WWII Kamikaze Survivor Chooses Museum Visit for his “Make-a-Wish”
When WWII and Korean War veteran Joe Cooper, age 100, received the “Make-a-Wish” honor at the North Carolina Veterans Home in Black Mountain and asked for his wish, he answered, “A trip back to the Veterans Museum and a ride on a train.”
He’ll get his train ride this fall. His trip to the Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas in Brevard will come on this year’s opening day—March 1. At 10:30 AM in the courthouse gazebo, Museum Founder/Curator Emmett Casciato will introduce N.C. Veterans Home Administrator Kylie Conkin, Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof, and Transylvania County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jason Chappell, who will speak to honor Cooper’s service to our country. Transylvania County Honor Guard Chaplain Craig Adams will offer the benediction.
Immediately after the gazebo ceremony (until 12:00 AM), Cooper will be available inside the museum to talk with visitors, tell his stories from WWII and the Korean War, and sign free copies of his complete story for visitors. Other local Korean War veterans will join him to sign the book which honors them, The Forgotten War Remembered and several WWII veterans will also be present to sign their books “We Shall Come Home Victorious.” (Books are $20, proceeds go to the museum.)
Joe Dayton Cooper served in the US Navy in the Pacific in WWII. While Cooper was serving as a gunner on aircraft carrier USS Ommaney Bay in The Philippines, a Japanese kamikaze dove into the center of the ship. After initially attempting to throw ammunition overboard to avoid further explosions, the crew was ordered to abandon ship. Cooper, without a life jacket, jumped 65 feet into shark-infested water and was given a life jacket by another sailor. The ship burned and sank.
Around 297 of his shipmates were killed. About five hours later, Ommaney Bay survivors were picked up and taken to safety. Cooper then served as a gunner on the USS Minneapolis for five months. He has served in the US Navy from December 27, 1941 to December 28, 1945.
When WWII ended, Cooper was honorably discharged. Back home in Brevard, he wasn’t able to find a good job, so he joined the US Army. He initially served in Germany during the Berlin airlift, then volunteered for combat when the Korean War started, serving with a recon unit at Heartbreak Ridge and The Punchbowl. He served in the US Army from 1948 to 1953.
Back in Brevard again after the war, Cooper worked as a mechanic at Olin Corporation (later Ecusta Paper Corporation) and worked there until his retirement.
In case of inclement weather, the 10:30 ceremony will be held in the upstairs meeting room of the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce at 175 East Main Street. Signs will be posted at the museum’s front and back entrances if the ceremony is moved. Please arrive early if the weather is iffy, to allow yourself time to get over to the Chamber of Commerce.
The public is invited to celebrate the service of Joe Cooper and admission is free.
The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas is located at 21 East Main Street in Brevard (beside the courthouse). Open hours are Tuesday – Saturday from 11am to 3pm. For more information, please call 828-884-2141 or visit www.theveteransmuseum.org.