“I’ll Save My Life By Being The Best Soldier I Can Be”: Reflections On Vietnam Service With The 173rd Airborne Brigade

Wambi Cook


Wambi Cook was born in December 1946 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his brother and sister. His father, Willie Cook was a professional jazz musician, and his mother raised the three children. In high school, Wambi was very athletic and also musically talented. His grandmother Bertha was Pennsylvania Dutch and was well respected in the neighborhood. While attending college, he met a young lady and they were married in June 1966. He had been drafted in late 1965 and reported to Basic Training in the summer of 1966 at Ft. Benning, completed AIT at Ft. Gordon, and started Airborne School at Ft. Benning in January 1967. When he learned that “you’re all going to Vietnam,” he thought “aw, shit.” When he deployed, he flew to Bien Hoa and joined the 173rd Airborne Brigade, being assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry. He remembers the “old guys” teaching the “new guys” how to survive. He recalls some of the techniques he learned, including carrying 10 magazines and as many grenades as possible. He discusses some of the preparation for Operation Junction City in February 1967, although he missed the combat jump, and he describes operations in War Zone D. He was wounded on Mothers’ Day in 1967 and recalls his experiences in the 93rd Evac Hospital, where a doctor found a piece of shrapnel on an artery. He was back to the field by the middle of June. At the end of the interview, he reflects on his service, stating he was “defined by my two years” in the Army. He also discusses the legacy of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and why it is important to preserve it.


conflicts Vietnam War
topics African American Military Experience Race in the Military Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie Military Techniques PTSD
interviewer David Siry
date 30 March 2022


name Wambi Cook
service Infantry
unit A Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade
specialty President 173rd Airborne Brigade Association
service dates 1966 1968