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Wounded Marine a reluctant hero

10:57 PM, Nov 11, 2010   |    comments
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By Mike Bush

Lake St. Louis, MO (KSDK) -- Everywhere he goes these days, Marine Captain Matt Cooper gets applause. Applause often followed by a standing ovation.

While he's very thankful to people like the students at Green Tree Elementary in Lake St. Louis who honored him, when it comes to the spotlight, Cooper would be much more comfortable with a dimmer switch.

"There are guys who didn't make it back that deserve it a hell of a lot more," said Cooper.

He grew up wanting to be a Marine.

"He's always been very good about wanting to help other people," said Matt's dad, Tim Cooper.

Then came the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

"I just remember the concern and he just couldn't turn the TV off," said Robin Cooper, Matt's mom.

"It just sealed the dinner for me," Cooper said. "It made me angry. You can't let stuff like that go on."

He finished college but by 2006 he was in uniform serving in Japan. He volunteered to go to Afghanistan.

"We were pretty lucky the first couple of months," he said.

Then one day, just about a year ago, while the 29-year-old and his team were patrolling for roadside bombs, one exploded underneath his truck.

"I remember driving down the road and then blank," Cooper said.

As soon as they got the call, his parents had just one thing on their minds.

"Just to get to him," said Robin Cooper. "Just to get over there and get to him."

Tim Cooper said when they first saw their son in the hospital it was "really rough." Flown first to Germany then to Bethesda then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Captain Cooper was beginning the battle after the war. He lost his right leg, broke every bone in his left and a spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the waist down. He didn't wake up until four weeks later.

"When he rolled over and looked at me and he whispered I want to go home. Well he recognized me and we knew he was still with us," Tim said.

Cooper was awarded the Purple Heart but perhaps there should be an award for the heart he's shown during his recovery. People who've watched him in therapy say he refuses to be down or give up.

"I guess I had the mentality that whatever happened happened and nothing can be done now, so why worry too much about it," Cooper said.

Almost 12 months after being wounded in Afghanistan, Captain Cooper arrived in Alton last week by private jet. It was paid for by an anonymous donor and piloted by his dad, a Navy veteran.

"I tell you what, it was a privilege to do this," his father said.

From the airport he was escorted by the police and the Patriot Guard as hundreds of family, friends and even strangers lined the streets. And yet when he gets attention, Cooper tries to divert it.

"A lot of it is more for the support of everybody and it isn't for me," he said. "I'm glad to see it and I'm definitely going to let my guys know when I get back to Walter Reed."

Some journeys cannot be measured in miles. Timothy Matt Cooper is finally home. A deserving hero even if he's a reluctant one.

"I'm very proud of him," said his mom. "Very proud."

KSDK

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