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Ashland resident has four decades of Navy stories

Claude “Cork” Drake loves to tell a good story.

The 91-year-old Ashland resident could recite enough tales from his 42 years of naval service to fill not one book, but volumes.

Sitting at the living room table in his Ashland residence with his wife of 56 years, Betty, and two daughters, Drake recalled how he adopted the unusual moniker Cork when he was 27 and a chief petty officer on the USS Buck.

Some of his fellow shipmates called him “Claudette,” and “I hated it,” he said.

Drake said his Skipper gave him the opportunity to adopt a nickname, so he went into his quarters to think about it. He was swaying in his hammock, imagining himself as cork bobbing in the sea, when it came to him.

For the rest of his long career, the name Cork would not be a source of derision, but a title of affection and respect for a man who earned over 60 military decorations — including two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star — and the rank of captain.

Drake said he and his family share great respect for those in service to their country, and the sacrifices that come with it.

Drake grew up in Rochester, New York, and he joined the Navy in July 1947 as an apprentice seaman.

In the following decade, he went to aviation school, was selected for the competitive seaman-to-admiral program, and served as a supply corps officer — managing budgets and incoming supplies — for several ships.

Drake saw service in the Berlin Airlift during the Cold War, and he served in both the Korea and Vietnam wars.

In 1967, Drake was stationed at the Naval Air Facility in Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, an important supply depot for the U.S. during the war.

His work organizing transport and getting key supplies for the base in an active combat zone, while withstanding punishing heat and a bombardment of sand, earned him a commendation from the secretary of the Navy.

“Lieutenant Commander Drake’s initiative, integrity and dedication to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,” his citation read.

Beyond his strong-work ethic, Drake was also known for his good character, demonstrated by his willingness to mentor young servicemen. According to a former shipmate, Arnie Grauer, he had a terrific sense of humor, too.

“If you didn’t like Corky, something is wrong with you,” he said.

Grauer, a Marine battalion surgeon, was stationed with Drake on the USS Alamo off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, in 1964. The two got to know each other well, with neighboring quarters.

Grauer, now 82 and living in a suburb of Chicago, still feels a connection to Corky. “I feel like he’s a brother.”

Drake’s daughters, Carol Kim and Jennifer Drake, heard things like this from many of their father’s shipmates.

“They always spoke highly of dad,” Drake said. (Corrected)

Drake’s service required sacrifice from his family. Kim and Drake remember moving 10 times between 1965 and 1986, making it hard to maintain friendships and to keep up with school. The family unit went up and down the West Coast, settled in Hawaii twice, and traveled as far east as Thailand.

“I found it a little difficult,” admitted Kim, though she believes it impacted her positively in the long run. “I feel like it was an enriching experience, even though it was difficult to make new friends all the time.”

Both she and her younger sister credit their mother for keeping spirits up through each move, and when their father was away. “She’s the one that always held our family together,” Kim said.

Drake had his own personal struggles. The retired captain said he suffered from PTSD from his experiences in the service.

“I would wake up at night and relive various times. I saw a lot of death,” Drake said.

According to his daughters, it was only after retiring from the Navy in 1989 and settling in Ashland that Drake sought counseling.

“He remembers absolutely everything he did,” Drake said. “We’ve all been affected by it at one point.”

Kim remembers how affected her father was when Kim's daughter visited Arlington National Cemetery on a school trip. Writing an essay about her grandfather's service, she got the opportunity to participate in the wreath laying ceremony at the tomb of the unknown solder. (Corrected)

The video of the ceremony brought Drake to tears. “He knows so many people who gave their lives to keep our country free,” Kim said.

Drake and Kim said their father is a sensitive man at heart, and they want people to appreciate the sacrifices he made.

“We can’t forget that these are real people who are involved fighting and defending our country,” Drake said.

Today, Drake says his counseling has helped him deal with the trauma, and though he still has trouble sleeping, he no longer dreams of combat.

When asked about the values he hoped to instill in his daughters, he beckoned for a recent Memorial Day card, which contained five words — service, honor, integrity, loyalty and duty.

“Those are the words of a good sailor,” Drake said.

Reach Mail Tribune intern Hans Boyle at hboyle@rosebudmedia.com.

Correction, July 4:It was Drake’s granddaughter who participated in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, not his daughter as stated in the July 4 print edition of the Mail Tribune. This updated version of the story also corrects three quotes attributed to Drake's daughters — Jennifer Drake and Carol Kim — that in print were attributed to the incorrect daughter.

Capt. Claude "Cork" Drake, 91, showcases some of his dozens of medals at his Ashland home. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune.
Capt. Claude "Cork" Drake, 91, of Ashland, served in the Navy for 42 years and earned more than 60 medals. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune