‘It’s a Deep and Unique Brotherhood’

UA Student Veteran Aids WWII Veteran, Develops Friendship

 

By David Miller

Wood. Nails. Measuring tape. Geometry.

When Johnson fell and broke his hip in the spring of 2017, Copeland built a wheelchair ramp at Johnson’s home.

It didn’t take Brady Copeland long to plan and mobilize to help an injured fellow veteran. As a former Army combat recovery operator, he was trained to think and act both quickly and accurately.

However, those typically on the receiving end of his efforts weren’t 93 years old, like Marvin Johnson, a World War II veteran and friend of Copeland who fell and broke his hip at his home earlier this year.

“[I fell] chasing one of these cats,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s recovery would include several obstacles, the most pressing being access to his home. Johnson would need to use a wheelchair immediately following surgery and then a walker in the months that would follow.

His home didn’t have a ramp at any of its entrances.

“I talked to him on the phone, and I didn’t know what to think,” Copeland said, “but from that point forward, I wanted to be there for him. He got out of hospital on a Saturday in March. That Friday, I went straight to Lowe’s and bought everything I needed to make a ramp.”

Unique friendship

Copeland and Johnson had an uncommon introduction at the most common place: Walmart.

Copeland visits Johnson periodically at his home to chat, drink coffee and watch Westerns.

Last September, Copeland saw Johnson wearing his black WWII veteran cap and introduced himself. Copeland, who served a combat tour in Iraq, was wearing an “Iraqi Freedom” cap.

“I’m patriotic, and I always pay my respect to anyone who has served our country,” Copeland said. “I shook his hand, we had a small conversation, and in the end – he’s a pastor at a church – he gave me his card.”

Later that month, Copeland visited Johnson at church, where they had fellowship and walked around the cemetery. They only spoke a couple more times before the end of the year, but Johnson’s generosity and genuineness resonated with Copeland. He said Johnson and his wife reminded him of his own grandparents, both of whom would pass while he aided Johnson in his recovery.

Copeland periodically visits Johnson at his Tuscaloosa home, where they drink coffee, eat sweets and watch westerns.

“When I come here and I have an open-armed welcome, it reminds me of how my grandparents treated me,” Copeland said. “To be able to unexpectedly receive that from Mr. Johnson and his wife … it’s every type of adjective you could use when I come to that door.”

Instant connections

Though Johnson no longer uses a wheelchair, he uses a walker up and down the ramp each day.

Copeland: Combat vets always look out for one another.

But Johnson had a more complex issue after his fall: medical care and how to pay for it.

Johnson, who left the Army in 1948, hadn’t been receiving the Veterans Administration benefits he was qualified for. Copeland introduced Johnson and his family to Will Suclupe, manager of the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership program at UA, an initiative between the Veterans Health Administration and Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center that provides heath care services to the veteran and military community at UA.

“When I got to UA, I was somewhat in the same boat,” Copeland said. “Will was the one who helped me get registered with the VA hospital and get my VA card and start my appointments. Through that relationship, Mr. Johnson was able to immediately connect and start scheduling appointments with the VA and transportation, if needed. To be able to apply within a 72-hour window, I can only imagine how beneficial that was.”

Johnson said he was surprised at the range of benefits offered by the VA Hospital and has shared the information with other veterans.

“I tell my friends, ‘do you know anybody that needs help? Contact Brady,’” Johnson said. “You can call him and he’ll help in any way.

“Brady is here to pick of the pieces for us old folks that can’t.”

 

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.