TOME — His eyes lit up with joy as the Model As came around the bend in his driveway.
At 96 years old, James Junior Cosper, known fondly as “Pete” since a small child, got a birthday surprise last weekend full of honking, waving and well wishes.
Since he turned 90, Cosper’s family has made it a tradition to gather and celebrate his birthday every year, but this year, due to the novel coronavirus, those plans had to be changed.
So his daughter, Hollie Wells, and son, John M. Cosper, put out the call — they were throwing a birthday parade for “Pete.”
It was a mash-up of firetrucks and rescue units from the Tomé Fire Department, neighbors on tractors, friends from the Bosque Farms Community Center and his pals from Albuquerque’s Poco Quatros Model A Ford Club.
“No, I didn’t have flattest idea,” Cosper said of the parade. “It sure was a surprise.”
For the last eight years, Cosper has lived at the base of Tomé Hill on its north side, enjoying the quiet of the rural community. He enjoys going to the dances at the Bosque Farms Community Center every other week and keeps up with the car club happenings.
Born in Clarendon, Texas, Cosper’s family moved to the town of Bernalillo in 1940, then the city of Albuquerque two years later.
With the world midway through World War II, Cosper received two deferments due to his job — hauling bombs off local target ranges.
“I worked for a guy who kept the targets cleaned up,” he said. “I hauled them in and he had a machine that tore them apart and put them on a freight car.”
While out on the ranges, Cosper said he did get bombed by our guys a couple of times.
“I did that for two years, otherwise I would have gone in long before,” he said.
He was drafted eventually and enlisted in the Army on Jan. 1, 1944, leaving the relative safety of the U.S. He was assigned to the signal corps, the heart of the communications operations. Cosper was a sergeant in the motor pool, a mechanic for the unit, keeping vehicles operational from Guadalcanal to Japan.
When the boats hit the beaches of Japan, Cosper and the signal corps was the first unit on the ground once the area was secure.
“My boat was the first to unload when we hit Japan. We had to get the communications set up right away,” the veteran said. “We were right there along with the 6th Ranger Battalion (U.S. Army Rangers) in the Philippines.
“I suppose we were a target but we never got hit.”
Just because his unit was never hit, didn’t mean there weren’t near misses and tense times. While on the road, a sniper shot entered and ricocheted around the cabin of the transport, striking Cosper in the side.
“It had lost so much momentum by the time it hit him, it didn’t penetrate,” Hollie said. “But still … scary.”
When they made land in Japan, Cosper remembers the majority of the unit had to move on, leaving him and another man to wrangle a truck with brake problems that kept causing one wheel to lock up.
“I was able to pull the break line loose and there was a rivet from the break shoes that fit right inside the line, so I was able to shut that wheel off and we carried on,” he said.
What made the 100 mile trip they were making from Nagoya to Kyoto tense wasn’t the breaks, but rather the hundreds of Japanese citizens who lined the road, standing and watching the two U.S. Army men drive by.
“To put that in context, this was only about a month after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima,” Hollie said.
After 27 months in the Army, Cosper returned home and learned to be a machinist. He worked for a couple other companies before opening his own shop rebuilding engines in 1969 on South Coors Boulevard in Albuquerque.
After four decades of working on engines, Cosper passed the business on to his son and headed a bit east to Stanley, where he bought 1,000 acre ranch.
“I built a house and a barn and corrals, drilled a well and developed irrigation, built fences — lots of fences,” Cosper mused.
A man who is good with his hands, he’s built five fiddles in his lifetime and, at one time, played. Cosper has also spent a good deal of time restoring engines and vintage cars. He joined Poco Quatros in 1966, and did work for members throughout the years at his shop.
All total, he’s restored nine Model As, a 1955 Crown Victoria and a 1952 Ford convertible.
Just two years ago, he finished work on a 1959 F100 Ford pickup, which is still in his garage.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.