Replacing a worn American flag at McGhee Tyson Airport will take on more meaning for a Lenoir City family this week.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. William Koprince Jr. will be honored for his sacrifice in battle. A 20-foot by 30-foot flag will be raised Thursday during a private Memorial Day service at the airport.
Koprince's father, Bill, an aircraft mechanic based at McGhee Tyson, said he was in the process of replacing the tattered flag when the community began to work together.
"One of the ladies that we've known since my son was killed found out that we were replacing the flag," Koprince Sr. said. "I happened to mention that any monies that we didn't receive I was just going to pay for in memory of my son."
The woman, who works for Woodmen of the World, an organization that regularly donates flags, told Koprince that the organization would pick up a portion of the cost.
From there, it grew into a community event when Koprince's boss coordinated the airport's annual tour with the flag dedication. The McGhee Tyson Air National Guard, dignitaries, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, those from the hanger's regional maintenance department, the vice president of the flag manufacturer and even several lawmakers are scheduled to be in attendance.
About 100-200 people are expected at the ceremony, which is by invitation only.
"His company has always been really supportive of our family with the tragedy. I think it just shows how much respect they have for us for what we've been through," Bernie Koprince, the Marine's mother, said.
"I'm honored that they want to do this in memory of him. I was totally surprised that they would. I'm really humbled more than anything," Koprince Sr. said. "I just can't put it into words. I just can't. I'm just humbled by what people want to do for him."
On Dec. 27, 2006, Koprince Jr. was on foot patrol sweeping for insurgents in an Iraqi village when he stepped on a pressure point. He was killed instantly.
It was the Lenoir City Marine's second tour in Iraq. He was due back home in February 2007 and his commanding officer had already granted partial release so he could go back to college.
Koprince Jr. was born Sept. 16, 1982. He attended Eaton Elementary, North Middle and then graduated from Lenoir City High School in 2001. Though he never said he was military minded, Koprince Jr. volunteered for the Marine Corps in 2003 as a way to pay for schooling and straighten some things out in his life, his father said.
"I think 9/11 pretty much surged some stuff. It's kind of like what my parents and my wife's parents went into from WWII after Pearl Harbor," he said. After his son told him about joining the military, Koprince Sr. said he had mixed emotions.
"I tried to talk him out of it because I knew exactly where he was going. If he wanted to join the military that was fine. I just didn't want him in the Marine Corps because I didn't need him on the front lines," he said, instead encouraging him to join the Air Force, where "he could get a nice warm bed and not be shot at."
But certainty in his son's voice changed his mind.
"He looked at me and the recruiter and said he wanted to be the best and he wanted to be a Marine. I wasn't going to change his mind after that," Koprince Sr. said.
The military brought out new abilities in their son.
"I didn't realize how much of a leader he was until I got down there and talked to his platoon commander and first sergeant down there and some of the guys he served with," Koprince Sr. said.
"I never realized it, but they told me the kid had a photographic memory," he said. "They would show him a map, they would get into a fire fight and then he would know the best way out. He never had to look at the map again. It pulled out a lot of natural ability that I didn't know he had."
"He was very quiet but he was very funny," his mother said. "They were boxing one time in the barracks and they weren't supposed to be. He knew they were boxing and when he came back he acted like he was a captain. He did silly things like that. I would also describe him as very passionate and smart."
Since his death, the Marine has been honored with the banners lining downtown Lenoir City, a LCHS brick that is embellished with his name, a plaque at the Loudon County Courthouse and his nephew is named after him. His mother is trying to get a bridge named in honor of her son.
"My fear is my child will be forgotten because you know everyone's life moves on. Right after the funeral I was just like how can these people be walking around and laughing? My life has fallen apart," Bernie said. "To know people care and remember means a great deal to us. He is not going to be forgotten."