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05-04-06, 05:48 AM
Parish thanks family for sacrifice
Iraq combat victim grew up in Avondale
Thursday, May 04, 2006
By Paul Purpura
West Bank bureau

The noisy clutter preceding Wednesday's Jefferson Parish Council meeting went suddenly silent, and the movement of politicians and planners in the chambers went starkly still when three women approached the lectern.

The women fought tears, but they stood gracefully and managed to smile, preparing to accept again public acknowledgment of a husband, a son and a younger brother. Lance Cpl. Derrick Cothran, the 21-year-old Avondale-raised Marine who was killed in combat last month in Iraq and laid to rest Friday, was honored by the council.

"There are some things in life that you have to do to honor people," Parish Councilman Elton Lagasse said somberly of a task ahead of him that he considered necessary but regrettable. "If I don't sound too happy with this, please forgive me."

It was a proclamation, Lagasse said, calling on the citizens of Jefferson Parish to honor Cothran and the three Marines killed with him on April 15, in an insurgent explosion in Al Anbar province. "This is to honor a young man who gave his life for his country," Lagasse said, choking up and holding the legal-size documents he prepared to give to Cothran's widow, mother and sister.

"Ladies, I don't know what to say," Lagasse said, directing his attention to Cothran's mother, Elena Cothran. "Thank you for your son."

The silence was broken by standing applause followed by hugs from Parish President Aaron Broussard.

Cothran's widow, Victoria, his older sister, Antoinette, and his mother were greeted with more of the same as they left the meeting room. About 20 men, most wearing business suits, ambushed them with a showing of respect and condolences.

"He was an awesome kid," Elena Cothran said afterward of her youngest son, the sibling of a set of twins whose playful taunts as children helped Cothran overcome the disabilities of severe asthma and allergies to become a high school athlete and Marine. "He gave his 100 percent no matter what he did."

"Derrick loved his job so much," Victoria Cothran said. "I'm just so proud of him. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way."

She was about three weeks into the grueling, three-month-long boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., when she received word that her high-school sweetheart and husband of 10 months had been killed.

She was pulled from her training platoon and sent home. She was present at Louis Armstrong International Airport on April 25 when her husband's remains arrived on a commercial flight.

She cried on Friday at the wake and funeral service, where Marines in their dress blue uniforms kept vigil over her husband's flag-draped casket.

On Wednesday, she said she is determined to complete what she started. She returns to Parris Island on May 20 to continue her quest to become a Marine, just like her husband, his older brother Pfc. Theodore "T.J." Cothran Jr., and the Cothrans' father, Ted. "I'm not only doing it for me, I'm doing it for both of us," Victoria said of her late husband. "I'm proud. The Marine Corps is part of my life."

In recent days, she said, she received two letters he wrote to her from Iraq, sent to Parris Island and forwarded to her here. She smiled, because her decision to return was affirmed. He told her he admired what she was doing.