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DC 2018 Candle Light Ceremony
Gold Star families candle-lighting ceremony at the White House.

Two staff members in UT’s Department of History, both of whom lost their military sons in Iraq, were among the Gold Star families invited to attend a reception earlier this month at the White House.

From left to right are Joshua Harrison, Doug Harrison, Kim Harrison, Bill Koprince, and Bernie Koprince.
From left to right are Joshua Harrison, Doug Harrison, Kim Harrison, Bill Koprince, and Bernie Koprince.

Bernie Koprince and Kim Harrison, along with their spouses and Harrison’s son Joshua, were invited to the annual Gold Star Family Reception, held on June 5 at the White House.

They were invited after an administrator with the Veterans Administration, which recently awarded a grant to UT’s Center for the Study of War and Society, learned that the two Gold Star moms work together in UT’s history department. Harrison, an administrative assistant, has worked at UT for 32 years; Koprince, a graduate secretary, for seven years.

Koprince said attending the reception was a “bittersweet honor.”

“This reception allowed us to connect with other families experiencing the same emotions, learn about their hero, tell of our hero, and show our current president how proud we are of our son yet how much we miss him each and every day in our day-to-day living,” Koprince said.

Lcpl William C. Koprince, Jr.
Lance Corporal William C. Koprince Jr.

Koprince’s son, Marine Corps Lance Corporal William C. Koprince Jr., was serving his third overseas deployment and his second in Iraq when he was killed by an improvised explosive device on December 27, 2006, in the city of Habbaniyah during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was 24.

Harrison’s son, Army Specialist G. Daniel Harrison, died on December 2, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. He was in the 293rd Military Police Company and was killed in combat, saving the lives of other soldiers on patrol that day. He was 22.

“I told the president about Daniel being my baby, and he said Daniel would always be my baby,” Harrison said. “It was a wonderful experience meeting other Gold Star families and hearing the stories of their loved ones.”

Army Specialist G. Daniel Harrison
Army Specialist G. Daniel Harrison

Koprince said the White House visit lasted about three hours. President Donald Trump was there, and it was the first public appearance for his wife, Melania Trump, since her kidney surgery. Vice President Mike Pence was also in attendance.

“It started with some wonderful food and entertainment by the Marine Corps band. This allowed us to mingle and meet other families. We then each met the president and had our picture taken with him,” she said.

Koprince said she and her husband wore pins with their son’s photo on them.

She said Trump looked at their pins and joked to her, “Your son is more handsome than your husband.”

She hugged Trump and whispered in his ear, “You’ll never know the pain.”

“We then went into a candlelight ceremony where our child’s name was spoken and a candle lighted in his honor. At the close of the ceremony we were ushered back into the East Reception Area for more time with other family members, served some wonderful dessert, and once again entertained by the Marine Corps band,” Koprince said.

“Upon departing the reception we were given the candle that was lighted in our son’s memory and honor. . . . It was all very respectful, well thought out, and planned.”

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (ablakely@utk.edu, 865-974-5034)