“Ten Stars” Biography Details Life of First African-American To Lead Troops in Combat

Ten Stars, by Kendal Weaver, a biography on the legendary life of the first black Marine to lead troops into combat.

General J. Gary Cooper is not a man who minces words or actions. He’s a Marine’s Marine. A true Leatherneck. In a word, a Badass with a capital B.

Against all odds, Cooper beat down rampant racism, endured bombs and bullets, and had a legendary career of firsts. Most notably, he was the first black Marine to command and lead a desegregated team of Marine riflemen into combat in Vietnam.

And now he can celebrate another personal first—Cooper’s must-read life story is told in the book Ten Stars by Kendal Weaver.

Truly One of “the Few, the Proud”

“When I graduated from Notre Dame, I was one of three African Americans in a class of 1,500,” says General Cooper. “And when I got commissioned in 1958, out of 20,000 Marine Corps officers, only 6 were African-American.”

Cooper, in the truest tradition of a roguish Marine, believed that some rules were to be followed, some bent, and others broken. His Marine Corps career was a constant repetition of Adapt, Improvise, Overcome -- literally.

But what most people don’t know is how he smashed through that racial barrier. This is where the rule-breaking came in handy.

Never Leave A Marine Behind

Cooper arrived in Da Nang in the spring of 1966 expecting to lead infantrymen into battle; instead, he was assigned to the 3rd Anti-tank Battalion as a supply officer, as far removed from battle as you can get. Any ordinary Marine (if there is such a thing) would have accepted these orders and moved on. Not Cooper.

Undeterred, Cooper requested mast with his commanding general. It was this brazen move that allowed him to command rifle company M, “Mike Company,” as the first ever black Marine officer. He led his men through the hell of war, losing some but never leaving a Marine behind. He received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for heroism during the Vietnam War.

In 1970, Cooper left the Marine Corps, but continued to serve as a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and went on to a successful career in business and state politics.. In 1988, in another first, he returned to active duty in the Marine Corps, and was promoted to major general and Director of Personnel at Headquarters Marine Corps.

He retired from the Marine Corps in 1989, when President of the United States George H. W. Bush nominated Cooper to be Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Manpower & Reserve Affairs). After Senate confirmation, he held this office until 1992. In this capacity, he played a role in planning the Gulf War. In 1994, President Bill Clinton named Cooper United States Ambassador to Jamaica, and Cooper presented his credentials to Governor-General of Jamaica Sir Howard Cooke from 1994 to 1997.

All these events and more are covered in Ten Stars, which deserves a place on everyone’s reading list and a place of distinction in military history. Cooper smashed through racial barriers in the military, politics and business, refused to surrender, and shows that the incredible is possible if you think like a Marine: adapt, improvise, and overcome.

Ten Stars is available through your favorite local or online retailer, or from NewSouth Books.

-- Sean Mclain Brown can be reached at sean.brown@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @seanmclainbrown.

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