By Sean Bailey | Staff Writer
As the sun was burning off the last bit of morning fog from surrounding hills, a small jet landed at Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport Thursday bringing Sgt. David K. Cooper home for the last time.
Discussion about Williamsburg’s first soldier killed in Iraq ceased, and the crowd gathered silently as Cooper’s flag-draped casket was taken from the jet and onto his hometown’s soil.
The only sounds were The Patriot Guard Riders’ American flags flapping in the breeze and the distant commands of Whitley County and Corbin High School JROTC members as they paid their respects and carried Cooper’s casket.
A short prayer was said, and “America the Beautiful” rang out from a trio with an acoustic guitar.
“Oh, it’s very safe to classify (Cooper) as a hero. Anybody that would put their life on the line for their country is a hero to me,” Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison said before the service.
Harrison is also a teacher at Williamsburg High School, and remembers his former student fondly. Cooper was a friend, a role-model to his fellow students and quite the athlete, Harrison said.
“He was very intelligent, good looking, an athlete. He had everything, he was the American guy, you know?” Harrison said. “It’s brought the war home. It’s actually brought it here, it was always on the TV and now it’s here, up close and personal. It’s a sad day.”
After Cooper graduated from Williamsburg High School in 2001, he stopped by to see his old teacher and football coach to tell him plans about his future.
“He did come see me and told me he was going to join the military, and I told him I was very proud of him, and still am,” Harrison said.
Cooper was a sergeant in the Forward Support Company, 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division based out of Fort Hood, Texas. According to the Department of Defense, Cooper was killed Aug. 27 when his dismounted patrol unit came under small arms fire in Qadasiyah, Iraq.
Cooper, 25, is the first Williamsburg native to be killed during U.S. operations in Iraq. To date 4,154 American soldiers have been killed in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Cooper was finishing his third tour in Iraq and was scheduled to come home in May.
“Shock,” Cooper’s friend Bill Conn said at Thursday’s service about the news of his friend’s death. “I was looking forward to him getting back in the area and hanging out again. I couldn’t believe it.”
Conn said he’ll always remember Cooper as someone “that was always there for people.” Conn had recently learned that Cooper had married Amanda (Fuston) Cooper of Corbin and planned to start a computer business in Knoxville after his service.
Officials, friends and citizens simply grateful for Cooper’s service in the military attended Thursday’s memorial ramp service.
“It makes me really proud of David, knowing how many people this affected, how one person could affect this town speaks for David as the person he was ... that in itself speaks volumes to me,” said Senior Airman Nathan Meadows of the U.S. Air Force.
Funeral services for Sgt. David K. Cooper are scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at Croley Funeral Home Chapel. Burial and full military honors by a detachment from Fort Campbell, will follow at the Bowlin Cemetery in Jellico, Tenn.
Gov. Steve Beshear will order all flags at state office buildings be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Sunday, the day of Cooper’s interment.