William Cooper was born on September 16, 1920, in Dothan, Alabama. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on July 13, 1939, and entered Infantry Officer Candidate School on September 16, 1940. After graduating from OCS on November 9, 1942, Lt Cooper transferred to the Army Air Forces and completed Pilot Training in April 1944. He flew B-24 Liberator bombers in China and the Pacific Theater from late 1944 until the end of the war. Cooper left active duty and entered the Air Force Reserve on January 24, 1946, and was recalled to active duty on February 3, 1951. He then served as an instructor pilot until August 1956, when he transferred to the 53rd Fighter Day Squadron (redesignated the 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron in July 1958) at Bitburg, Landstuhl, and then Ramstein AB, West Germany, where he served until June 1959. Maj Cooper then served as an instructor pilot with the 3556th Flying Training Squadron at Perrin AFB, Texas, from June 1959 to March 1960, followed by service as an Operations Officer with the 4138th Strategic Wing at Turner AFB, Georgia, from March 1960 to July 1963. His next assignment with the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron, the 831st Air Division, and then the 469th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George AFB, California, where he served from July 1963 to July 1964, and then with the 469th TFS at McConnell AFB, Kansas, until November 1965. Col Cooper took command of the 469th TFS and deployed with the unit to Korat Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, in November 1965, and he was listed as Missing-in-Action on April 24, 1966. Col Cooper was declared dead on February 9, 1978. His remains were recovered from Southeast Asia and accounted for on December 22, 2014. Col William Cooper was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on April 23, 2015.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
Lieutenant Colonel William C. Cooper distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force on 24 April 1966. On that date, Colonel Cooper was the commander of a composite strike force of 13 F-105 aircraft and 20 support aircraft whose mission was to destroy a vitally important military target in North Vietnam. With full knowledge of the vast defense network aligned against them, Colonel Cooper briefed the strike force to keep him in sight during the flight but to remain at a lower altitude. He alone took the risk of entering the effective missile envelope to assure target acquisition. Although encountering several severe thunderstorms, he displayed superb navigation and airmanship in bringing the strike force precisely over the preplanned check point and setting the force directly on line to the target. Approximately 30 miles from the target, the countryside erupted with the heaviest antiaircraft artillery barrage ever encountered by an attacking United States force. Colonel Cooper instructed his pilots to take necessary evasive action while he remained on course to insure accurate navigation through the clouds which were obstructing the mission route. To further complicate the situation, he was advised by radio contact that a hostile missile launch was imminent. Again disregarding his own safety, Colonel Cooper instructed his pilots to take evasive action while he remained on course. At this point hostile fire disabled his radio. Without the benefit of radio contact with his pilots, Colonel Cooper pressed the attack with the strike force following his lead. On the final approach, deteriorating weather forced him to descend below the clouds for visual target sighting. At this critical point, Colonel Cooper's aircraft received a direct hit from the hostile fire. The extraordinary heroism and exceptional airmanship displayed by Colonel Cooper are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.