VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (WIAT) — A health pandemic was not enough to keep a small neighborhood in Vestavia Hills away from Carl Cooper.
On Wednesday, Cooper, a Clanton native and retired Marine Corps veteran, celebrated his 100th birthday. Cooper, who still mows his own lawn, spent most of the day with his nephew, J. Danny Cooper, and taking phone calls from people wishing him a happy birthday.
However, some in the neighborhood kept their distance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, standing near the foot of the driveway as they sang “Happy birthday” to Cooper, who sat in his golf cart.
“He’s kind of an institution in this area,” J. Danny Cooper said.
Even the Birmingham VA Medical Center, which Cooper has been going since 1980, wished him a happy birthday, albeit remotely.
“Our leadership team was honored to recognize Col. Cooper today for his many years of military service and to celebrate his 100th birthday with him via FaceTime,” BVAMC Director Stacy Vasquez said in a written statement.
On his birthday, Carl Cooper told CBS 42 by phone that he was doing fine and felt honored to celebrate such a milestone in his life.
“We live in such a great nation,” Cooper said. “We have some problems. We have a few of them now, but we’ll survive that too. The Lord will take care of us. I’m just so happy that I can be here and participate and be with the family.”
Cooper was a pre-med student at Howard College, now called Samford University, when WWII broke out. Seeing how many of his friends were enlisting to fight for their country, Cooper joined the Marines in 1942. After training in Quantico and California, Cooper eventually made his way to the Battle of Okinawa on April 1, 1945. At the time, Cooper was part of the 9th Amphibian Tractor Battalion that delivered troops on shore, as well as Mount Yae-Take and Sugar Loaf .
In fact, Cooper and the rest of the battalion were the ones who picked up dead soldiers off the beaches.
“I hauled out loads of dead Americans,” he said. “You had to do what you had to do. I’m just glad I could serve my country.”
Cooper, who also served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, received two dozens medals during his military career, including a Presidential Unit Citation with One Star, Marine Corps Medal with Four Stars, the United Nations Medal and the coveted Legion of Merit Medal.
Returning back to Alabama after the way, Cooper became active in his community, becoming the first principal at Mountain Brook Junior High from 1959 to 1968. In 1980, Cooper retired from military reserve service.
When asked what he thought the key to long life was, Cooper did not have a simple answer. Instead, he just explained what his daily routine was.
“I do not smoke and I do not drink,” he said. “I’m not perfect by any matter or means, but I try to live the right life. I try to be very careful with what I eat and drink and I’m a great lover of vegetables.”
J. Danny Cooper said his uncle is such a fan of vegetables that he often compares his refrigerator to a produce stand.
“He eats everything you are supposed to eat and has been doing it his whole life,” J. Danny Cooper said.
At 100, Cooper has no plans of slowing down, living by himself in Vestavia and even mowing his own lawn every week.
“Every day is a challenge, but when you try to do the right think and live right, the Lord takes care of you.”
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