Major General J. Gary Cooper, USMC

The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 2020.

General Cooper is a native of Mobile, Alabama. He received his B.S. degree in Finance from the University of Notre Dame and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps upon graduation in June, 1958. Following graduation from The Basic School, he initially reported for duty with the 1st Marine Brigade in Hawaii.. General Cooper served on active duty for 12 years, commanding a number of units, including the Marine Detachment aboard the Guided Missile Cruiser Chicago. In 1967, he became the first black officer in the Marine Corps to lead an infantry company into combat which is noted in the historical calendar of the Corps. 

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

He joined the Individual Ready Reserve in January, 1970. As a reservist, he has commanded the 13th Force Reconnaissance Company in Mobile, the 4th Battalion, 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division 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.


In 1974, General Cooper was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives. He was one of the first African Americans since the Reconstruction era 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 Cabinet position, Commissioner Cooper managed a staff of over 4,000 and the largest agency budget in the State of Alabama.

President George H. W. Bush appointed him in 1989 to be the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Environment and he served throughout the Bush administration.


Troy University awarded General Cooper the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1990.


In 1994, President Bill Clinton selected him to be Ambassador to Jamaica, a position he held until December, 1997.

General Cooper serves as Chairman of CNB Bancorp, Inc. He serves on the Boards of, The Community Foundation of South Alabama, and American Friends of Jamaica. He previously served on the Board of Directors of Commonwealth National Bank as Chairman, which is the first minority owned National Bank in Alabama, U.S. Steel, PNC Financial Services, Gen Corp., Protective Life and Air University Board of Visitors.


He is a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, 100 Black Men of Greater Mobile, the Montford Point Marine Association, the NAACP and a life member of the Marine Corps League. He is active in numerous other community organizations, especially those serving youth. He and his wife Beverly live in Mobile. They have three adult children and six grandchildren.