Gold Star Moms: History Department Moms Share Pain of Losing Sons in War

Mother’s Day is a tough day for Kim Harrison and Bernice Koprince, both administrative specialists in the Department of History.

Both are Gold Star moms: their sons died while serving in the US military overseas.

Daniel Harrison, son of Kim Harrison.

Daniel Harrison, son of Kim Harrison.

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 twenty-two.

William Koprince, son of Bernice Koprince, loved to take selfies -- even before selfies were so popular. This one just happened to be on his birthday, about 15 months before he died. He had just arrived home on leave.

William Koprince, son of Bernice Koprince, loved to take selfies—even before selfies were so popular. This one just happened to be on his birthday, about 15 months before he died. He had just arrived home on leave.

US 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 twenty-four.

While they’re likely to shed a few tears on Mother’s Day, Koprince and Harrison say they will try to focus on good memories and gratitude rather than grief.

Koprince said her son was a prankster, loved Johnny Cash, and didn’t say much—but when he did speak, he was funny and insightful.

Kim and Daniel Harrison clown around.

Kim and Daniel Harrison clown around.

“William wouldn’t want us to mourn, because he was a fun-loving guy,” Koprince said. “We try to honor him by being fun and by having fun.”

She’ll enjoy the day with her daughter and three grandchildren, the oldest of whom is named Billy, after her son.

“I’m thankful for what I have,” she said.

Likewise, Harrison said she’ll spend Mother’s Day enjoying time with her younger son, Josh, and cherishing her memories of Daniel.

“The last Mother’s Day that Daniel was alive, he sent me a dozen yellow roses while he was in Iraq,” she said. “He was the biggest teddy bear. He was six-foot-four and towered over the rest of us. He was very, very affectionate. Even in high school when he played football, he’d come off the field all sweaty and give me a hug.”

Bernice Koprince and grandson, Billy (named after William Koprince) plant flags at a veterans memorial celebration.

Bernice Koprince and grandson, Billy (named after William Koprince) plant flags at a veterans memorial celebration.

Daniel also had a great sense of humor and, like Koprince’s son, loved a good joke.

“I swear, those two were a lot alike,” Harrison said. “I just picture them in heaven together, pranking each other.”

The two women—Harrison is Koprince’s boss—say working together helps them cope with their losses.

“We met through our sons’ deaths at a Gold Star mothers event,” Harrison said. “I needed someone in the office and she needed a job. And it’s been the best thing ever.”

Koprince agreed: “We know anniversaries and birthdays and all of that. We have a tendency to understand what’s going on in each other’s heads and hearts without even talking about it.”

Harrison, who has worked in the history department for twenty-five of her thirty years at UT, said her coworkers have been her rock.

“Without the support of the department, the college, and the university, I would not have made it through this tragedy,” she said.

Both women also have found solace by volunteering with veteran groups, including Gold Star Mothers and Rolling Thunder, an organization that works to bring home prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.

Harrison also worked with UT’s Center for the Study of War and Society to research names for the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial which was dedicated in 2008.

This Mother’s Day, the women urge other moms to make the most of every moment.

“Just cherish your children,” Harrison said. “They can be gone in the blink of an eye. Don’t leave anything unsaid. Let them know how much you love them.”