Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the first of three highlighting the service of two World War II veterans. Subsequent features will appear in the next two Saturday editions of The Standard-Journal.
MILTON — Robert Cooper joined many of his Class of 1942 classmates when he enlisted in the military. The attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, played a huge role in drawing young men to service of their country.
From the time he made a decision to join the military, his journey was one interesting story after another.
He was accepted for the Air Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program and was sent home to await his call up as the pilot, navigator and bombardier schools had waiting lists.
“I got restless and contacted the recruiting station in Harrisburg and requested some active duty assignment while awaiting entry into the Cadet Program,” Cooper remembered. “At barely 18 years of age I was made the Army Recruiting officer in Milton.”
Following a brief training period, he opened the office at the US Post Office. To this day, he still talks about how few people realized there was once a recruitment office in Milton.
“I met with the postmaster, Mr. Follmer (in Milton), and was assigned office space on the lower level of the Post Office on North Front Street,” remembered Cooper. “I was successful in recruiting some personnel for the armed services.”
His service in Milton was short, though. By November he’d received orders to close the Milton office and report to The Aviation Cadet Center in San Antonio, Texas. He was trained as an aerial navigator.
“During my physical examination I was very disappointed to learn of a far-sighted vision condition, disqualifying me from pilot training,” Cooper noted. “I was ordered to Navigation Preflight School at Ellington Field near Houston, Texas.”
Cooper completed training and was transferred to the Flight Training Phase at Honda Air Corps Base, Hondo, Texas. In July 1943, he completed that training which included pilotage, reconnaissance and celestial navigation and meteorology. He graduated as a second lieutenant.
At 19 he reported to Albuquerque, N.M., where hundreds of pilots, bombardiers, navigators, flight engineers, radio operators and gunners were assigned. He was assigned to a crew, with whom he would spend the next 18 months in training and combat.
In August 1943, his crew reported to Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas, where it began training in the B-24 Liberator. Simulated combat missions were accompanied by specialty training. Then, in December, they reported to Topeka Air Base for a combat assignment.
“Without knowledge of our destination, our clothing and flight gear was sorted for the climate of destination,” Cooper wrote. “In the latter half of December, we traveled to Hamilton Field near San Francisco. It was evident that we were destined for duty in the Pacific Theater.”
The men were flown to Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor for fuel and crew changes, then it was on to Australia.
“We then took a slow train ride for a couple days from Brisbane to the vicinity of Chartres Towers in northern Australia,” Cooper said. “We slept on seats and floors and ate mutton at the train stations. The train moved slowly most of the time and we got off and ran for exercise.”