After becoming married to Jeanette, Gilbert first worked for a railroad and then as a carpenter. Gilbert went to work for his father, helping to build and remodel houses. He was a carpenter for much of his life until he was forced to retire due to problems with his eyesight.
Prior to the war, fishing was more of a casual pastime and consisted of primarily solo trips to nearby Dutchman’s Creek in Lovettesville. After the war, Gilbert became more of an avid fisherman and made frequent trips to various fresh water locations all around Maryland – often in the company of friends. Occasionally he would also go out on the Chesapeake Bay with them. Jeanette believes his increased devotion to fishing was largely self medicating and that the activity was a way for Gilbert to keep his mind off the things he had experienced and witnessed as a POW in Germany.
Gilbert continued to enjoy fishing with his friends until a nail struck him in an eye while working. This left him with impaired vision in the eye and curbed his enthusiasm for the sport. He continued to fish with his friends now and again until another accident left him completely blind in the same eye. This occurred during the 1960s and resulted in Gilbert decreasing both the amount of time he spent working and the time he spent fishing. After the accident Gilbert found himself coming full circle, making occasional solo fishing trips to his boyhood hangout at Dutchman’s Creek.
Gilbert discovered a new passion that would keep him busy for the next twenty years – bottle collecting. Whereas he once traveled the state looking for places to fish, he now did the same looking for places to dig for old bottles. Jeanette remembers fondly the occasion he dug some “good blue ones, local medicine bottles that are still on display at the local pharmacy in Brunswick”. Gilbert also helped out at the local American Legion and VFW centers.
The POW Stamps
When Gilbert was well into his retirement, his friends coaxed him into going fishing with them again for a period of five years starting in 1986. This was a a very fortunate thing for collectors of fish and game stamps. By this point, Maryland had started issuing a combination No Fee fishing stamp that incorporated three categories of sportsmen: 1) Ex- POW; 2) 100% Service Connected DAV and 3) Complimentary. It is not known if the complimentary category on the stamp was also service related. The stamps were die cut, pressure sensitive self adhesives.
When Gilbert applied for a fishing license, he was not yet eligible for a No Fee senior license and stamp as he was only 64. However, his service records confirmed he was an ex- POW and he was issued a free license and the special stamp (see Figures 1, 2 and 3).
Although Gilbert turned 65 in 1987, was still issued a POW stamp for three more years. The 1987 through 1989 stamps are similar to the 1986 stamp with the exception that a place was added in the center to fill in the date issued (see Figures 4, 5 and 6).
POW Stamps Discontinued
After the 1989 seasons, Maryland discontinued the special stamps. For 1990, Gilbert was issued a new license form with a different type of combination No Fee stamp. This stamp had boxes for 1) Resident [aged] 65 or over and 2) Resident or Non-Resident [who was] blind. As Gilbert would now have qualified under both of these – neither box was checked on the stamp ( see Figures 7 and 8). Following the 1990 season, Gilbert finally gave up the sport of fishing once and for all. Gilbert was soon to become a grandfather and this allowed him to spend more time with his family.
Gilbert D. Cooper was an American War hero who fought valiantly in one of the most significant battles in history. The fact that he was captured and became a POW in Germany forever changed his life. After being freed and returned to the U.S. he turned to one of his childhood pleasures, fishing, to keep his mind occupied. This allowed him to cope emotionally and helped him to become a loving husband, father and grandfather until his death in 2002.
As an ex-POW, Gilbert qualified to receive special No Fee fishing stamps from the state of Maryland for four consecutive years, 1986-1989. It is possible that the stamps Gilbert received are now the the only surviving examples from this unique slice of fish and game philately. For these reasons, both the United States population as a whole and fish and game collectors, in particular, are very much indebted to Gilbert D. Cooper.
I would like to acknowledge the kindness and support that Jeanette Cooper showed me while working on this post. This is obviously a sensitive subject for her and her family – Jeanette, you were wonderful!