Local Marine Killed In Action, Son's Death Evokes Pride

Parents of Oak Ridge Marine killed in Iraq say 'he did his best'

OAK RIDGE - Marine Lance Cpl. Billy Koprince sent his last message home on Christmas Eve.

"Not much to pass here, but Santa did visit last night," he wrote in an e-mail to his parents, Bill and Bernice. "Three weeks or so, then we are outa here!!!"

He died three days later, when a roadside bomb exploded near him while on foot patrol Wednesday in Iraq.

"I don't know if you're ever prepared for something like this," his mother said at her home in Rarity Ridge. "I hadn't realized it, but we had a pretty good life with him. Now I'm burying my son."

Koprince, 24, had been stationed with the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Marine Regiment near Al Habbaniyah in central Iraq since July on his second tour of duty there. He planned to come home in February.

"I had fears over Christmas," his mother said. "But I thought, six more weeks and he's getting out of there."

The fears came true Wednesday, when her cell phone rang as the family sat down to breakfast at a local Cracker Barrel. The parents knew what it meant the moment they answered.

"She handed it to me and said, 'It's the Marines; it has to do with Billy," Bill Koprince said.

A pair of Marines met them at the restaurant with the news.

"People were stopping at our table and telling us that they were going to pray for us," said Koprince's aunt, Norma Patterson. "We were just hoping and praying that it was just an injury."

William Craig Koprince Jr. was born in Southgate, Mich., grew up in Lenoir City, where he moved with his parents at age 10, and graduated from Lenoir City High School in 2001.

"He and I butted heads a lot, because we were a lot alike," the mother said. "He had to learn the hard way. He had to bang his head against the wall a few times to learn his lesson."

The hard way included enlisting in the Marines in September 2003.

"I tried to convince him to go across the hallway to the Air Force recruiter," his father said. "But he wanted to be the best. He wanted to be a Marine."

Koprince spent his first tour of duty in Iraq from March to October of 2005, helping guard the border with Syria along the Euphrates River.

"He was always trying to reassure us that he wasn't in danger," his mother said.

Koprince returned to the U.S. last fall, then headed back to Iraq this summer for what he hoped would be the last time.

"At first he wanted to make it a career," his mother said. "But he decided he wanted to get out and start his life."

Parents and son e-mailed back and forth and talked now and then on the phone. The parents kept each e-mail, all short and to the point.

"He was a guy of few words," his father said. "When he called, he knew there were guys with wives and kids who were waiting for the phone. He wanted them to be able to talk with their families."

They talked about his plans to start college and study landscaping upon his return to the U.S. He joked sometimes about the weather, the boredom and the things he missed - especially a good steak.

"One time, I sent him cinnamon gum," Bernice Koprince said. "He e-mailed back and said, 'Mom, it's too hot for cinnamon gum. It's Iraq. But I did give it to the kids here.' "

The daily foot patrols gave him a chance to talk face to face with individual Iraqis and see another side of the conflict.

"It's good to know that you're doing something right," he told the Marine Corps News Service in October. "Some people said that we're down there so much that they feel like we're citizens."

His parents know the days to come won't be easy, but they said they take pride in the life their son lived - and the way it ended.

"It was worth it," his father said. "He did his best. That's what he chose. That's what he wanted to do."

Arrangements for Lance Cpl. Koprince are incomplete. The family expects the body of their son to return to East Tennessee next week.

Body of Marine expected next week

Family plans to bury Koprince beside WWII veteran grandfather

The body of Lance Cpl. Billy Koprince, the East Tennessee Marine killed Wednesday in Iraq, will come home next week to be buried beside his World War II veteran grandfather, family members said.

"I know he's in heaven, and I take comfort in that," said his father, Bill Koprince Sr. "He gave his life for the freedoms you and I enjoy."

Koprince, 24, grew up in Lenoir City and graduated from Lenoir City High School in 2001. He died two days after Christmas while on foot patrol in Iraq's Anbar province when a roadside bomb exploded near his unit.

He was the only Marine killed in the attack, military officials told his family Thursday. His death marks the 64th service member from Tennessee killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion, according to The Associated Press.

He'd been stationed there since July with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division of the II Marine Expeditionary Force. Family members planned to welcome him home in February.

Phone calls, visitors and messages of sympathy have poured into his parents' home in Oak Ridge since word of his death, said his aunt, Norma Patterson.

"We've had a true outpouring of the spirit of the community," she said.

Koprince's body could return to the U.S. by the middle of next week. No funeral date has been set.

Click Funeral Home will handle arrangements. Burial will be in Kingston Memorial Gardens, next to the grave of his grandfather Morgan Wickman, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.