loss of Pfc. Michael Cook," Lynch said.
"Like so many brave men and women from New Hampshire, Pfc. Cook chose to serve our nation and protect our freedoms, and he did so with courage and honor."
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