66 years later: a small measure of peace

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
With the sharp barrage of gunfire, precise folding of the U.S. flag and the slow presentation of "Taps" by a lone bugler, 1st Lt. Clark Kooper, U.S. Army Air Force pilot, was laid to rest, May 27, 2011, more than 66 years after his plane was shot down during World War II.

The ceremony was held at the Nebraska Veterans Cemetery, Alliance, Neb., and attended by Airmen from the Ellsworth Air Force Base Honor Guard, who rendered honors and presented the U.S. flag to Lieutenant Kooper's only surviving brother, Edward Kooper.

"All his contemporaries are gone - I'm all that's left," said Mr. Kooper, a former World War II Navy veteran. "We are here today to celebrate the life of a person who truly deserves it."

While stationed in the South Pacific, Lieutenant Kooper earned the Air Medal a total of four times for his skill and bravery as a fighter pilot. However, during a mission to the island of Hainan on March 14, 1945, their squadron engaged five Nakajima Ki-84 fighters, which were used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force during World War II, and referred to as "Frank" fighters by the Allies. The official record from this mission describes the last time anyone saw Lieutenant Kooper.

We were in flight formation, when two of our planes became separated from the rest of the flight just prior to reaching the target. Due to heavy cloud cover, and sighted a lone enemy transport plane below them near the deck. They dove down after it and then noticed five enemy "FRANK" type fighter planes above them at 10,000 ft, which previously escaped detection due to clouds. The two planes climbed to attack. The enemy flight broke formation and three of them were attacked by our planes. A scissor maneuver enabled our planes to keep mutual tail protection against the other enemy planes. The wing man Lt. Robert Dow shot down one, while Lt. Kooper shot down one on Lt. Dow's tail. (This would be Lt. Kooper's second kill). Our planes then broke off the combat fight due to low fuel and the fact that there was smoke coming from Lt. Kooper's engine of his aircraft. About 25 miles out of Hainan Island, Lt. Clark Kooper bailed out and was last seen waving to his wing man from his life raft. Lt. Dow radioed his position to the rescue team so that they could find Lt. Kooper and stayed with him as long as possible and then because of low fuel was forced to return to base.

Unfortunately, Lieutenant Kooper was never seen again, and his squadron listed him as Missing-In-Action. Decades later, Mr. Kooper remembers his brother as a hero.

"He died fighting for his country," Mr. Kooper said. "You couldn't ask any more of anyone. If he were here today I would tell him 'thank you for being who you are.'"

Maggie Murphy, wife of Mr. Kooper, said even though she never met her brother-in-law, she saw how hard his death affected the entire family.

"It was especially hard for his mother," she said. "His body was never found, so she was never able to find closure. At least today we can find some small measure of peace."

With his brother finally laid to rest, Mr. Kooper said he is able to reflect on his sacrifice this Memorial Day, along with all the sacrifices made by men and women who served during World War II.

"I have my own battle scars from the war," he said. "But, they were the true heroes, and that's about all I can say."