ELLINWOOD — A man that honorably served his country during Korea and paid with his life, Thomas Edward Cooney, will be remembered this Memorial Day with a flag folding and rededication of the war dead memorial at the Ellinwood American Legion. Cooney’s name has been added to the memorial.
Twenty descendents and relatives of Cooney, from the east coast to the west coast, including his daughter, sister and nephew, plan to attend.
“We will have a flag folding and present his daughter with a flag,” said Richard Kimple, Legion Post 320 commander. Cooney’s daughter was only one year old when her father was killed in action, 62 years ago.
His body has never been recovered.
Richard Guyette, nephew of Cooney, will speak at the 10:30 a.m. ceremony on May 28. After the regular Memorial Day remembrance at Lakin-Comanche Cemetery, there will be brief re-dedication of the memorial of the war dead at the American Legion in Ellinwood.
Cooney served both in World War II and in Korea.
He lost his life in Korea. The Chinese surrounded the Americans that November in 1950, inflicting crippling losses during that battle. There were between 50,000 and 60,000 Chinese casualties, of the 120,000 men (estimates vary) of the Chinese 9th Army. The Americans had between 13,000 and 14,000 casualties. The terrain was harsh, as well as the winter weather, reaching -35 degrees F.
On that bitter day, Cooney went to make sure all of the men in his company were gathered for withdrawal. He was killed, and his remains are still in Korea.
“We want to remember Capt. Cooney for his courageous service and dedication,” said Richard Kimple, American Legion.
The family has a history of military service. Cooney’s great-grandfather was a Union Army Civil War veteran from Kentucky. Cooney also served in World War II.
Cooney’s name recently came to light as a result of research by David Ames and John Ames of Ellinwood who were searching the Internet for veterans from Ellinwood.
“It is important and an honor to us to include Captain Cooney’s name to our monument of war dead,” said Frank Koelsch, American Legion adjutant. “It is particularly important to remember those who died in action.”
Cooney was born in Ellinwood on July 24, 1917. He was always called Edward because he was named after his father, Thomas Ambrose Cooney, according to his sister, Louise Guyette. His mother was Elizabeth Ward Cooney.
Thomas Ambrose worked at Wolf Flour Mill in Ellinwood. Thomas Ambrose and Elizabeth divorced in 1930, and Edward and his four sisters moved to Great Bend with their mother, said Louise. Elizabeth worked in department stores, and moved to Hutchinson in two years, followed by a move to North Carolina. She remarried a man, also from Ellinwood, Peter Wess.
Thomas Edward joined the Marines in 1940 before the U.S. entered World War II, after having spent one year in college. He served in the Pacific as enlisted until 1943 when he was appointed a 2nd lieutenant.
Edward stayed in the Marines, but in 1950 “planned to leave after his next tour of duty in Korea and then open a drug store with his wife, who was a pharmacist,” said Louise. He had three children, Mary, Martha and Tommy.
Cooney was killed by a sniper while checking to ensure none of his men were left behind during withdrawal from Hill 1425 near Yudam-ni in North Korea. There were attempts to recover his body, and two men were wounded attempting to reach him.
“I never will forget your uncle, Captain Cooney,” said fellow soldier A.B. Williams in a letter to Richard Guyette, Cooney’s nephew. “He was the bravest man I ever saw, and I saw a few.”
Another soldier, John Johnson said, “With respect to Ed Cooney, he had nothing but friends in Company G. He was extremely highly regarded, and in the eyes of his troops and subordinate officers, a true leader. I personally had great respect for him.”
Cooney received both the bronze and silver star. He had already received two wounds, one to his hip, and one to his forehead before he died, but had refused to be evacuated.