Ray Elhanan Cooper was born 30 November 1895 in the small town of Sunapee NH, son of Henry Remington & Fannie Day (Young) Cooper. The 1900 U.S. Census shows him living with his parents in Sunapee with siblings Eva M. Cooper (who married William F. Galusia), and Ralph Henry Cooper.
Like the other young men of his town he registered for the WWI Draft on 5 June 1917. His occupation was student, he was single and enrolled in the N.H. 1st Regiment, Machine Gun Company (National Guard). He described himself as being tall with a medium build, grey eyes and brown hair. He was 21 years old.
During World War I he was assigned to the 320th Ambulance Company, 305th Sanitary Train, 80th Division and between May-September 1918 was “sent across” to Europe board the ship, Siboney. His rank was Private (also called Wagoner in some documents), and he had a service number of 2471280.
Providing medical care and transportation during the World War was a messy and dangerous business. Ray E. Cooper probably was a driver of one of the horse-drawn wagons that carried supplies and the injured back and forth from the battlefield to outlying medical stations. The ambulance service was just starting to use motorized vehicles. Ambulance drivers were subject to shelling, gas attacks and being exposed to many diseases. They frequently had to retrieve the injured from hazardous locations.
Ray E. Cooper was killed in action on 5 October 1918 in France and is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. His death probably occurred during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that lasted from September 20 to November 11th when 1,200,000 soldiers in total were engaged in the battle.
Back at home a plaque was dedicated to Ray and placed near the town’s schoolhouse
(where it still sits at 22 School Street). Inscription: “IN MEMORY OF / PRIVATE RAY E. COOPER / BORN IN SUNAPEE NOV. 30, 1895 / KILLED AT NATILOIS OCT. 5, 1918 / 320th AMBULANCE CORPS., 80th DIV. [I have no idea where “Natilois” could have been, for no such village or location seems to exist.]. Ray E. Cooper’s name is also inscribed on the WWI Honor Roll in Doric Hall of the New Hampshire State House.
The New Hampshire Argus and Spectator of Friday, December 13, 1918 published the following story: “Ray E. Cooper. On the afternoon of Nov. 20, the community was shocked to learn of the death while in action of Ray E. Cooper. He was born in this town
Nov. 30, 1895 and was educated in our schools graduating from the two year High School course in 1912 as salutatorian of his class. For three years following, he was a popular clerk in Sawyer’s store winning the love and commanding the respect of the entire community. In the fall of 1915 he entered Colby Academy to finish his high school course. [This is Colby-Sawyer College in New London NH where he was in the class of 1917]. While there he was very popular in athletics and during his senior year, was captain of the basket ball team. In Y.M.C.A. work his interest was always keen and he served as president of the Colby club nearly all the time he was there. In 1916 acting as a delegate from the Colby club, the state Y.M.C.A. honored him by electing him president of the 1916 State Conference. His heart and soul were certainly in his work and he intended to devote his life to this cause. He was a devoted member of the Methodist church in this town.
Before his senior year at Colby was completed, United States declaration of war on Germany was announced and he with one of his chums immediately went to Franklin and enlisted in the Franklin Machine Gun Co. Just before his company was called to the colors Ray injured his knee, this making him unfit for such service. He then entered the Springfield Y.M.C.A., college and after a few weeks training received his appointment as Y.M.C.A. Secretary and was assigned to Camp Greene, Charlotte N.C. and served in that camp in this capacity until last spring. Y.M.C.A. work offered him little, if any chance to get to France, but he was determined to go to France. After being rejected several times because of his injury he finally got into the 320th Ambulance Co. in West Virginia and early in June sailed for France. We know but little but for his characteristics and readiness to be of service, we feel he never faltered in his duties.
Besides a host of friends, his father A.R. Cooper, two sisters, Mrs. G.R. Roberts of Granville Vt., Mrs. W.F. Galucia of Boston and one brother Ralph H. Cooper of the Am. Exp. Forces in France survive him. In his passing out Sunapee has lost a devoted son, a splendid type of true American manhood devoted to the ideals for which our country and therefore willing to lay on the Altar of Freedom his life, for his God, his country and humanity.”
My personal thanks to Becky Rylander of the Sunapee Historical Society for helping me obtain photographs and newspaper clippings about Ray E. Cooper, and to Margaret Drye for allowing me to publish her photographs here. Also my thanks and appreciation of Brantley Palmer, Archivist and Sasha Clark, Advancement for providing Colby-Sawyer College photographs of Ray E. Cooper.
[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I. Look here for the entire listing].