Monday, September 29, 2014


"Letters from 'Nam"

The last time Mark Cooper saw his brother James, he was walking down a long tunnel at the Atlanta Airport.  After a short reunion in Atlanta with friends and family, Mark waived goodbye as  James boarded a jet plane eventually bound for the Far East and Vietnam.

James Ennis Cooper was a member of the Classes of the 1960s.  During the history of our country, generations of young men have drawn the short straws to fight the wars which older men started.  James Cooper was one of those young men - a man, yet still a boy. Born on February 10, 1944 to contractor Theodore E. Cooper and his seamstress wife, Loudelle Morris Cooper, James Ennis Cooper would become one of fifty-eight thousand plus names on the Vietnam Veterans Wall.

"James was a tough kid, who would certainly accept a challenge," said former neighbor Ben Tarpley.  On the other hand Tarpley added, "He would still take the time to give all of us younger kids a ride on his Cushman motor scooter."

James Ennis Cooper graduated from East Laurens High School in the spring of 1964.  His senior annual proclaimed his ambition was "To live and let live."  His motto was "Some that smile have in their hearts, I fear, millions of mischief."

James married Dianne Martha Pope on April 22, 1966.  Some sixteen months later, James was on his way to duty in the jungles of Vietnam as a member of the 1st Division, forever known as the "Big Red One."

Cooper's tour of duty began on August 10, 1967.  The Door's Light My Fire was Number 1 on the Hot 100 charts.  Bonnie & Clyde and In the Heat of the Night were the new movies coming to theaters around the country.   Back in Atlanta,  Pat Jarvis and Mack Jones led the Atlanta Braves to a 10-2 whalloping of the Houston Astros.

After going through the usual indoctrination procedures of a new man in the unit, James set down and began to write letters to his wife, his family and friends.  At least three of those letters to his younger brother Mark, a  successful Dublin pharmacist, still survive.

It was the 1st day of September, 1967.

Hi Mark:

Well, I thought I would write you while I had time.  I received your letter today.  This is the second day I received mail since I've been here, yesterday was the first day.  I got five letters, one from mother, one from Florrie and three from Dianne.  It sure does help your morale when you get mail from home.  It took a while, 2 weeks, for me to get my first mail because I was new in the company, but I got a little, from you and Dianne today and it only took four days to get here.

So it only takes about four days to get a letter from you.  Well, I only stayed in San Francisco a day and a half and it took me about 20 hours to fly over here.  We stopped three times to refuel, they were in Honolulu, Hawaii, Wake Island and Guam.

Well there isn't much to tell about this place except it is hot, nasty and the people live like animals.  The people all have dark skin from the sun and you can't trust any of them.  They have a few places over here that are pretty well up to date, like Saigon.  Some of the women over here look ok, but not as good as our American women.

Well I'm about eighteen miles above Saigon, a place called Dian, the D is pronounced like a "Z," like in zero.

Well, I haven't been to the field, where the action is.  We still are in base camp. We don't know how long we will be here, maybe a couple of weeks.  But we did go outside the perimeter sometimes and set up camp.  I'm in the weapons platoon, that is a little better than the linemen. We support with our mortar guns.  We are living in tents right now, but it is not too bad.

Well, guess I'd better go, I got some work to do.

        James Ennis

In just two weeks of being in Vietnam, James begins to show his frustration of being in the middle of the hellish fighting and his desire to protect his younger brother from the horrors of war.   Although James repeatedly complained of muddy conditions all around him, his letters to Mark, a pharmacy student in Atlanta,  are neatly written on spotless white paper, free of a speck red clay.

Monday. 18 September, 1967

Hello Mark:

How is everything around Atlanta, Ga?  Well everything around here is pretty muddy.  I'm at Quanloia now.  It is about 50 or 60 miles above Saigon. We are guarding an airbase here right now.  We are living in two man tents up here and the place isn't anything but red clay.  I walk around with mud caked on my boots all the time because it is usually raining every day and everything stays muddy.  My tent is about 75 yards from the runway.  There are a lot of airplanes and helicopters that land here everyday.  They have of lot of rubber trees, coconut trees and banana trees around here.

Well the monsoon season has been here for several months now and we have about another month or so left before it will cease.

I can buy beer & soda for 10 cents and 15 cents a can, but I've cut down on my beer drinking right now because it is not agreeing with me too well.

Well right now we are getting hot meals but we eat c-rations part of the time.  In fact, I'm getting ready to open up a can in a few minutes.  The c-rations are better than the food they cook sometimes.

We'll if I were you, I would try my best to get out of the d-----  service. I know you wouldn't like it, I can tell you from experience.  Stay out a long as you can. But if they get to messing with you, join the reserves.

Don't let them get you, try to out smart them. The best way is to fail your physical examination any way you can.

Take some of your pills that will make you have high blood pressure or something that will show up as an ulcer in your stomach or anything you can think of.

______ sent me some food to eat the other day, I will probably get it in a few days. I will be glad when it gets here.

Well I guess I will close for now and eat some of those rations.

        James  Ennis

Specialist Four Cooper was assigned to Company D of the 18th Regiment of the 1st Army Division.  The 1st Division, which held a long and distinguished heritage,  had been one of the first two divisions sent into Vietnam in 1965.

On January 30, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive across nearly all of South Vietnam.  The Big Red One was sent in to bring a halt to the deadly operation.  On April 8, 1968, the U.S. Army responded by initiating Operation Toan Thang I or "Complete Victory."  While America was in turmoil following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., four days earlier, the men of the 18th were out to put a stop to the random, deadly, surprise attacks, which were ravaging South Vietnam.

In the days leading up to the Battle of Coral-Balmoral with American forces in support of Australian forces, James, whose desire to keep Mark out of the war in Vietnam was stronger than ever, took a few moments to sit down and write a letter to Mark.  It would be his last letter.

Sun., 5 May, 1968

Hello Mark:

Well got your letter this morning, along with one from mother, (?) and Dianne.  They seem to always wait and bundle them together.  Well I'm up near the Cambodian border.  We are up on a big operation up here.  We've killed over 800 VC since we got here over a week ago. Artillery got the biggest part of them.  But, the first day we got here, we got into a big artillery fight.  

On the second night they tried to overrun our base, but we kicked their a--.  The s--- was really flying. We went out the next morning and there were dead VC all over the place.  We picked up all of their weapons and brought their bodies into headquarters.

They had a burial detail to go out and bury all of the dead VC. But this place is beginning to stink from the bodies of the VC all over the place.

We've only lost one man since we've been here.

Sure will be glad to get out of this place.

Don't get much sleep at night, too busy watching for the VC.  I think we wiped out most of them in this area.  I hope so.

Boy you better try to keep your a-- out of the service because they haven't got a d----d thing to offer you.  I'm sure if I had it to go over with again, I wouldn't  be in here now, but I would join the guards or the reserves before I would let them get me.  Better to your d------dest to stay out.

Well, what's the news around Atlanta?  Elonie (sic) says they are moving back to Dublin.  Will guess I'll close for now and try to get a little rest.

        James Ennis

James Ennis Cooper was killed in action on May 8, 1968 in the Binh Duong Province in the southern part of South Vietnam and north of Saigon.   Official reports state that his death came from multiple fragmentation wounds.  Ironically on a day when 87 men, mostly Marines and Airborne Rangers, James was the only member of the 1st Division killed during  that horrible day in May.

Back home in Dublin, the friends and family of James' mother Loudelle, had just finished celebrating her birthday on May 7, the day before.  

"Mom's birthdays were just never the same after that," recalled Mark.

You can find the name of SP4 James Ennis Cooper  on Line 37 on Panel 56E of the Vietnam Wall.  You can find his grave in Northview Cemetery on Section 4, Row 20 in the far southeastern part of the cemetery.

Rest in peace, James Ennis Cooper.

No comments:

Post a Comment