Sunday, May 29, 2016
Honoring Sgt. Malbert Montgomery Cooper
Today I placed some flowers and a flag on Sgt. Malbert Montgomery Cooper's grave. He did not have a headstone for his grave when he was buried on May 2, 1979. It took six years of negotiations to get an government-issued marker thanks to the efforts of Veterans Service Director Chuck Elmore, Veterans Service Officer Nadel Barrett and me, Patricia Bayonne - Johnson, President of Eastern Washington Genealogical Society in Spokane, Washington.
On May 11, 2009, I went to Spokane Memorial Gardens, Cheney-Spokane to photograph the headstone to accompany an article I had written
about Sgt. Cooper. My husband I traveled to the cemetery and went to the office to get the location of the grave. We wandered around the area where the marker should have been for an hour but couldn't find one. So we headed back to the office and the staff looked again and gave us the bad news: Sgt. Cooper was buried without a headstone because he was buried by Public Assistance which would not pay for a headstone. They would only pay for the burial. But the good news was because Cooper had been in the military, the government would issue a headstone. All I needed was his DD214 - his discharge papers.
I contacted Chuck Elmore by email, starting a process that would last six long years to get that government- issued headstone. I had two appointments with Elmore to discuss the documents and photos I had for Sgt. Cooper. Chuck knew all the places to be contacted, so he took over from there.
The matter was complicated because Sgt. Cooper did not have any relatives. He was married twice and the last woman had a son, but he had not been adopted by Cooper. It was difficult to find the paper work on Cooper but Chuck was successful. Then I got more bad news: I had to be the next of kin to apply for a government headstone. Well, I am not the next-of-kin; I am just an interested party trying to get the government to do the right thing. The man served his country and he deserved a headstone! That was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard in my life! Chuck even talked to Senator Patty Murray about it; the last response she got from the VA, was if we wanted a headstone we would have to take them to court.
Then Elmore hired Nadel Barrett, a Navy veteran in January 2015. Nadel, a lawyer, took over Cooper's case and was successful in getting an approval from the VA without having to go to court. I received a call some time in May 2015 after the headstone was installed. My husband and I immediately drove out to see it. A full military burial ceremony was held on May 27, 2015. I have never attended a military burial ceremony and it was very moving - Honor Guards, Flag Folding, Taps and a gun salute. What a Day!