SANDUSKY — Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jason Cooper has made it his mission to come up with memorable ways to surprise his family when he comes home on leave or at the end of deployments.
His latest was clearly the best.
“This one takes the cake,” his wife, Lisa, said when asked if Thursday night’s surprise reunion with her husband in front of hundreds of people at Cedar Point topped all of the other surprises he has concocted over the years when coming home on leave or at the end of previous deployments.
“I’m shocked and very happy,” Lisa Cooper said.
More photos below.
The 37-year-old Marine who has served in Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain during his 18 years in the Corps, is a native of Bellefontaine,but has called Amherst home for years.
Cooper contacted Cedar Point officials, who agreed to help hatch a scheme to get his family to the park Thursday on the pretext they were being honored as a local military family.
Cooper’s video message — supposedly recorded overseas, but done earlier in the evening in the park’s marketing offices — played on a large screen on a stage set up for the park’s nightly Luminosity light-and-music show.
“I love you and miss you so much and can’t wait to see you,” Jason Cooper said as the crowd “ooohhhed” and “aaahhhed” and applauded several times.
One of the most heartfelt reactions came when Cooper said he and Lisa had been married 15 years on July 4.
Moments after the video, Cooper appeared on a pedestal across from the stage holding flowers for his wife.
Asked what went through her mind the moment she first realized it was her husband, Lisa Cooper said “I was squinting because I didn’t have my glasses on, and was thinking, ‘Is that him?’ ”
Asked why he chose Cedar Point for his latest surprise, Cooper said it has always been a favorite vacation spot for the family.
“I’m extremely excited to see them.” Cooper said during a brief interview before the reunion. “It’s a hard transition coming back.”
“My daughter is in awe,” Lisa Cooper said as she told reporters moments after the family’s emotional reunion that her husband’s most-recent assignment overseas has been hardest on Mikayla, 5.
“This deployment has been very rough on her,” Lisa Cooper said.
As Cooper explained earlier, “she’s never seen me leave for a deployment before.”
Cooper’s sons, Ethan, 12, and Jaydan, 9, declined when asked whether they wished to say anything to reporters.
Mikayla was equally shy when it came to speaking in front of the bright TV lights.
She was heard to tell her father softly as he held her close, “The house is all cleaned up.”
Wiping tears from her eyes, Lisa Cooper said, “I didn’t think he was going to be able to come home at all.”
Sgt. Cooper said his family wasn’t expecting him home until March 2014.
Cooper will have 15 days of leave before having to resume his deployment, which may be his last before retiring from the Marines.
Cedar Point spokeswoman Annie Zelm said she was not aware that the park had ever taken part in such an effort before.
“It’s nights like these that make our jobs special,” Zelm said.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.