FORT SMITH, AR. (KNWA/KFTA) – The last time Private John P. Cooper was seen, was in Germany, back in 1945 when he was escaping a tank that had been struck by a rocket during World War II.

The World War II Veteran from Texas was reported missing in action for decades until an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense compared his DNA to family members. One of these family members was his nephew, Mike Chesnut.

“I got a phone call from one of the ladies from Fort Knox. She wanted to know if I would be fine with giving my DNA to help find my uncle. I said yes, I’ll be glad,” said Chesnut.

Once identified as Private Cooper, the Missing in America Project, a nonprofit that helps locate, identify and secure final resting places for veterans, made sure Private Cooper was remembered properly.

“We put out a request for any supporters, any Veteran Riders, or supporters of Veteran Riders to join us in escorting him in, which is what we did today,” said Gina Gustafson with the Missing in America Project.

Along with rounding up local veterans to attend Private Cooper’s service at the Fort Smith National Cemetery on October 21, the Missing in America Project also helped gather his long-lost relatives. One of these relatives is Samantha McClain.

“It’s brought comfort to my family, even though I hate meeting my other relatives in this funeral stance, but in a way it did bring us together, even tighter,” said McClain.

Gustafson said the Missing in America Project gives families closure even if they never knew the Veteran they are being reconnected with. It’s an update to their family tree or for Private Cooper’s family, a way to honor their relative.

“I feel great. Being a veteran myself and getting to see him come home with all of the other veterans here, it’s a high honor,” said Chesnut.

Now with the help of DNA technology and nonprofits like the Missing in America Project, Private Cooper is another veteran who will be honored for paying the ultimate sacrifice.

For additional information about Private Cooper, you can visit the website linked here and to learn more about the Department of Defense’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving the U.S., visit the DPAA website at,, or call (703) 699-1420/1169.