Stephen Leslie Cooper passed away on September 20, 2020 in Orange County, the day before his 74th birthday. Born on September 21, 1946 in Portland, OR, Steve was a loving father, brother, uncle, grandfather, great-grandfather, and son. Growing up in Portland, Beverly Hills, and later, Torrance, CA, Steve developed a lifelong love of fishing, camping, and working on cars and drag boats, which he would share with his brother and sister, and later, his own daughters and their children.
In 1966, Steve enlisted in the Marine Corps before receiving his draft notice, and served his country for two tours in the Vietnam War (1967/68 and 1968/69) as an F4-b Phantom aircraft mechanic in squadron VMFA-115 on Chu Lai Marine Air Base. He chose to return for a second tour in hopes of saving a new recruit from having to go in his place, without the benefit of the knowledge and experience Steve had gained from his time in combat.
Steve married Teri Berryman in 1984. He became a father to her two daughters, Lori and Lisa, in every way that matters, and was a proud grandpa to their children, long after he and Teri divorced. After receiving his AA in Journalism from El Camino Community College, Steve got a job working for the Daily Breeze, where he worked for the next 35 years.
When his stepfather, Gene, passed away in 1994, followed by his brother, Bruce in 1997, Steve moved in with his mother, Virginia. He found comfort and purpose in being her companion and roommate, and later, her loving caregiver. Several years after Virginia passed in 2005, the opportunity came to move in with his niece and her five children. Steve threw himself completely into helping and caring for her and the kids -- driving them to school or activities, helping with homework, fixing up the house, cooking meals, and being the father figure his great-nieces and -nephews needed.
A year later, Steve discovered, by accident, a part of Westminster, CA known as Little Saigon. He was warmly welcomed by the people there, and deeply valued their shared experience. Through his growing engagement with the Vietnamese community of Westminster and Garden Grove, Steve developed friendships with other Vietnam veterans. He would eventually become Vice President of Chapter 756 of Vietnam Veterans of America, and was actively involved in a special program benefiting Vietnam Veterans and South Vietnamese military members suffering from PTSD, as well as the VMFA-115 and Vets to Vets United.
Steve gave memorable and moving presentations at the War Memorial in Westminster, volunteered his time and his service, and worked with his buddies to procure assistive devices to any veterans in need. Countless vets and community members were touched by his friendly exuberance, selflessness, and generosity. It was through that community that Steve met his girlfriend, Victoria Kim, having learned of their unexpected, shared connections in Chu Lai decades before, and found love again in the last several years of his life.
Steve was preceded in death by his grandparents, his mother, Virginia, and his brother, Bruce. He is survived by his daughters Lori and Lisa, their husbands, children, and his great-grandchildren; his sister, Nancy, her husband Dave, and nieces and nephews, Darlene, Wendy, David, and Heather, as well as Darlene and David's children; by his stepdad Albert Erd, and his ex-wife, Teri Funk.
A viewing will be held at Our Redeemer Church at Sunnyside Funeral Home at 12301 Magnolia Street, Garden Grove, CA 92841 this Friday, October 9, 2020, from 4:00 - 7:00 PM. A service with military honors and Taps will take place at 6:00 PM. A graveside service with full military honors will be held in the coming weeks. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Steve's name, to Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 756 in Long Beach.
Published in Palos Verdes Peninsula News on Oct. 8, 2020.