01 April 2008

Overcoming all odds, wounded Marine to return home after three long years

May, 2007:

Into the light: A wounded Marine and his Vietnam Veteran father

I've never written about Josh Cooley, but not a day has passed since July 7, 2005 that I haven't thought about him.

That was the day I received an email from Sandy Gay, whose husband Norman worked with Josh at the Pasco, FL Sheriff's Office. Josh had been hurt in Iraq two days before. It was bad, and his wife and mother were flying to Germany on orders.

Josh had always thought about joining the military. After all, the Cooley men have served since the Battle of Bull Run. Josh's grandfather was a Marine, as was his father Ed. And his two older brothers served with the Corps in the first Gulf War.

But Ed and his mother Christine didn't want Josh to follow in their footsteps. He went into law enforcement instead, where he became a sniper with the Paco Sheriff's Office SWAT team.

Until 9/11.

Ed tried to talk Josh out of it, although the circumstances must have been familiar to him. Ed had enlisted as soon as he could after his 18-year-old cousin, Edward Monahan Jr., was killed in South Vietnam in 1965.

Wounded near Da Nang in May of 1968, Ed's real injuries were inflicted later.

When Christine had to pay her own way to visit him in Hawaii where he had been medevac'd. When he got back home and was called a baby killer. When he was pelted with eggs. When the military sent his Purple Heart and other decorations via Parcel Post several years after he had left the service.

But after Josh's injury, Ed's wounds started to heal along with his son's.

Make sure to read this whole incredible story of courage, determination, healing, and love.

Josh can now talk, help dress himself, and walk short distances with a walker. He will be coming back home to Florida this summer. Donations in kind and funds are being raised to help build him a wheelchair-accessable home through a local non-profit which has been set up.

Prominent businessmen have been meeting weekly at an Italian restaurant to make it happen. The group includes WellBuilt Homes owner Scott Walsingham, who is serving as project contractor, and Port Richey attorney Steve Booth, a longtime booster of the Angelus, a home for developmentally disabled individuals.

New Port Richey Mayor Dan Tipton, Joe Cash, Orville Williamson, Tom Chittum and Gary Joiner also are part of the planning effort.

Booth said group members didn't need convincing to pitch in on Cooley's behalf.

"Josh's situation really struck a chord with all of us," Booth said.

They are hoping to secure a Veterans Administration grant to help defray costs. Otherwise, the men have reached out to their community contacts for donations of material and labor. They've gotten a strong response, they said, though the effort has been hampered somewhat by the housing downturn.

They still need cabinets and drywall, plus someone to install them. They are on the lookout for donations of frame material, baseboards and interior doors.

Want to be part of this?

Checks can be made out to the New Port Richey Rotary Foundation (write Josh Cooley in the memo line). Mail tax-deductible donations to attorney Steve Booth, 7510 Ridge Road, Port Richey 34668.

If you'd like to participate in other ways, call Steve Booth at (727) 842-9105.

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