KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Dozens of strangers filled the chapel at the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery on Tuesday to show a fellow veteran he wasn’t alone.
David Lee Cooper joined the Air Force on Dec. 4, 1979, and served as an aircraft electrical systems specialist. He held the rank of Airman Basic and was discharged on Sept. 15, 1981.
Cooper was born Jan. 4, 1955, in Oak Ridge. After enlisting in the military, he went to Maryville and worked as a route driver for the Maryville Times newspaper.
Cooper died on Oct. 17. He was never married and had no immediate family to claim him.
“No veteran should never have to take their final ride alone,” Alfred Holland, a Patriot Guard Rider and veteran, said.
Holland said that one purpose of the Patriot Guard Riders is to show love and respect to veterans being buried without family.
Several members of the East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard attended the funeral, helping give Cooper a proper military send-off.
Mary Foster, a veteran who attended Cooper’s funeral, said she went because a veteran should never be laid to rest as “unclaimed.”
“The room was almost full. Which is amazing. It says a lot about the veteran community, and how we want to take care of each other and be there for each other in time of need,” Foster said.
In the end, the people in the chapel were no longer strangers, but family and friends claiming one of their own.
“We add the memory of this fellow veteran David Lee Cooper to our own memories. May there never be, as long as any of us live and breathe, a veteran unclaimed,” the pastor said.
Cooper’s flag was handed to a friend that attended funeral.
That friend said their heart felt full after seeing the room filled with veterans.