Emmett Ray Cofer

Emmett Ray Cofer died May 6 in Leadville at age 99 following a fall. He was born Nov. 19, 1921 in Campbellsville, Kentucky, the sixth of seven children of Charles E. Cofer and Martha “Mattie” Jenette Smith.

Early in his life the family migrated west, acquiring a farm on the Snake River Plain southeast of Boise. He grew up driving horse-drawn plows and wagons and rode a horse to school. He graduated from Heyburn High School in 1940 and entered the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor.

Following basic training, he was sent to a specialized training program at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, where he met his future wife, Joan Carter. He was next assigned to flight training in Florida, but before it began the entire class was reassigned to elements of the Third Army, staging in England. He waded ashore in Normandy after D-Day, a sergeant in an infantry weapons platoon. They blasted across France and got caught up in the Battle of the Bulge — where he’s included in a widely-reprinted photo getting a delayed holiday meal in a snowy chow line.

Two months later, circumstances placed him in charge of the platoon in the first assault wave crossing the Rhine into Germany. He was awarded a Bronze Star for actions later in the day, and remained platoon leader for the duration of the war. The platoon’s trek across Germany ended with handshakes with Russian soldiers near the Czech border.

He never bought in to the “Greatest Generation” label, nor did he have any interest in glorifying the war. He once said that only three of the original 35 men in his platoon were present at war’s end. He was very lucky, but he wasn’t unscathed. He seldom spoke of his time in Europe unless directly asked, and then usually responding with glib one-liners that began “Well, George and I …” He maintained the utmost respect for George Patton throughout his life.

After release from the Army, he moved on to the booming lumber business in northern California. Joan worked her way west, married Ray in 1947, and settled in to raising two boys in small sawmill towns.

She developed a strong interest in amateur radio, built her own gear, and became one of the few women at the time to hold an Amateur Extra rating; he followed with a General License. Their mantra was “anything for education,” sending both their boys to Stanford.

He retired in 1983, devoting himself to fishing eastern Sierra Nevada trout streams, hiking, lapidary, reading history and biography, and caring for his wife’s mother, who lived to be almost 107. When Joan died in 2015, he joined his eldest son and daughter-in-law in Leadville. He appreciated Leadville’s architecture, both style and color, and greatly enjoyed breakfasts at the Golden Burro and dinners at the Twin Lakes Inn.

He outlived all of his good friends and siblings. He is survived by two sons, Chuck in Leadville and Larry in Menlo Park, California, and by four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.