In May of 2009, Chuck Elmore, the head of Spokane County’s Veteran Services, learned that a black Army veteran was buried in an unmarked grave at the Spokane-Cheney Memorial Gardens cemetery in the 1970s. Elmore received this information from Patricia Bayonne-Johnson, the vice president of the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society, who after searching the cemetery could not find a marker for the black veteran.
The veteran, Sgt. Malbert M. Cooper, was buried by the Department of Public Assistance, which only paid for the burial and not for a headstone. Elmore wrote to the National Archives to learn more about Cooper. Through this he learned that Cooper, a Baltimore native, enlisted in the Army in 1910 and was sent to the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri before being stationed at Fort George Wright in Spokane, Washington in August of the same year. In 1911, Cooper served in the 24th Infantry Regiment as first sergeant of the H Company and was stationed at Fort George Wright from 1910 to 1916. He died in 1979.
After learning this, Elmore set out on a long journey to get the veteran’s grave marked. Elmore contacted the VA and was told that in order to have a headstone placed on the grave; he must obtain a court order. Due to this, Elmore sought the assistance of Nadel Barret, a Navy Veteran and a Veterans Services Officer. Barret was able to get approval from the VA to provide a headstone without a court order.
In order to get a headstone, the VA requires a signature from a family member or someone the veteran approved to apply for a headstone on their behalf. Obtaining a signature was a difficult task since Cooper had no living relatives, but Elmore did not give up. Eventually, the closest person Elmore found was George Freeman, the son of a woman that Cooper dated.
Freeman remembers Cooper and describes him as a knowledgeable man, “If you had an issue or dilemma, he could always look at it and come up with two possible answers.”
Elmore was able to get Freeman’s signature and is happy to see the headstone finally placed onto Cooper’s grave. “The man’s a veteran, and he deserves to have a headstone.”
A dedication was held on May 27 to honor Cooper and his service.