Jim Ross for a pressure washing job that it would be the end of a journey he
began 39 years ago.
Nor did Copas or Ross, a Vietnam veteran, have any idea that journey
would lead them to discover a highly decorated national hero.
Copas was 15 and living in Florida when authorities showed up at school
one day to tell him his 19-year-old brother, Ardie Ray Copas, had been killed
in action in Vietnam on May 12, 1970. Copas barely remembers anything that
happened after that day and never really knew any of the circumstances
surrounding his brothers death, or even what unit he served with. He spent
years trying to find out, but because his family had become estranged from
each other, the teen who was devastated over his brothers death never
learned much information.
Copas moved to Dublin as a young man and continued his search.
Although he contacted various government authorities asking for information
he did not know the proper channels to go through and his search proved
Then he showed up at the Ross home for a job. Copas noticed the purple
heart on a vehicle in the yard and when he and Ross began to talk Copas
mentioned his brother.
He asked if I was in Vietnam. He said, my brother was in Vietnam, but
he was killed in 1970. He said, I dont have anything to show for his service
to his country, said Ross, realizing Copas was a very patriotic man.
I could see the hurt in his eyes that he didnt have anything. I said
maybe I can find a little memento you could hold on, said Ross, a decorated
veteran himself. Ross served with the Armys 25th Infantry and had earned a
Purple Heart, a Medal of Valor, a Combat Infantry Badge, a Vietnamese
Service Ribbon, a Vietnamese Campaign Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation,
which was a unit medal given to the Third Squadron Unit in which he had
served, a National Defense Medal and a Good Conduct Medal.
Ross, a proud Army veteran, said he loves the Army and wants to do all
he can to support the men and women serving today and those who have
gone on before him. He decided to question Copas about his brother and see
if he could learn anything about him.
Copas told Ross, The only thing I remember is something five, fifth
Ross knew instantly that wasnt right.
I said there was really no fifth division. I started saying maybe I know
that unit your brother was in. Ill have to do some checking, said Ross.
He began to think back on his days in Vietnam. He remember one
particular night when he heard some radio traffic.
We were listening to the radio and heard a fire fight with a unit called
the Bobcats. Ours was the Saber. We were listening to see if we had to
reinforce them, Ross remembered the Bobcats because he liked their radio
I thought maybe that was the unit, he told himself there wasnt much
chance that it could be, but decided to check anyway.
So I googled the fifth mechanized unit, there was a gentleman listed in
Illinois, so I called him up, said Ross.
Ross told the man who he was and what he was doing and asked the
man if he had ever heard of a Ardie Copas. The mans answer shocked him.
He said, Oh yes. We know Ardie Copas in our unit very well, said Ross.
The man went on to tell Ross that Copas had won the nations second
highest service medal, the Distinguished Service Cross.
He said he didnt know him personally but if I went to the memorial on
the Fifths site his picture was on the site, said Ross.
From then on Ross was hooked.
I said Ive got to investigate him a little more. Hes a very interesting
fellow to win the nations second highest honor.
Ross couldnt believe Richard Copas had a brother who was a hero to
thousands who served before and after him and he did not even know it. He
decided to see just what this Ardie Copas had done.
I got in touch with personnel in St. Louis, Missouri. Richard signed for
me to order the medals and the medals were sent to me, said Ross, adding
when the medals arrived, I was double-floored. Not only had he won the
second highest honor, hed won the third highest medal, the Silver Star, the
fourth highest medal, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart posthumously and
he also won the Army Commendation Medal for Valor.
When those medals arrived I got really inspired, said Ross, adding he
decided he couldnt just hand those medals over to Richard Copas. The
turning over of those medals had to be more significant than that. Ardie
deserved it and so did his family.
I decided he deserved more than to be just handed these medals since
his brother was a true hero in every sense of the word, said Ross.
He began a plan to recognize the bravery of Ardie Copas and to honor
him and his family for the hero he was. Ross called local members of the
Army. Ross was driven by Richards memory of his brother, the two were
obviously very close.
I can remember him tearing up that day when he was telling me he lost
his brother, said Ross. He didnt even know his brother won the
Distinguished Service Cross. I said, You could have gone through your life
never knowing your brother won the Distinguished Service Cross, said Ross,
adding he just cant explain enough about that medal. Thats really
Ross also discovered he and Copas were in the same 25th Infantry
Division. Ross was in Vietnam two years before Copas.
We ran the same roads, the same barracks, said Ross.
When he contacted the Army Recruiting Office asking for help in
recognizing Copas, Ross got another surprise. Members of the unit from
Dublin to Warner Robins and higher up command felt just as he did about
Copas sacrifices and honors. They were willing to come and do a proper
military presentation of the medals to Richard Copas. Ross planned a
ceremony for Wednesday at the Veterans Administration, but the Recruiting
Office wanted to present the medals at the Vietnam Memorial on the
Courthouse Square instead.
Ross said the location could not have been any better. As word spread of
the ceremony honoring the Copas family, members of the Laurens County
Sheriffs Department voiced their desire to attend and honor a fallen hero. In
fact, two members of the Sheriffs Department are veterans themselves. Capt.
Kenneth Butler served in the Army in Vietnam and Deputy Steve Vertin is a
Marine. A Dublin Police Officer and Allen Thomas, former clerk of courts, also
attended the ceremony.
It always brings back memories to me, said Butler after the ceremony.
My heart goes out to the family. My old memories become like yesterday. Its
great to be a part of this. My heart goes out to the men and women serving
our country today. It means everything to me.
Although passersby may not have known what was going on. It was
obvious with the military presence and the sheriffs deputies and police
officer at attention during the event was a somber one. Even the passersby
seemed to attempt to quieten their vehicles as they passed by. Those who
stopped at the red light at the memorial during the ceremony moved forward
with a less hurried motion than normal.
First, Ross was honored with a Warriors Supporting Warriors award for
his effort to recognize Copas by Sgt. First Class Robert Browder from the
Dublin Army Recruiting Office. Browder helped Ross put the ceremony
Then, as the words of Capt. Evelyn R. Hunter began those in attendance
learned just how significant a role Ardie Copas had played.
Taken from the citation of Sergeant Copass award of the Distinguished
Service Cross: Sgt. Ardie Ray Copas company was suddenly attacked by a
large hostile force. After Sgt. Copas began returning fire, his armored vehicle
was struck by an enemy round, knocking him to the ground and injuring four
American soldiers beside the vehicle. Ignoring his own wounds, Sgt. Copas
quickly remounted the burning vehicle and commenced returning fire with his
machine gun. Braving the hostile fire directed at him and the possible
detonation of the mortar rounds inside the track vehicle, Sgt. Copas
maintained a heavy volume of suppressive fire on the enemy while the
wounded Americans were safely evacuated. This act continued until he was
mortally wounded when another enemy round hit his vehicle. His daring
action resulted in the safe evacuation of his comrades and prevented injury or
death to fellow Americans, said Hunter.
Mr. Copas, your brother Sgt. Ardie Ray Copas was disciplined, physically
and mentally tough. He was trained and proficient in his warrior tasks and
drills. He truly embodies the warrior ethos, said Hunter. On behalf of Mr.
and Mrs. Ross and the entire Army family we return the medals and ribbons
earned by the Sgt. Copas for his distinguished service and valor to the Copas
Copas and members of his family were filled with emotion as the U.S.
flag and medals were presented to them.
Yall dont know how much this means to me, Copas told Browder and
If it wasnt for soldiers like Mr. Copas and Mr. Ross there wouldnt be
soldiers like myself and Sgt. Browder. They had to go first for us to get there,
said Hunter as she thanked the men.
Ross said he isnt finished yet. He plans to seek the nations highest
medal for Sgt. Copas, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Ive never done this before. I have to go see Congressman (Jim)
Marshall...When I was helping him I was just going to try to get him a little
pin, said Ross, adding he feels obligated to help get that award for Sgt.
Hero is (a word that is) used a lot, its thrown around a lot. Everybody
uses hero. But, Ardie Copas was a hero in the true since of the word. The
proudest thing Ive ever done in my life was serving the United States Army in
Vietnam and the second thing was being a part of the Army yesterday for
what they did in honoring Ardie Copas. The Lord works in mysterious ways,
said Ross, adding hes so glad he got to be a part of the Copas journey.
He told me hes been looking for somebody to help him for 39 years. I
was in the 25th. We fought the same jungles in Vietnam. I was just there two
years before him. We have a lot in common. Richard has thanked me
probably 200 times. I said you dont have to thank me. This is
something...Im just proud to do.