Retired Air National Guard Brig. Gen. James C. Cook, former commander of the 107th Fighter Interceptor Group at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, died Wednesday in his Williamsville home under hospice care after a brief illness. He was 77.
Gen. Cook flew 280 combat missions in the Vietnam War, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and 14 Air Medals.
He received some unwanted notoriety in 1986 when he was wrongly identified as a jet pilot who supposedly refused to change course and yield air space to the presidential jet, Air Force One, which was carrying President Ronald Reagan.
"It didn't happen," he told a reporter later. "All it was, was that radio transmissions from the ground controller to us weren't reaching us."
Born in Buffalo, he attended Kensington High School and Canisius College before enlisting in the Air Force in 1951. Commissioned as an officer after he finished pilot and fighter training, he was stationed stateside, then joined the New York Air National Guard in 1956.
He became a flying training officer and then air operations officer at the 136th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, a unit within the 107th Fighter Interceptor Group in Niagara Falls.
He served as the unit's flight commander during the Berlin Crisis in 1961-62 and was called back to active duty during the Pueblo Crisis in 1968, leaving a tour at Air Command and Staff College to go to Korea. He returned from Korea just in time to join the call-up of the 136th for duty in Vietnam.
He became squadron commander in 1975 and commander of the parent fighter interceptor group in 1981. He received the Legion of Merit when he retired in 1987.
In retirement, he was president of a clinic at Erie County Medical Center that served residents of Buffalo's East Side. He was an avid golfer.
He was a parishioner of St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church and a member of Madonna Council 2535, Knights of Columbus, North Tonawanda.
Surviving are his wife of 53 years, the former Helen M. Olsen; a son, Peter; and a sister, Marlyn Hovagimian.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in St. Gregory the Great Church, 200 St. Gregory Court at Maple Road, Amherst.