Willow Andrews remembers how from a young age, her son Cooper showed both his sense of humor and his passion for helping others.

When she went to the grocery store, her young son accompanied her and put more food into her basket, claiming he was going on an “all milk diet” or had a craving for dozens of eggs. She knew that in reality, he was cooking for people in need.

Her son’s dedication to helping other people prompted him to become an Eagle Scout, fight wildfires as a volunteer firefighter, join the Marine Corps, and ultimately go to Ukraine, where he was killed on April 19 while helping civilians evacuate the city of Bakhmut – the scene of intense combat for months.

“Cooper basically had an attitude of ‘see something, do something,’” Willow Andrews told Task & Purpose.

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Cooper Andrews joined the Marine Corps in 2017 and served as a ground electronics transmission systems maintainer until 2022. His mother said he was drawn to the Marines because he felt they were the military branch that most often conducted humanitarian assistance missions.

Still, she had reservations when he told her he wanted to enlist in the Marines, but eventually, she respected his reasoning and fully supported his decision.

While at boot camp, Cooper Andrews found that some of his fellow recruits were hostile toward people of color, and that really disturbed him, she said.

“He’s meeting these people who are fascists, but he’s like: ‘Mom, they don’t even know what they’re talking about. They’re just being racist.’ And they would tell him: ‘You’re Ok, though.’ So, that was a huge issue for him.”

Cooper Andrews was committed to democratic ideals at an early age. He read about Winston Churchill and during middle school, told his mother he wanted to learn about the Constitution, so she found constitutional law books for him to study.

So, it’s unsurprising that after leaving the Marine Corps, he went to fight in Ukraine, which he saw as a war against fascism, Willow Andrews said.

Before he left, he and his mother talked about why he felt the need to go to Ukraine. They discussed the Spanish Civil War when Americans and other international volunteers fought against General Francisco Franco, who was backed by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, as part of what they felt was a global war against fascism.

They also talked about the author Ernest Hemmingway, who served in Italy as an ambulance driver with the American Red Cross during World War I and then later wrote the classic novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” about an ideological American who fights Franco’s forces in Spain.

“I said: Cooper, so, you’re going to be driving an ambulance over there? And Cooper just looked at me and said, ‘Most likely not, mom.’ And it’s like, I know — I get it. Cooper had an awesome sense of humor, and so that was me joking with him. He understood why I was saying it. But that was kind of like me condoning: Yes, you may go and do things because, fundamentally, his idea of right and wrong and ‘see something, do something; I’m a strong able-bodied person’ is very much Cooper.”

Initially, Cooper Andrews had to deal with racism from some of the others who were fighting the Russians alongside him, but after a few months he proved his worth, his mother said.

When she would call him, she could hear his friends joking around by yelling “We love you mom!” while she was on the phone with him.

In a sign of Cooper’s sense of humor, when his mother asked if she could send him a care package, he told her he needed chopsticks and hot sauce rather than any sort of luxury items.

“I’m like: Do you need anything besides chopsticks and hot sauce?” she recalled. “And he’s like: ‘Well mom, they eat a lot of Chinese food over here, but you can never find chopsticks, and I just need some hot sauce because I would like some spicy food.’”

Even though his contract with the International Legion ended in March, Marine veteran Cooper Andrews decided to stay in Ukraine to keep fighting the Russians. Not long after he asked his mother for the chopsticks and hot sauce, it became hard for her to reach him.

“The last time I had any contact with Cooper was him explaining to me that he was being moved and he didn’t know if I could send those things to him,” Willow Andrews said.

Cooper Andrews was later killed by a Russian mortar attack. His mother was told that he was killed while helping families and children get out of Bakhmut.

Willow Andrews said she has spoken with the leadership of her son’s battalion, who said they are more focused on evacuating wounded members of the unit than recovering her son’s body. She was also told she will receive news if his teammates find his remains.

Since her son’s death, Willow Andrews has talked to the families of other fighters in the battalion who have been killed.

“The fighters there – especially these battalions – are very much like ‘everyone is our brother,’” she said. “They are very much like ‘we are all one big family’.”

Willow Andrews is currently raising money for causes that her son believed in, including a fund to support the families of his unit and other organizations that help hungry children in Cleveland.

“Sometimes when I talk about Cooper: It’s like Cooper never crawled,” she said. “He rolled, he scooted, and he walked, and then he ran. I guess as a parent, looking at that you say: Oh boy, let the roller coaster start, because you know someone like that is not going to just sit and standby and watch the world go by. They are going to get active. And that’s something that Cooper really did.”

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