«BEHOLD A PALE HORSE Milton William Cooper And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat upon him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And ...»
My dad had given me a.22 rifle for Christmas and Great Grandma's farm was the first place that I ever went hunting. I got up before the sun one morning, tiptoed downstairs, and headed out for the creek. About two hours later I saw my chance and shot a quail sitting up in a tree. I strutted proudly to the farmhouse holding that quail up for all to see. Luckily the farmhand saw me first. He burst out laughing and asked me what I thought I was doing with that sparrow. I ran off and buried that bird and never said a word to anyone. I learned later that quails don't sit in trees.
For those who may think this to be a terrible thing, I must tell you that every boy in those days was given a rifle and taught to hunt. During hunting season many a family managed to put aside some extra money because the boys brought home meat from the hunt. That money saved was sorely needed. It was considered a duty for a citizen to own a gun in order to carry out the intent of the 2nd amendment to the Constitution. As long as the citizens owned guns the government could never become oppressive.
My mother's family came from Scotland and settled in North Carolina. They were hardworking and thrifty folk. Most of them were poor. I never knew much more about my mother's family. I don't even remember anyone talking much about them. I know that my grandmother, Nellie Woodside, was forced to give up some of her children when her husband died. There was not enough money to feed all of the kids. My mother was one of those chosen to live in a children's home until things got better. No one ever talked about my mother's father. When I asked about my grandfather I was told, "Red was no good, and you just mind your own business." I got the feeling that nobody liked him. He died before I entered this world.
I was born May 6, 1943. I was reared in a military family. My father is USAF Lt. Col. (Ret.) Milton V. Cooper. He prefers to be called Jack, the nickname given to him by the family when he was a boy. Dad began his Air Force career as a young cadet flying biplanes and retired as a command pilot with thousands of hours to his credit. I have a picture of him standing in front of an old biplane in his leather jacket and his cap with the earflaps •9 William Cooper
My mother and father10 • BEHOLD A PALE HORSE
just like Snoopy wears.
I can remember the pilots gathered around the kitchen table talking about the planes and telling stories. Sometimes they discussed strange things called foo fighters or UFOs. When we were lucky they got out the projector and showed Kodachrome slides. That was a special treat. By the time I was eight years old, I think I had already seen and been inside every plane the Air Force (which used to be the Army Air Force) had ever owned.
I had flown in several. I had seen many of them crash and had friends who had lost their fathers.
I remember one night in the Azores at Lages Field. We were at the base theater watching a movie when the projector ground to a stop, the lights came on and a plea was made for blood donors. We knew there had been a disaster. Everyone went outside and looked down the hill at the flightline. It was literally consumed in flames. We could see men on fire running through the night. A B-29 had crashed. I forget if it had been taking off or landing; but I will never forget the scene that was spread before me on that night. No one went back to the movie even though we had only seen half. I was nine years old but felt much older. I had seen many crashes, and I would see many more in the years to come. But I never saw anything that could ever compare to the wreckage, the fire, the devastation, or the loss of life caused by the crash of that B-29. We left the Azores a year later. As we climbed into the sky I looked out the plane window. I could still see pieces of the wreckage where it had been pushed away from the runways. It was that incident that gave me an appreciation of the dangers that my dad faced on a daily basis. I knew then how lucky we were to see him walk in the door. Aviation wasn't safe in those days, especially for military pilots. We all knew families that had lost someone in a crash.
I didn't always love my father. He was a strict disciplinarian. My dad did not believe in "spare the rod" and his belt was put to use frequently in our family. I was a very sensitive but willful child. Rules didn't mean much to me until I got caught breaking them. Many times I was the focus of his anger. Like most kids, I didn't understand. I thought he was a tyrant. Now I appreciate his upbringing. I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that without his strict discipline we most probably would have turned out bad.
Now I love my Dad. He is my friend. He is an independent, gregarious, feisty, tough, confident, adventurous, sometimes overbearing, handsome, big bear of a man. My mother told me that she fell in love with him because he looks like John Wayne, and he does. I have watched him progress from one who disdained any public show of affection to a man • 11 William Cooper who is just as likely to hug you as shake your hand. On the other side, he has at times made me so angry that I could have punched him in the mouth, but I never have. If s damn hard for anyone not to like him. He is always up to some mischief, and I can guarantee you that no one is ever bored around my father.
My mother is a real Southern lady. They used to call her kind a Southern belle. She is one of the last of a dying breed. Dovie Nell (Woodside) Cooper is the type of woman that men like to dream about when they're lonely. She is the kindest, gentlest, woman that I have ever known.
I do not make that statement just because she is my mother. It's true. She was beautiful as a young woman and she is beautiful now. My mother is one of those people who, once she likes you, can't be driven away. She is loyal to a fault. I have seen her during the good and during the bad times.
She never flinched, no matter what. It always surprised me that she could be so tough and yet so kind, gentle, and loving all at the same time. Woe to anyone who ever harms my dad or one of her children in her presence. She is the best cook who ever stepped foot in any kitchen that was ever built. I love my mother probably more than anyone else in this world.
I have a brother Ronnie and a sister Connie. They are fraternal twins two years younger than me. We were closer than most siblings when we were children because we spent so much of our life in foreign countries, where oftentimes we found ourselves unable to communicate except with each other. We had school friends, but school was often many miles from where we lived. We had few toys. Most of them were things that mother gave us such as spools, cigar boxes, string, or anything else that we could find to keep us occupied. Every Christmas was a delight because we always got some REAL toys. Ronnie and I had a propensity to see how things worked, however, so they never lasted long. Everything we wore, including shoes, was ordered from the Sears catalog. It was the wish book, and we never tired of looking through it. We alternately loved each other, hated each other, fought each other, and defended each other, as I guess all kids do.
Ronnie, his wife Suzie, and their daughter Jennifer live in Garber, Oklahoma, where Ron sells John Deere farm equipment. Ron & Suzie built t h e i r house with their own hands. As far as I know they intend to live in that house until they die. Ronnie served as an officer in the Army. In Vietnam he earned the Silver Star. We haven't seen each other since 1976 after he came to visit me in the hospital after I lost my leg. Nevertheless I love him and I miss him a lot. Neither one of us can afford to travel much unless it's business, but one of these days soon I'm going to surprise him unless visit. Connie has shown me pictures and Ron looks just like my 12 • BEHOLD A PALE HORSE great grandfather. Almost every picture I've seen shows Ron in chaps, a Stetson, boots, and either near or on a horse. I guess that is about how it should be, as Ronnie always wanted to be a cowboy when he was a child.
Connie has really turned out to be a fine woman. When she was little I sometimes liked her and sometimes didn't. Little boys don't usually have much use for little girls. Since we only had each other to play with, however, Ronnie and I loved her a lot; but little boys just can't ever admit anything like that. I remember Connie always followed me everywhere I went. I couldn't get rid of her no matter how hard I tried. Her devotion and loyalty made me love her all the more. Of course I pretended that she was a pain in the ass. As we grew older and began to realize that there was a really big difference between boys and girls Connie began to take on an air of mystery. From that time until I was about 18 she baffled me completely. I remember when she was around 13 or so she would throw temper tantrums when she got angry. She would stomp her feet, scream, run to her room and then slam the door. Ronnie and I thought it was a great show but couldn't for love or money understand why she did it.
When we asked mom she would just shake her head and say, "Hormones."
William Cooper, brother Ronnie, sister Connie William Cooper • 13 Connie grew up to be a beautiful woman and eventually married her high school sweetheart, Gus Deaton. They had two beautiful children, Janice and Chrissie. Janice is very much like Connie, loving and loyal.
Chrissie is different. She's a redhead who loves to party. I guess Chrissie represents a freedom of spirit more than anything else.
Connie's marriage deteriorated and no one could figure out what was happening until Gus was diagnosed as having brain tumors. It was tragic.
Everyone really loved Gus. As his disease progressed and he began to do crazy things, people just drifted away. I have always nurtured a very special love for Chrissie. She never deserted her father. When no one else could stand to be around him, Chrissie chose to go and live with him "so he won't be lonely," she said. Even now I get all choked up when I think of that little red-headed girl going to live with her sick father "so he won't be lonely." His behavior was such that no one else could stand to be around him. At least that is what I'm told. It wasn't Gus's fault that he became ill and I've always felt it just wasn't fair to Connie, the children, or Gus. I've since learned that life is seldom fair.
Connie eventually remarried and moved to Austin, Texas, where she has established herself as a valuable employee of a large bank. Her husband is an executive for McGraw Hill. His name, coincidentally, is Ron.
We all really like Ron McClure, especially Dad, who has formed a close friendship with him. My sister has really blossomed into a wonderful woman. She has become one of my dearest and closest friends. She has grown to be so much a part of me that even now I sometimes get a feeling to look behind me to see if that little girl is still there. I feel a great loss when I see that if s only Sugarbear, my faithful dog; but then, I love him too, so can't complain.
I graduated in 1961 from Yamato High School in Japan. That fall I enlisted in the Air Force. I really wanted to go into the Navy but I had always had a tendency toward car sickness and seasickness. I attended basic at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and Technical School for Aircraft & Missile Pneudraulics at Amarillo Air Force Base.
Upon completion I was ordered to the 495th Bomb Wing of the Strategic Air Command at Sheppard Air Force Base just outside Wichita Falls. The name was later changed to the 4245th Bomb Wing — don't ask me why. In just a short time I had gone from a skinny kid who didn't know much about anything, even though I thought I did, to an airman who had a Secret(!) security clearance and worked on B-52 bombers, KC-135 refueling aircraft, and Minuteman missiles.
I saw REAL atomic bombs. I worked around them on a daily basis.
Because of that I had to wear a dosimeter just in case I was exposed to 14 • BEHOLD A PALE HORSE radiation. In those days we were the elite of the Air Force and we knew it.
I received a Letter of Commendation for my work. In due time I was awarded the National Defense Medal and the Air Force Good Conduct Medal. (Actually, I think everyone was awarded the National Defense Medal so that no one would be embarrassed standing in formation with nothing on their chest.) It was during this time that I met a couple of sergeants who kind of adopted me. We went out to the clubs together and usually ended up chasing women and drinking a lot of beer. They told me several stories about being attached to a special unit that recovered crashed flying saucers.
Sgt. Meese told me that he had been on one operation that transported a saucer so large that a special team went before them, lowering all telephone poles and fence posts. Another team followed and replaced them. They moved it only at night. It was kept parked and covered somewhere off the road during the day. Since we were always half-tanked when these stories came out, I never believed them — sergeants were known to tell some tall tales to younger guys like me.
On November 22, 1963, I was on duty as CQ (Charge of Quarters) for the Field Maintenance Squadron. Most of the men were out on the flightline working, the barracks orderlies had been assigned their tasks, the first sergeant was gone somewhere, and I was alone. I turned on the orderly room TV to watch the live broadcast of the President's motorcade in Dallas.
I was not prepared for what I saw. I stared in disbelief as the events unfurled in front of my eyes. I knew that something had happened, but what? I had seen and heard the assassination, but my mind was not accepting it. I kept staving at the set to discover what it was that had happened when slowly the realization crept over me. A numbness spread up my arms and legs. I saw what had happened! The hair stood up on the back of my neck and a chill went down my spine. President Kennedy had been shot right in front of my eyes!
At that point huge tears began to stream down my face. Waves of emotion rushed through my body. I felt that I had to do something, so I picked up the direct line to the command center. I choked back the tears.
When the command duty officer answered, I told him that the President had just been shot in Dallas. There was a pause, and he asked me, "How do you know he has been shot?" I told him that 1 had watched it on television and then hung up the phone. I was numb all over.
A few minutes later the command duty officer called back and ordered a red alert at DEFCON TWO (Defense Condition Two meant war was imminent). The roar of jet engines could already be heard as the alert crews taxied their planes toward the runway. I was scared shitless as I ran from William Cooper • 15 barracks to barracks routing out the night shift and those who had the day off. We had been told that we had about 15 minutes to launch all of our planes before the first atomic bomb would hit us in the event that the Russians launched an attack.
I didn't even lock up the orderly room. I just jumped in the first car I saw, rode to the SAC compound/ and reported to my red alert duty station.
For the next three days I slept under the belly of a B-52 bomber staring at the Armageddon that hid just inside the closed bomb-bay doors. We thought the shit had finally hit the fan. It was a great relief when the alert was ended. I left the Air Force with an honorable discharge in 1965.
In December of the same year I joined the Navy. I had always loved the ocean. I had wanted to be a sailor since I was a little boy. Seasick or not I made up my mind to follow my dream. I was sent to the Naval Training Center in San Diego for boot camp. Because of my prior Air Force experience I was made the Recruit Chief Company Commander. I was allowed to keep my same rank and pay grade. We had a good bunch of guys in my company and we had a great company commander. Chief Campbell, chief electricians mate. He turned the company over to me. The chief was a good man. He was only interested in teaching us what we needed to know and in keeping us out of trouble. Unlike most boot camp instructors, Chief Campbell had no axe to grind and wasn't trying to prove anything to himself or anyone else. He was truly our friend.