FLEMINGSBURG -- Protestors were absent from a local soldier's funeral Sunday, pride and honor were not.
A few hundred people gathered to pay their final respects to 29-year-old Staff Sgt. John E. Cooper of Fleming County, who was killed by a roadside bombing in Iraq on Jan. 15.
Members of the community became concerned after a Kansas hate group posted information on its Web site and leaked information to area media outlets that members would picket the funeral of the fallen soldier. As the funeral drew near, the community beefed up law enforcement in an effort to deter any sort of confrontation.
To much of the community's relief, the only demonstration was one of patriotism and honor. On the blustery winter day, men and women from as far away as Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia, lined the entrance of Fleming County High School, with flags in hand.
"We do this to show respect for the family and for the fallen soldier," said Bill Miller, ride captain for the Louisville division of the Patriot Guard, a group of motorcycle riders who make it their mission to honor service men and women.
Members of Taskforce Omega, a group of POW/MIA family members, soldiers and concerned citizens, were also present to show their support.
Danny "Greasy" Belcher, director of Veterans' Affairs for the Kentucky Motorcycle Association and leader of Taskforce Omega said Cooper's sacrifice, and others like him, have made it possible for Americans to enjoy their many liberties. Taskforce Omega's presence at the funeral was just a small way to say, "thanks."
To some, the funeral and life of Cooper evoked great pride.
As a father of two children, Cooper's brother, Terry, said, "I thought I knew what pride was."
After he learned of the death of his brother, his idea of pride changed, he said.
"It made me feel a pride I'd never felt before."
Over the next few days following his brothers death, after many calls, letters and visits from people in the community and across the nation, Terry said he felt an even greater pride in being "part of America."
Capt. David Stevenson, an Army chaplain, spoke during the funeral, comforting the crowd with the story of Lazarus from the Bible, explaining that God knew the family's pain. He used the popular verse, "Jesus wept," to console.
Stevenson also told the crowd that Cooper's life would have an impact on "generations to come."
Cooper's influence on future generations was immediately detected as his young nieces came forward to read poems saluting their beloved uncle and soldier.
"If not for a soldier's life, ours would fall apart," ended one of the poems.
Cooper's casket was draped with a flag, pictures of him hung nearby and patriotic flower arrangements surrounded his coffin.
During the funeral, Cooper was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantry Badge and a Purple Heart posthumously. The awards were given to his family.
Family members were also presented with Gold Stars, a military honor given to family members of fallen soldiers.
Faculty from Fleming County Middle School filled the bleachers. They were present to support Cooper's mother, Janice Botkin, who is employed by the school.
The Fleming County American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Honor Detail were also present to escort the body to the hearse. An active duty group out of Ft. Knox was present to display full military honors during the burial.
Even with all the honors, some funeral goers felt more could be done.
As a mother of a soldier, Lidia Smith came to the funeral. Smith knows Cooper's mother and also identifies with her.
"I've had many sleepless nights," said Smith. She understands the worry and knows the fear of loss.
"There's not enough people here," said Smith of the funeral turn-out. She felt more people should have turned out to support the family.
Local veteran Brien Ferguson agreed.
"For 10 years, he's been there (in the service) for the community and the country, it's the least people could have done, to fill the gymnasium."
Although the gymnasium was not full, flags continued to wave at half-staff in the state, on order from Gov. Ernie Fletcher. And in Flemingsburg, law enforcement officials lined the streets to let the soldiers' motorcade pass without interruption. A few people were even out in the streets, waving flags, standing at attention, saying a final goodbye to their fallen hero.From the Independent
Related Link:John E. Cooper dies of injuries from I.E.D.