Originally created 09/06/00

France honors WWI veteran



In 1918, Pfc. Donald Cooper, serial No. 2655034, left the Army's Camp Gordon for France as one of more than 2 million U.S. soldiers to serve overseas during "the Great War."

On Tuesday, France thanked the Sylvania resident with the highest honor it could give.

Just days shy of his 104th birthday, Mr. Cooper was named a Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor. Jean-Paul Monchau, France's consul general to the Southeastern United States, pinned his nation's highest award to the World War I veteran's lapel during a ceremony at Augusta's Old Government House.

"Mr. Donald Cooper, 80 years ago you came for us, and today I come for you," Mr. Monchau said before a crowd of about 50. "We remember the sacrifice of the American soldiers who fought for freedom alongside the sons of France."

The soft-spoken Mr. Cooper, one of an estimated 3,200 living U.S. veterans of World War I, greeted dozens of well-wishers after the ceremony.

"I feel pretty good," Mr. Cooper said as three generations of his family watched, including his 2-year-old great-great-grandson, Xavier Simon.

"It's a real honor," said Serena Gaines, one of Mr. Cooper's granddaughters. "He's been looking forward to it. I really am truly happy that he's still around to get this award."

The family learned last year that Mr. Cooper was to receive the honor, Ms. Gaines said.

Mr. Cooper, born Sept. 14, 1896, served as an infantryman in Company D of the 327th Labor Battalion from April 30, 1918, to July 14, 1919.

His award was part of a campaign, started by French President Jacques Chirac, to honor surviving U.S. veterans of World War I. During Tuesday's ceremony, U.S. and French officials made much of the countries' long tradition of assisting each other during some of history's bloodiest conflicts.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., recalled the promise of future assistance that the newborn United States made to Marquis De Lafayette. The French statesman, a major general in George Washington's Continental Army, secured his nation's help for the colonists during the American Revolution.

"Donald Cooper, you made good on the promises of America to France and Lafayette," Mr. Norwood said. "By your valor and service, you have proven that the promise of America is golden."

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.