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Richard Kopro, communications manager and World War II pilot, dies

Richard Kopro worked with Western Electric and Lucent, and was a World War II pilot.
Richard Kopro worked with Western Electric and Lucent, and was a World War II pilot. (Handout)

Richard J. Kopro, a retired manager for Lucent Technologies who flew combat missions over Germany during World War II, died of respiratory failure Dec. 23 at his Riderwood home. He was 95.

Born Richard John Koprowicz in Kenosha, Wis., he later changed his last name. He was the son of John Koprowicz, an American Motors worker who owned a tavern, and his wife, Antonia.

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His parents were Polish immigrants, and as a child he spoke little English until the second grade. He was a 1941 graduate of Mary Bradford High School, where he was a senior class officer and member of the swim team.

He joined the Army Air Forces training program and became a pilot of a B-17 bomber during World War II. He was assigned to the 8th Air Force base at Deopham Green, England. On March 19, 1945, he and his group bombed industrial sites in Zwickau, Germany.

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“He had a chance to fly only two missions before V-E Day, but had quite an adventure on his last one. His plane was hit with fire from the new German jet fighters,” said his son, Kenneth Charles Kopro of Towson. “After one of his engines died, he was ordered to fly eastward — under limited power and fuel — until he had to crash-land in a field in Poland over cover of darkness.

“He and his crew escaped,” his son said. “He was familiar with the local customs and the Polish language was helpful in getting his crew back home. Russian soldiers gave them quarters in a barrack and helped them get to an American base. They were given a plane and flew back to England.”

After the war, Mr. Kopro remained in the Air Force Reserves and retired as a major.

In 1945, he married Mildred L. Kopecki, who had been a high school classmate. When newly married, he worked for a cement block company and built a home in Kenosha on land given by his father-in-law. He used a few subcontractors — family members and friends helped out — and the couple moved into the residence before Mr. Kopro graduated from Marquette University in 1952 with a business degree.

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He joined a Western Electric distribution center in Milwaukee and later worked for American Telephone and Telegraph in its world headquarters in New York City.

After moving to Riderwood in 1965, he retired as a department supervisor at Lucent Technologies’ regional headquarters in Cockeysville. He worked in salary administration.

He lived for a time in Tehran, Iran with other American Bell International workers as they installed a telephone system.

“They were forced out of the country in 1979 and witnessed firsthand the huge political and social changes that took place in the region,” said his son.

Mr. Kopro was physically active. He was a member of the Padonia Swim Club and spent time at Oregon Ridge. “He continued to swim laps and perform trick dives for anyone who’d watch at military facilities, company picnics, swim clubs and vacation resorts into his in late 40s,” said his son.

Mr. Kopro participated in the Maryland Senior Olympics until he was 80. He received a gold medal for the basketball free throw.

“He was a doting father to his sons and made it a point to set aside Sundays for outdoor family activity,” said his son. “He attended nearly every school event or ball game and meticulously documented this on his movie camera.”

Mr. Kopro bought his first movie camera in 1963. His son recalled his photographing him and his siblings in the family living room as flags flew outdoor for the John F. Kennedy presidential funeral.

“My father had the patience to compile and edit hundreds of hours of home movies,” his son said.

He also enjoyed searching fields with a metal detector.

“He never found much more than old buckles, nails and bottle caps,” said his son. “But he picked up coins on the street and from pay phones. He put the change in a coffee can and every year counted it on Jan. 1. He usually had about $7.”

Mr. Kopro played raffles and sweepstakes and later switched to scratch-offs and lotto tickets.

“One of his favorite gigs was to put on a Santa suit and play Kris Kringle to the children and grandchildren of his friends and neighbors,” said his son.

A Roman Catholic, Mr. Kopro maintained ties to three parishes in the Towson area. He was a founding member of the Church of the Nativity. He belonged to the Knights of Columbus at St. Joseph in Cockeysville. And he was a daily communicant at Immaculate Conception in Towson, where a funeral was held Dec. 30.

In addition to his son, survivors include two other sons, Richard James Kopro of Mar Vista, Calif., and Timothy Drew Kopro of Lawrenceville, Ga.; and two grandchildren. His wife of 62 years, a bookkeeper, died in 2007.

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