Alan E. Kopenhefer of Laton, a quiet man, left high school and work on his parents' chicken ranch to enlist in the Air Force, loading bombs and ammunition during the Vietnam War.
Mr. Kopenhefer, 60, most recently a ditch tender foreman for Laguna Irrigation District, based in Riverdale, died Sunday of lung cancer.
He was born in Fresno, grew up in Laton and attended Hanford Christian Elementary School before graduating from Laton High School in 1966. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, and chose its munitions specialist option. He served a tour in Pleiku, Vietnam, loading weapons in that country's strategically sensitive Central Highlands, said his wife, Suzie.
He felt he should serve, so that the ammunition was ready when needed, she said. He felt "that was his calling" during the war.
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Mr. Kopenhefer survived enemy attack, and brought home photos. One showed "makeshift housing" where Vietnamese had lived in one small town.
"It was pretty much gone," Suzie Kopenhefer said.
Her husband never talked much about that war, she said, and popular American films about the war would leave him more quiet still.
"It hits home," his wife said.
After a tour in Okinawa, Mr. Kopenhefer returned to work for his parents, Ralph and Juanita. He harvested grain in the Laton area, and helped with his parents' chicken farm.
Then he did 15 years of mechanical work for the New Holland plant that manufactured harvesters in Fowler. He enjoyed night work and trouble-shooting trips to the Midwest, Northwest, Quebec, Manitoba and other grain-producing regions of Canada.
He was given the option to relocate when New Holland left Fowler, but chose to stay in the San Joaquin Valley.
He harvested grain, and drove cotton-pickers before signing on with the irrigation district.
"He didn't like being cooped up inside," his wife said. "He enjoyed talking with farmers. He delivered their water, so much per acre according to their water orders. He turned the valves, and correlated the timing with water orders. And he was outside."
Mr. Kopenhefer loved fishing at Hume Lake and joining extended family members for get-togethers there. Few came out ahead when matched against him in horseshoe games, "two bucks to play," his wife said.
Mr. Kopenhefer had been active in the Relay for Life cancer walk. Niece Stacy Barboza remembered his attitude toward his own inoperable illness:
"He had no worries about it in the world. He knew what was going to happen. He fought four years, diagnosed at Stage 4. He read so much, and knew what to do to stay healthy. He had strong faith in God, and knew it would be OK in the end.
"He was never frightened. He was ready."
A rosary was recited Thursday, and a graveside service was held Friday in Oak Grove Cemetery in Laton.