Monday, September 17, 2007

David Cooper has memorial service ahead of burial at Arlington

The array of photographs captured images of Sgt. 1st Class David A. Cooper Jr.’s earlier days and most recent moments in tanks and Stryker vehicles.

Pictures of his first lunchbox, Little League team and high school prom were all displayed inside the Frederick B. Welker Funeral Home Thursday night.

Cooper, 36, of State College, was killed Sept. 5 while serving in Baghdad, Army officials said.

He was remembered in a memorial service at Welker’s as a boy who grew into a man, who had equal measures of compassion and courage, a youthful spirit and over-the-top personality, as one member of the military put it.

While the circumstances surrounding Cooper’s death, a result of a non-combat injury, weren’t clarified by the military, his role with the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis, Wash., was brought to light.

"He was a great tanker and one of the best gunners in the unit," Maj. Gen. David Huntoon, U.S. Army War College commandant in Carlisle, said.

Huntoon said various kind words, but, foremost, he made it clear Cooper was a leader who cared about the welfare of his fellow soldiers.

Inside the chapel were more pictures demonstrating what Huntoon tried to convey in words: A boy maturing in stature and bravery, one who joined the Army Reserves as a junior in high school. Photographs showed him surrounded by a loving family, the big kid who rose through the ranks to become a tank commander.

In the chapel, Cooper’s open casket, in chambers filled with the fragrance of fresh-cut flowers, was draped by the American flag below stained glass artwork depicting Jesus Christ.

Family, friends and fellow brothers and sisters of the military saluted. Even before the service began, about 21 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, motorcyclists who attend area funerals of military men and women killed in combat and serving their nation, many with military backgrounds, escorted Cooper from Williamsport Regional Airport.

The Patriot Guard Riders also protected the service from any would-be protesters, none of whom showed up. The Riders left five minutes before the service began, riding off on their rumbling motorcycles into the sunset without disturbing the solitude of the moment inside.

Inside the chapel, the patriotic song, “American Soldier” by Toby Keith quietly echoed in the chambers.

“We’re here to pay our last earthly respects to this soldier,” said the Rev. Bernard Wynn, a family relative.

His wife, Michelle, read a poem of a soldier’s mission and said, “He was not only my soulmate, he was my best friend.”

She touched on the difficulties of the hard job of being an Army wife and said she was proud to be one of a soldier who will never be forgotten.

Huntoon spoke about how Cooper decided as a junior in high school to enlist in the Army Reserves and how, in the wake of Desert Storm, he decided to give up college for the chance to serve his country.

He served in places such as Fort Drum, N.Y., Fort Knox, Ky., South Korea and Fort Lewis, Wash.

He was excited about being one of the first soldiers to be in a Stryker, a quick-moving and highly mobile vehicle introduced into the Iraq War.

The major general read from a few letters of fellow soldiers.

“Soldiers speak with unvarnished candor,” Huntoon said.

“Everyone who knew him is a better person for having done so,” one soldier wrote.

Cooper had an “over-the-top” personality, loved all sorts of military gear and was highly competitive.

In addition, Cooper was described as “always making you laugh no matter what the situation.”

“Although my big friend is gone, he will never be forgotten,” a soldier wrote.

His company commander liked his aggressive attitude, confidence, and ability to lead the way in a pinch.

“I’ll always remember his huge smile and his personality,” the commanding officer of his company said.

Huntoon recalled recently visiting the American Military Cemetery in Normandy, France, where, in a small chapel words read, “Think not only of their passing, remember the glory of their spirit.”

Huntoon then presented family with Cooper’s Bronze Star and Meritorious Service Medal.

According to unit records, Cooper entered military service on June 25, 1988. He reported for his current term of active service in January 1994, when he reported to the 520th Maintenance Company in Korea for a one-year tour as a material storage and handling specialist. In February, 1995, he reported to Fort Drum, N.Y., where he served as an automated logistical specialist. He reported to Fort Knox, Ky., to attend the Armor Crew member Qualification Course in October 1996. In February 1997, he was assigned to Fort Lewis, where he served with 1st Battalion, 33rd Armor Regiment as an armor crewman; with 2nd Battalion, 358th Armor Regiment as an observer-controller/trainer; and with 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment as a platoon sergeant. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment was later re-designated 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in April. Cooper served with the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment since January.

Patriot Guard Rider spokesman John G. Heck, a retired Army captain, said Cooper will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Cooper’s remains will be transported there in a few days, with a contingent of the Patriot Guard Riders expected to escort his arrival in Virginia, Heck said.

“David’s loss will not be forgotten by his country or the U.S. Army,” Huntoon said.

From the Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Related Link:
David Cooper remembered

Related Link:
David A. Cooper dies 'from a non-combat related injury'