Master Sgt. Juan Mendoza Jr. and Sgt. 1st Class Juana Torres with the Fort Lee Sergeant Audie Murphy Club performed an Honor Salute for a 100-year-old World War II Army veteran during a Veterans Day Wreath Ceremony Nov. 11 at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
The John Marshall High School Cadet Alumni Association hosted the noon event honoring Ralph Coplan for his service from 1940-45. Mendoza and Torres presented Coplan with an American flag as part of the special ceremony, and Coplan stood to return their salute.
Paula Miller, a Richmond friend and neighbor of Coplan for about 20 years, introduced the special honoree and shared remarks describing his life and Army service.
“Ralph has been blessed with a long and rich life and turned 100 years old this summer. He was born on July 19, 1919, in the kitchen of his family home in a small town, Colchester, Ill. One of six children, he was known by the nickname “Speedy” for setting a school record in the 220-yard sprint for his high school.”
He enlisted in the Army at 21 years old in 1940. He was assigned to the Air Corps after basic training and advanced camp as an electrician for military aircraft. He served in Italy and rose to the rank of buck sergeant by the end of the war, she continued.
“Ralph and all the Soldiers only lived in tents, even in the bitter cold in Italy. It was so cold their food had to be eaten immediately or it would freeze on the dish,” Miller noted. “Ralph wore the same uniform day after day and bathing was a nonexistent luxury.”
After returning home to Illinois, Coplan married Ruth in 1946, and they had four sons. They eventually moved to Richmond where he worked in sales for 28 years with Robert Shaw Controls. He and Ruth were married 67 years before her passing, Miller concluded.
Jim Hines, association chair, explained that the Cadet War Memorial was dedicated at Hollywood Cemetery in 1999. “Our mission is to preserve the memory of the John Marshall Cadet and to keep their spirit alive,” he said. “By being here today, you are keeping both alive.”
Don Bray presented a wreath during the event to honor all veterans while the alumni band played “Eternal Father.” The SAMC Soldiers said they were honored to be part of the wreath ceremony that included veterans, family members and friends. The 20thannual event honored the memories of the 76 former John Marshall Cadets who lost their lives in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
During the ceremony, Rev. Laura Inscoe talked about one of those cadets, her father. He was Ernest Dervishian, an Army lieutenant who received the Medal of Honor Jan. 8, 1945, for “his heroic service on the battlefield.” He was a John Marshall class of 1932 graduate and the only cadet to have received this distinguished award.