Del Cooper was born in Dayton and graduated from Fairmont High School in 1941. As a soldier with the 71st Infantry Division in 1945, he was among the first Americans to enter and liberate Gunzkirchen, a satellite of the notorious Mauthausen concentration camp. His most vivid memory of that harrowing experience is “the sickening smell of dead bodies – the odor of evil,” as he calls it today. The day after liberation, he wrote a detailed account to his wife Joan. He also took part in the capture of some German soldiers and an SS officer. After the war, he worked until 1972 at the Defense Electronic Supply Center in Kettering and now lives in Beavercreek. He and his wife have one daughter.
Mauthausen is in Austria, near Linz on the Danube. Life there was particularly hard because inmates were forced to work under terrible conditions in a stone quarry. The death rate was very high, and Mauthausen was one of the last camps liberated, on May 5, 1945. About 120,000 died there. It was also one of the starting points for the ‘death marches,’ the forced treks that occurred at the end of the war when the Nazis tried to move prisoners away from the Allied advance.