Close-Knit Family Mourns Young Soldier's Death
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The more than 1,600 American troops killed in Iraq include Private Charles Cooper Jr. He came from a closely knit family in Jamestown, New York. An older brother remembers how Cooper said he just wanted to come back and walk the safe streets of his hometown after seeing combat in Iraq. A roadside bomb killed him last month near Baghdad. From member station WNED, Chris Caya reports on the life of a soldier who was 19 years old.
CHRIS CAYA reporting:
Charles Cooper Jr. graduated from Jamestown High School last June. Weeks later, he was in boot camp.
Mr. CHARLES COOPER Sr. (Father): He was ready to go. He wanted to go, take care of business.
CAYA: His father, Charles Cooper Sr., says his son, the youngest of six, just wanted to make a difference and go where the action was. Private Cooper was deployed to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division. In Cooper's home, the air crackles with the calls of a police scanner. Fishing tackle boxes are stacked next to a wood-burning stove in their small living room.
Mr. C. COOPER: Whatever we did, we all tried to do it together, and that's the way it should be. He's still going to be with us.
CAYA: Above a TV stacked with dozens of videos is a shelf crowded with pictures of their happier times. Cooper points to a photo of Charles at 16, bundled up in a camouflage jacket, hat pulled down over his ears, hanging on to the rack of his first deer.
Mr. C. COOPER: So he sat there--he says he sat there and he waited, and he had the gun--the deer in his sights, and he waited, you know. And then a big buck comes along, and finally, one of them jumps the fence and then he starts shooting. Next thing you know, he's running down through the field with a gun--it was hilarious. He was running down through the field. `I got him!' It was hilarious.
CAYA: But it was a different picture that made the local papers and TV news. The one that his family and friends cherish now is of a clean-cut Private Cooper, who was wounded in an earlier attack, being awarded the Purple Heart by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Mr. C. COOPER: Tell you what, I had tears in my eyes when he showed me that one. He was real proud of that one. I was, too.
CAYA: After that, 22-year-old David Cooper says he thinks the Army should have sent his younger brother home.
Mr. DAVID COOPER (Brother): All that pain, he's still out there doing his thing. Yeah, he was a soldier. A lot of guys nowadays wouldn't do that. They'd get scared after their first explosion like that. They'd take off or something, cry, `Send me home. Send me home.' No, Charles would say, `I'll go back out there and do that again.'
CAYA: After his death, Private Cooper was promoted in rank, awarded a second Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and other medals.
Mr. C. COOPER: It's not enough. You can have all them and just send him back home alive, standing up here and...
CAYA: Every time he goes hunting and fishing from now on, Charles Cooper Sr. says he'll miss his son. For NPR News, I'm Chris Caya in Buffalo, New York.