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Son receives recognition, father shown gratitude

The president's presentation of the Purple Heart to Josh Cooley helped his father bury bitter memories.

By COLLEEN JENKINS
Published August 1, 2005


By enlisting to serve, Lance Cpl. Josh Cooley followed in the footsteps of his military-minded older brothers, father and grandfathers.

On Saturday, the 28-year-old Marine made family history when he received a Purple Heart from President Bush at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

He also helped bring his father peace, and their war stories made the president cry.

A Pasco County sheriff's deputy, Josh Cooley remains in a coma from a head injury wrought by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Ed Cooley had spent nights the past several weeks by his son's bedside. The elder Cooley had spent the past three decades bitter about the cool reception he got as a young Marine returning from Vietnam and the long wait for his Purple Heart.

Then, Friday, the Cooley family learned Josh Cooley would receive his Purple Heart the next day - from the president.

After the family got word about the visit, Ed Cooley, 54, decided he better get some rest.

Instead, he sat awake at 2:30 a.m., dictating a letter to his wife.

Dear Mr. President, she typed.

The New Port Richey man wanted Bush to know Josh, to understand the man who left behind a steady job and new wife to fight for a cause he believed in. He expressed gratitude to the president for personally presenting the military decoration to his son.

Things had not been so in Ed Cooley's time. He received his Purple Heart in the mail, 14 years after enduring a head injury in combat.

On Saturday, he watched with a mixture of awe and pride as the president pinned a Purple Heart medal on Josh's hospital gown.

"You're back home now, and you're safe," Bush whispered to Josh, according to Christina Cooley, his wife and fellow deputy.

Bush had 14 other Marines to visit, seven Purple Hearts to award. Ed Cooley mentioned his letter as the president was heading out the door.

Bush offered to read it, right there in the intensive care unit. A few seconds in, he turned his face away from the White House photographer and wept.

Not only have you honored my son, the letter said, but you have also healed some old wounds as well .

Bush pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. He turned to Josh's father.

"I'm sorry it was never said to you before, but thank you for serving our country," Bush said.

"It's a long time coming," Christine Cooley said.

"It sure is," Bush said. "This man is a true hero himself, and now his son is also a hero."

Then Bush wrapped Ed Cooley in a bear hug. The ex-Marine didn't know if he was allowed to hug the president back.

But he knew it was an experience he would never forget.

"It was a really special moment between two men, and it wasn't (because it was) the president or anybody else," Ed Cooley said on Sunday.

"It was just man to man."

--Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 727 869-6236 or cjenkins@sptimes.com

[Last modified August 1, 2005, 00:58:09]


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