- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

LAKE CITY, S.C. (AP) - Eddie Cooper, a 98 year-old World War II veteran, believes he knows the secret to a long life, and it’s fairly simple: Be a good person.

“If you mean to do the right thing, you’ll live a long time,” he said.

Cooper was born on April 28, 1918, in Williamsburg County and is the eldest of nine children. At the age of 24, he married his first wife, Ruby Cooper. The next year he joined the Army and was soon put to work in contributing to the war effort by serving a variety of jobs stateside, as well as in the European and Pacific theaters.

He recalls driving amphibious vehicles while serving in a port battalion, traveling from base to base with a military chaplain, entertaining the troops with his musical talents, serving as a postal carrier and guarding German prisoners of war.

In one instance, putting others before himself almost caused him to go hungry. Cooper and his battalion were traveling from England to France via the English Channel, but their boat arrived a week early. This meant they had to camp out in cow pastures and wait for days until a plane brought them food and supplies. Thinking the plane would arrive the day after he did, Cooper gave his food rations to a friend. It wasn’t until later that Cooper realized his mistake.

“I gave it away,” he said, “But the fella I gave it to, he wouldn’t give me none of it!”

The pasture that the soldiers were in was surrounded by apple trees, but they were warned not to eat them for fear that they might be poisoned. Eventually Cooper caved to the temptation.

“I didn’t tell nobody what I had done,” he said. “I went up there and picked me some apples, and I peeled them and put them in my little skillet with sugar and stuff on it, and you saw everybody coming around me. Everybody wanted to help me eat it!”

After serving three years abroad, Cooper returned to the United States in 1946. He arrived in California and took a seven-day train ride to Atlanta. After that he took the train to Florence but was anxious to get back to his home in Lake City.

“When I got to Florence, I just took a cab,” he said. “I couldn’t wait any longer for the bus to come. I got me a cab to come on home, come on back to the country.”

Cooper retired from the military and went back to what he knew and did best: He was a part of a quartet called “Five Clouds of Harmony” and built a career on the farm. Helping others came into play in his work life as well.

His great-niece, Della Cooper, remembers this aspect of his personality when she was a child.

“It was nothing for him to help people,” she said, “Over at the farm, he would give people a day’s work or a summer’s work. He’d say, ‘If you can work, I’ll pay you.’”

In fact, Della was one of the many that Cooper reached out to. Over the years, Cooper and his wife raised 13 children other than their biological daughter. If family members or friends couldn’t care for their kids, the Coopers would take them in.

“Theyre my children,” he said. “I just raised a bunch of people’s children.”

In March 2014, it was Cooper’s time to turn to others for help. While he and his current wife, Gladys Collins Cooper, were sleeping, their house caught on fire and burned.

“What happened, I don’t know,” he said. “My wife woke me up, and it was burning down, and I was trying to get out. Didn’t save nothing. Everything burned.”

Cooper was immediately taken care of by family and friends. He was given clothes and other possessions, money and a place to stay until he could buy a new home.

“When you think you got nothing, you got about everything, My friends didn’t let me go hungry. They didn’t let me go naked. Everybody surrounded me and did it with a helping hand. . From Chicago, from California; I was getting help from everybody,” he said, and added while smiling, “‘cuz I was Eddie.”

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Information from: Morning News, https://www.scnow.com


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