It’s been nearly three months since Willow Andrews’ son was killed while fighting in Ukraine, and even though human remains have been recovered from the area where he died, she doesn’t know if her son will ever be found.
Ukrainian officials have told Andrews that the remains recovered from the battlefield have not yet been identified, she told Task & Purpose on Tuesday.
“There were a lot of remains that were recovered,” Willow Andrews said. “So, it’s a matter of finding the correct ones.”
Marine veteran Cooper “Harris” Andrews died on April 19 while helping to evacuate civilians from the city of Bakhmut.
Since then, Willow Andrews says she has received little support from the State Department. She says department officials have been unresponsive at best and overtly hostile at worst. She believes the department has been slow to provide Ukrainian officials information about her son and she has been unable to reach State Department officials by phone.
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“I’ve given up dealing with the State Department,” she said. “I have an autoimmune disorder and it’s physically making me ill dealing with them. This whole thing is quite stressful. Dealing with the State Department is not in my best interests, physically.”
The State Department did not respond to Willow Andrews’ comments when Task & Purpose asked if her son’s remains had been recovered.
“We are aware of reports of the death of a U.S. citizen in Ukraine,” a State Department spokesperson said. “We are in touch with the family and stand ready to provide all possible consular assistance. Out of respect for the family’s privacy during this difficult time, we have nothing further to add.”
At least 14 Americans have died in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022. In addition to Andrews, at least four other Marine veterans have died in Ukraine: Former Cpl. Ian Tortorici, retired Marine Capt. Grady Kurpasi, Pete Reed, and Willy Joseph Cancel.
Andrews enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2017 and served as a ground electronics transmission maintainer until 2022, according to his official service record, which was provided to Task & Purpose. His last duty assignment was with headquarters, 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
He left the Marine Corps as a sergeant and his military awards include the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Willow Andrews previously told Task & Purpose that her son had a long history of helping people. He was an Eagle Scout and a volunteer firefighter before joining the Marine Corps.
It was that same desire to help others that prompted him to go to Ukraine, his mother said.
“Cooper basically had an attitude of ‘see something, do something,’” Willow Andrews said.
On Tuesday, Willow Andrews said that although she has been very discouraged by the lack of information from the State Department, she is still hopeful that her son’s remains will be identified and returned home to be buried next to his father.
She said she is inspired by the Ukrainian people and support she receives from the The Romulus T. Weatherman Foundation, a group of veterans and humanitarian workers, who are actively looking for son’s remains. The foundation recently recovered the remains of retired Marine Sgt. Grady Kurpasi, who was also killed while fighting =in Ukraine.
“You can’t lose hope,” Willow Andrews said.
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