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Maj. Gen. J. Gary Cooper, USMC

The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 2021.

Maj. Gen. J. Gary Cooper is a native of Mobile. In 1958, he received a degree in finance from the University of Notre Dame and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Following graduation from The Basic School, he reported for duty with the 1st Marine Brigade in Hawaii. Cooper served on active duty for twelve years, commanding a number of units including the Marine Detachment aboard the guided missile cruiser U.S.S. Chicago. While serving in Vietnam in 1967, he became the first Black officer in the Marine Corps to lead an infantry company into combat. 

In Vietnam, Cooper earned a number of decorations for heroism, including the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts for wounds received in ground action, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry three times. His other military decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit.

Cooper joined the Individual Ready Reserve in January 1970. As a reservist, he commanded the 13th Force Reconnaissance Company in Mobile and a number of other mobilization assignments, including Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C. In 1988, he was promoted to Major General and returned to active duty as Director of Personnel, Headquarters, United States Marine Corps. He retired from the Corps in 1996.

Cooper won election to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1974. He was one of the first African Americans since Reconstruction elected to the legislature from south Alabama. He was reelected in 1978 but resigned to serve in the Governor’s cabinet as commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources. In this position, Cooper managed a staff of over four thousand and the largest agency budget in state government.

In 1989, Pres. George H. W. Bush appointed Cooper Assistant Secretary of the Air Force. He served in this position throughout the Bush administration.

In 1990, Troy University awarded Cooper the honorary Doctor of Laws degree. In 1994, Pres. Bill Clinton appointed him Ambassador to Jamaica, a position he held until December 1997.

Cooper currently serves as chairman of CNB Bancorp, Inc. and serves on the board of the American Friends of Jamaica. He previously served as chairman of the board of directors of Commonwealth National Bank, the first minority-owned national bank in Alabama, and on the boards of U.S. Steel, PNC Financial Services, Protective Life, and the Air University Board of Visitors.

Cooper is a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, 100 Black Men of Greater Mobile, the Montford Point Marine Association, the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the AARP. He is a life member of the Marine Corps League, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the National Rifle Association. Cooper is active in numerous other community organizations, especially those serving youth. He is the sponsor of the Hope Boxing Academy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit focused on equipping at-risk youth with life skills in an effort to reduce gun violence and encourage academic achievement.

He and his wife, Beverly, live in Mobile and have three adult children and six grandchildren.

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