A story of valor

Piedmont resident “Hoss” Cooley is a Purple Heart recipient for wounds suffered in Vietnam

U.S. Marine Horace Wayne “Hoss” Cooley stands next to his uniform and war-time memorabilia. (Photo by Carol Mowdy Bond)

By Carol Mowdy Bond
Contributing Writer

U.S. Marine Horace Wayne “Hoss” Cooley was wounded in combat and he kept fighting for over 30 days without medical aid.

Originally from Tuttle, the Piedmont resident was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered while serving in Vietnam. A Purple Heart is a distinguished military decoration awarded in the name of the U.S. President to those who have been wounded while serving in the U.S. armed forces. The wound must have been as a direct or indirect result of enemy action and required treatment by a medical officer at the time of the injury.

Cooley was in Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division.

“I was an infantryman who carried an M-79 which was a grenade launcher. It’s like a hand grenade except you could shoot it 300 to 400 yards. You train with it during training. But I didn’t really learn how to use it until I was in Vietnam. They normally used me if we had sniper rounds or machine gun nests to knock out,” Cooley said.

“Our home port was Dȏng Hà. I was wounded four months after getting to Vietnam. It was on November 10, 1968, which is the Marine Corps birthday,” Cooley said.

“We left that morning. You would land four helicopters at a time. As we were loading up, incoming rockets and mortars from North Vietnamese were coming at us. So, we tried a second time. But the North Vietnamese were shooting at us with mortars and rocket rounds again. One of my best friends was sitting next to me and he was killed. I got shrapnel in my lower left leg. It was three days against the North Vietnamese. We lost 44 men in those three days including all of our corpsmen, who were our medical guys. We stayed there another 28 days, but we had no medical guys left. Even though I was wounded, I stayed with the shrapnel wound. I thought in three or four days, I’d be medevaced out. But it didn’t happen. When we got out, I could barely walk,” Cooley said.

“We got into a lot of other stuff in Vietnam. But the time I was wounded, that was the worst. And I had a friend from 5th through 11th grades. He was killed in Vietnam in 1969. He was in the 1st Marine Division,” Cooley said.

After he was wounded and recovered, the military sent Cooley back to Vietnam in 1970/1971. He was on a ship as a standby for ready force for six months. Then he spent time in the Philippines and Japan.

Cooley was also stationed in Hawaii. During that time, the military placed him in the Criminal Investigation Section where he served as a Camp Traffic Investigator. He assisted in narcotics investigations which led to identification of numerous dangerous drug violators.

He served on Oahu for 17 months in that capacity. He also was assigned, during his off-duty hours, to participate as a member of the Camp H.M. Smith Pistol Team for 17 months, during which time he distinguished himself as an expert marksman. The team shot competitively against other service groups in matches.

“When coming home from Vietnam, first they took us to Okinawa to clean up, shave, etc. Then we flew into a California air base. We were in the plane and the pilot didn’t take off.

We sat on the pad a long time and the guys asked the pilot, ‘What’s going on?’ The pilot said he could not take us and land in California due to protesters. He said they’ll spit on us, throw stuff at us. But they’ll finish protesting by about 9:45. So we can land about 10,” Cooley said.

“When you got back, you didn’t tell anyone you were in Vietnam. No one thanked me until about 10 years ago,” Cooley said.

“None of us wanted to be there. And we were so young we didn’t know what we were getting into. We thought we were doing good by serving our country. But the American people hated us when we got back,” Cooley said.

When Cooley arrived back in the U.S., the Honorable Tom Cole, a member of Congress, arranged for a U.S. flag to fly in D.C. in recognition of Cooley’s service in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Cooley still has the flag.



By the time Cooley was 6 years-old, his family moved from Tuttle to Lexington, where they had 300 acres. Cooley’s dad was a rancher and farmer. He had cattle, and he farmed the land. By the time Cooley was 10 years-old, the family moved to Bethany. Nonetheless, “In high school, I worked every summer milking cows on a family dairy farm. But during the school months, I worked construction, helping to build houses. My junior year of high school, I joined the U.S. Marines,” Cooley said.

Cooley joined the Marine Corps at age 18. He turned 19 while in boot camp. In 1968, he was deployed to Vietnam. “I didn’t finish high school. I was in the Marines for four years. I got my GED right before getting out of the Marines,” Cooley said.

After leaving the Marines in 1972, Cooley got into construction because he didn’t have the money to go to college. In 1976, he formed his own construction business. He built office and warehouse metal buildings for 41 years. Now Cooley is semi-retired, and he owns commercial rental properties.

In 1976, he married. He and his wife have a son and daughter, and six grandchildren.
Cooley is hesitant to discuss his service in Vietnam. Since he was an infantryman, the memories of his experiences are no doubt haunting. As well, the American people treated Vietnam vets in unacceptable ways. Cooley tells very plainly that he and his military buddies thought they were serving their country. But after returning home, they learned that many Americans hated them. Cooley himself remained silent about his service for many years after returning home, and for good reason.

But if you thank Cooley now, he responds with a modest and simple “Thank you.” Our military veterans served the U.S. with pride. It takes but a moment to thank a vet. But the impact is much deeper than most realize.