After serving in the Marine Corps during the 1960s, Ed Cooper decided to leave and go to college thanks to the reinstated G.I. Bill. It was in college where he developed his love for writing. It was his time in the Marines that provided the inspiration behind his writing. In February, Cooper released his second book, The Okinawa We Lost, a fictional novel based on many of his experiences on the island. Cooper recently sat down with Stripes Okinawa to discuss the book (for sale on Amazon) and his time on the island.
Can you give our readers a quick look into your military background?
Enlisting after high school, I served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1962-1966. I reported to Okinawa in February of 1963. On returning to the states in 1964, I was nominated for “Marine of the Month” and won a new Volkswagen sedan in the Navy Relief Fund Drive. I volunteered to return to Okinawa in March of 1965. On my second tour of duty on Okinawa, I had been assigned to 3rd Tank Battalion. Within two months of my return, the entire Third Division was transferred to South Vietnam. We set up camp about seven and a half miles southwest of Da Nang overlooking the rice paddies and jungle thickets of Happy Valley. I returned stateside in May of 1966. Selected as “Marine of the Quarter,” I received a meritorious promotion to sergeant E-5. In October of that year, I separated from military service in order to attend college on the newly reinstated G.I. Bill which provided funds for college tuition.
How did you get into writing?
As a student, I wrote for two college newspapers, serving as assistant editor on one. Later I took my master’s program in journalism, albeit mostly in electronic media. In my civilian career, I once served as a Director of College Relations. The job required that I prepare press releases, pamphlets, and a newsletter. I also edited the student newspaper and taught a course in news writing and reporting. Additionally, my college roommate became a successful music publicist, free-lance writer, and published author. He offered encouragement and inspiration. As the saying goes, “one thing led to another.”
What are some of your most vivid memories from your time on Okinawa?
I would start with the kindness of the people. While on weekend liberty, I often walked the back roads of Okinawa. On more than one occasion, Okinawans invited me into their homes and offered food and drink. One winter month, I recall sitting with some Okinawan friends around a shichirin (indoor charcoal grill/heater) and eating nothing but pickled, cubed turnip roots. The comradeship made the simple fare very enjoyable. I find that sometimes the simple things are the most endearing. I also recall a shop keeper in Futenma entertaining me by playing “Oh! Susana” on his sanshin. The Okinawan people were just delightful. They appreciate kindness and return it ten-fold.
How would you describe your novel, The Okinawa We Lost, to someone who picked it up at a bookstore and was thinking about giving it a read?
I like to think of it as a coming-of-age story: partly love story and partly a Marine’s growing appreciation for Okinawa’s culture and the hardships and difficulties faced by the island’s people. I received an e-mail from the late Chalmers Johnson. Dr. Johnson described my novel as reminiscent of Michener’s Sayonara. Yukinori Tokuyami, an Okinawan literary researcher, compared it with Sneider’s The Teahouse of the August Moon, citing similarities between the works despite different writing styles.
How much of it is based on your time on the island?
Short answer is 100 percent. The novel is set in 1963 and is written true-to-life based on my experiences while serving there during that year. Some military veterans have suggested that my novel is more factual than fiction. I really can’t argue with them. I like to tell people that I merely changed the names of the novel’s characters in order to protect the guilty. Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but it sounds intriguing, so I repeat it from time to time.
When you’re not writing, what do you spend your time doing these days?
Although I don’t get to do it often, I like to fish with my brother on his air boat. We mostly fish the creeks that feed into the Gulf of Mexico. I also enjoy shopping antique and junk stores for collectibles. I don’t smoke, but I’ve amassed a collection of tobacco pipes. I also have a collection of pottery. I like to read, and I generally start each day with a cup of coffee and a crossword puzzle. My wife and I are both retired, so my day’s itinerary is often planned for me – if you catch my drift.
You have also written a memoir about your time in Vietnam (Vietnam By The Light Of The Moon). Do you have plans for any other books?
I appreciate that you mentioned my memoir. It’s short, about 75 pages, but it’s a unique war story, not the typical “blood and guts” type. Despite its brevity, I’m proud of it, and I think the reader will enjoy it. Yes, I do have plans for another book. In fact, I’m currently working on a book project with a medical doctor, my personal physician, who was born and spent his early years in Afghanistan. The working title is Prognoses: Afghanistan and Future Developments. It’s a “what if” look at Central and Southeast Asia with Afghanistan as the hub of activity.