People and Community University

UM Student Honors Pearl Harbor Veteran

Emi Kopke created an oil painting to raise money to help veterans in need and their families.
UM Student Honors Pearl Harbor Veteran

Emi Kopke knows how to keep a promise.

The University of Miami School of Architecture sophomore met John Seelie, one of the last surviving Pearl Harbor veterans, after she designed a shirt for him that he wore during the Pearl Harbor Anniversary in Hawaii in 2016.

They became close friends.

“I became his honorary daughter,” Kopke once said.

She was also fortunate enough to travel with him to New York City to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, thanks to the generosity of the Denis V. Cooper Foundation. While there, members of the military honored Seelieand the New York Police Department welcomed him at a special ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial.

The bond between the young student and the octogenarian veteran became very strong. Seelie made Kopke promise to do everything in her power to continue to spread the word about the horrors of war, especially among young people. He died almost a year ago, but she has continued to carry on his mission. 

Remembering the sacrifices of her friend and all other veterans and urged by Michael Cahill, a dear friend of Seelie who had commissioned the shirt for the veteran, Kopke created an oil painting of two intertwined hands over an American flag and a banner that read “Pearl Harbor Survivors.”

Painting at auction. She donated the painting to the Cooper Foundation, which hosts a program called “Wishes for Heroes” that helps veterans who have terminal illnesses and their families, as well as others who have reintegrated into civilian life after their military service.

“It was my first oil painting and it took me 30 hours or so,” said Kopke. “The painting is based off a photograph of John and me holding hands in the hospital before he passed away. It symbolizes the ending of John’s life and passing his legacy to me.”

On June 9, the painting was auctioned at the foundation’s fundraiser to Heidi Hayden, who had met Seelie and Kopke at the 9/11 Memorial and knew how special the bond between the two of them had become.

“Emi is magical,” said Hayden. “She is an old soul. She has a depth to her that allowed her to really understand John (Seelie).”

Unbeknown to Kopke, Hayden had a hidden plan at the auction. She bid on the painting, against some formidable opponents, and was finally able to get it for $2,200. Hayden then doubled the pledge to help the organization and handed the painting over to Kopke.

“That painting belongs with her,” said Hayden. Kopke was so overwhelmed with emotion that she sobbed as she hugged Hayden.

“I was completely blown away,” said Kopke.