ELLINWOOD — A story that began almost 100 years ago with the birth of Thomas Edward Cooney on July 24, 1917 in Ellinwood, came full circle this Memorial Day weekend, when his life and his service to his country were remembered and celebrated.
Captain Cooney was killed in action in 1950 during the Korean conflict. His remains have never been recovered and his name was missing from the Ellinwood American Legion War Dead Memorial. Futhermore, there had never been a funeral or a grave for him.
That wrong was righted this last weekend when 19 members of Cooney’s family, including his daughter and sister, gathered to honor him along with the community of Ellinwood. The family moved from Ellinwood in the 1930s.
The weekend brought both tears of sorrow and tears of healing as the family met each other and learned about this man who died so many years ago.
“The worst part was his children never knew him,” said Cooney’s sister, Louise Guyette. Cooney died when his children were toddlers.
Louise had great admiration for her brother. “My brother never blamed other people if they did something wrong. He was very forgiving.”
While Louise said Ellinwood had changed so much since the time she lived there, a lot of memories were brought back.
Some of the family had settled on the east coast and some on the west coast, and this was the first time many of the members of the family had met. Cooney’s daughter, MarthaMaynard hadn’t known her father was from Kansas.
Maynard, Cooney’s daughter, was only one year old when the captain died. A flag folding ceremony was held Monday, and a flag was presented to Maynard, following a weekend full of events honoring Cooney.
Cooney’s nephew, Richard Guyette, spoke of the bravery of Capt. Cooney during the ceremony at Lakin-Comanche Cemetery.
Thomas Edward joined the Marines in 1940 before the U.S. entered World War II, after having spent one year in college.
A mere five years after the end of WW II, the U.S. was at war once again in Korea. The Chinese surrounded the Americans that November in 1950, inflicting crippling losses during the battle of Chosin. Between 50,000 and 60,000 Chinese men were killed, thus losing most of the 67,000 men (estimates vary) of the Chinese 9th Army. The Americans lost between 13,000 and 14,000. The terrain was harsh, as well as the winter weather, reaching -35 degrees F.
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.
Cooney received both the bronze and silver star.