A sea of red, white and blue greeted the friends and family of Sgt. David Keith “Coop” Cooper as his funeral procession wound its way through Williamsburg and down US25W to Jellico Sunday afternoon. Over 1,000 area residents turned out along the funeral route to show their respect for a hero, who died on Aug. 27 in Baghdad from wounds suffered in Qadasiyah, Iraq, when his dismounted patrol came under small arms fire.
“It was something to see the support that came out for him and his family. It says so much to the type of people that we have in our area,” said Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison, who was one of Cooper’s former teachers and coaches. “Anybody who joins our military and puts their life on the line is a hero and should be treated as such and I think we did.”
Williamsburg resident Libby Felts came out Sunday along with her daughter and two grandchildren to pay tribute to Cooper. Both her husband and her son just returned from tours of duty in Iraq.
“When I hear things like this it just really touches my heart. My heart goes out to his family,” she said. “I’m thankful for the turnout and I am really tickled. I try to think how I would feel, and it must mean a world to the family. I know it would to me.”
Both young and old gathered starting near Main Street on the Courthouse Square to observe the funeral procession and pay their final respects Sunday afternoon. Many carried American flags. “It stretched all the way up to the city school. The churches came out. College students came out. There were people waiting for us at the interchange near Butch’s Market,” Harrison said.
When the procession reached Windham Drug in southern Williamsburg, it was greeted by the Corbin Fire Department’s ladder truck that was extended over the road. The truck flew a 10-foot by 15-foot American flag borrowed from the University of the Cumberlands at the end of the ladder that the funeral procession drove under. A crowd of about 100 people just in that immediate area started singing America the Beautiful as the procession approached. Crowds ranging from people at churches and fire departments to individuals with flags stood in yards and along roadways to pay their respects.
“The biggest thing to me were the people who just jumped out of their vehicles and put their hand over their heart,” Harrison noted. As mourners approached Veterans Park in Jellico they were greeted with a crowd some described as being four to five people deep that one might see gathered for a parade. Harrison said the whole town was decorated with flags and had bagpipes playing Amazing Grace near Veterans Park. “The motorcade paused there for about 30 seconds and then went on,” he noted.
The procession turned left at the end of the street and proceeded another two miles or so to the cemetery with more people gathered displaying their patriotism and support. A huge American flag covering much of the roof of someone’s home was one of the final tributes mourners saw just a few hundred feet from the cemetery. Cooper was laid to rest with full military honors shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday at the Bowlin Cemetery in Jellico. A detachment of soldiers from 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, carried the flag draped casket from the hearse, and later fired a 21-gun salute in Cooper’s honor followed by taps being played. Members of the Whitley County JROTC and nearly three-dozen officers from area law enforcement agencies stood at attention and saluted. Soldiers then folded the flag that draped the casket and presented it to Cooper’s family.
Joining the military After high school Cooper enrolled in Eastern Kentucky University. He enlisted in the US Army in May of 2004. He attended Basic Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and Redstone Arsenal. In November of 2005, SGT Cooper was assigned to Golf Forward Support Company, 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery, at Fort Hood, Texas as a 94M, Radar Repair Mechanic. He deployed shortly thereafter in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07. While assigned as a Gladiator he served as a command team driver and company armorer. He was selected to serve on CSM Williams’ Personal Security Detail. His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon and the Combat Action Badge. He is survived by his parents, Ronald and Judy Parrott Cooper of Williamsburg, his wife, Amanda Fuston Cooper of Corbin, and many other relatives. Airport ceremony Over 300 people turned out at the Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport Thursday morning as Army officials returned Cooper’s body home.
The mood was somber as soldiers unloaded the casket about 10:40 a.m. as local veterans, members of the Patriot Guard Riders, Whitley County JROTC cadets and law enforcement stood at attention. Several other community members, some of whom were former classmates and others who were simply there to pay their respects, watched. Dr. Michael Colegrove, a retired Army Reserve Colonel, led a prayer. Gerald Mullins played guitar for an acoustic version of America the Beautiful as he, Lisa Lawson and Pastor Fred Powers sang. The casket was then carried through a line of Patriot Guard Riders flying American flags as it was loaded in the hearse for the procession to Croley Funeral Home.
Students from Whitley Central Intermediate School and Williamsburg Independent School, where Cooper graduated from in 2001, stood out near the road many of whom were waving flags as the procession went by.
“You get middle and high school kids and they don’t move and they all have their hands on their heart that is respect and I am proud of them,” Harrison added. Several others gathered along the route to show their respect including what appeared to be nearly every employee at the Kentucky Consular Center in Goldbug. About 75 members of the Patriot Guard Riders lined the sidewalk around the funeral home many flying American flags Saturday afternoon and evening during the visitation and prior to the funeral at 2 p.m. Sunday. Phil Roberts, assistant state captain for the Patriot Guard Riders of Kentucky, said the group goes to military funerals anytime they are invited by the families of soldiers or veterans.
“We are here to support Sgt. Cooper’s family and to honor and respect his family and community,” Roberts said. “We just stand and hold flags and let the family and community know that there are patriots here to stand for them.” Protestors from a Kansas church, which has picketed several military funerals, were expected to show up for the funeral or the visitation but didn’t. Showing their support Senior Airman Nathan Meadows, who grew up with Cooper and is stationed at Gunner Airforce Base in Montgomery, Alabama, was on hand at the airport Thursday as Cooper’s body was returned home.
“It makes me really proud of David knowing how many people this affected. How one person can have so much effect on a town speaks for David as a person and who he was that in itself speaks volumes for me,” Meadows said.
Mike Peace, who previously served in Iraq and currently has a son, Samuel, and best friend, Chet Harris, who are stationed there, said he came out to the airport Thursday just to show his support and respect. “I would do anything I could to help them,” Peace said. “I was over there. I know what they are dealing with, and I know what they will deal with when they get home.”
Bill Conn, who ran track and played football with Cooper at Williamsburg, said he is proud of his friend, who was serving his third tour of duty in Iraq.
“He gave his all,” Conn said. “He was a very humble gentleman and a very good friend. He was always there for people.”
A Fallen Friend
The Fallen Friends program, which is based in Tennessee, gives out medallions to the family members of soldiers and police officers killed in the line of duty. Bob Parker, president of the group, said that about a year ago, the program stopped giving out medallions to soldiers that weren’t from Tennessee because of financial constraints. He said the group decided to give a medallion to Cooper’s family because he lived so close to the state line. The medals are sent to the military, which then forwards them to family members. “It’s all about trying to help people. David didn’t just die for Williamsburg,” Parker noted.