Merian C. Cooper, extraordinary life of a hero of 2 nations and King Kong

Merian C. Cooper was born in Jacksonville, Florida, United States. He was the youngest of his siblings and at the age of six, he started to dream about exploration and adventures, a common dream among future aviators. Then he studied at the United States Naval Academy, but didn’t finish it and became a journalist.

It was not enough to satisfy his taste for adventure. In 1916, Cooper joined the US National Guard and was to help catch Pancho Villa in Mexico. The year after, he was appointed lieutenant, yet he refused the promotion because he wanted to participate in direct combat. To fulfill his desires, he went to the Military Aeronautics School in Atlanta to learn how to fly and graduated with the top grades in his class.

In autumn 1917, Cooper went to France as a rookie, then learned the skills of a bomber pilot in Issoudun, France, and served with the 1st Day Bombardment Group. On one of his missions in 1918, he was shot down over Germany and suffered burns and injured his hands. His general signed a death certificate for him, but that’s not the end of the story. Cooper survived somehow and was taken prisoner.

Merian C. Cooper

After World War I came to an end, he returned to France, but not for long. On February 1919, Captain Cooper went to Poland with a mission from the American Relief Administration to provide aid to the destroyed countries of Europe. In the meantime, Russia transformed into the Soviet Union after the October Revolution in 1917. This would prove fateful for the future life of M

In Poland, he often discussed the importance of the air force in modern warfare. Cooper also had a second motive to help Poland – as he often mentioned, his great-grandfather John Cooper served under Casimir Pulaski in the Siege of Savannah and considered him as a friend. Merian wanted to repay this debt and the possibility was soon on the horizon.

With the outbreak of the Polish-Soviet War, Cooper got permission to form a squadron, so he went back to France, recruited eight more pilots and returned to Poland with Cedric Fauntleroy. All of them were assigned to the Polish 7th Air Escadrille, better known as the Kościuszko Squadron. Faunterloy was a commander, Cooper led the second group “Pulaski”.

In 1920, Cooper and his Escadrille fought on the front. They supported many actions, including the Advance on Kiev, mostly on reconnaissance missions and fights against Budyonny’s Cavalry Army. On one of these missions, Cooper and his crewmate Crawford were shot down, yet they managed to escape on foot. Two months later Cooper became a commander of the squadron assigned to the city of Lviv.

On 13th of July 1920, Merian C. Cooper was shot down for a third time. This time, it happened behind enemy lines. The Soviets captured him. He tried to escape and because of that Russians sent him to a labor camp near Moscow. Free spirits like his were impossible to tame, and he tried to escape again with two others Polish POWs. This time, he was successful and after 700 kilometers they reached Latvia and from that point they headed back to Poland.

Thanks to the supplies and volunteers from many countries, Poland managed to win that war. In Polish historiography, it’s often called the “Miracle over Vistula”. Merian C. Cooper repaid the debt of his family and gave back even more. For valor, he was decorated by Józef Piłsudski with the highest Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari.

Merian C. Cooper

Cooper wrote “Things Men Die For”  during his time as a prisoner-of-war. It was a hapless autobiography published in 1927. Why was it hapless? In 1928, Merian started to regret releasing some details about “Nina” (Małgorzata Słomczyńska) as it was proof of his relationship outside the wedlock, so he bought back over 5,000 copies of the manuscript, almost all the amount which had been printed. His life in Poland was also an inspiration for the movie “The Starry Squadron,” a romantic story about Polish girl and an American volunteer pilot. Unfortunately, all copies of this movie were destroyed by Soviets after the WW II.

His most famous work is “King Kong” from 1933, a movie that everyone knows. He wrote the screenplay and was co-director of it and even flew in the scene where an aircraft was shooting at the giant gorilla. He was the one who finished off the King Kong. The movie was a huge success that brought over 1,8 million $ (and a single ticket cost .15¢).

World War II for the United States started in 1941. Cooper was 47 years old, yet he re-enlisted and was commissioned a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He served with Col. Robert Scott in India and also worked as logistics liaison for the Doolittle Raid. He later served in China as chief of staff for General Claire Chennault of the China Air Task Force, which was the precursor of the 14th Air Force and served then from 1943 to 1945 in the Southwest Pacific as chief of staff for the 5th Air Force’s Bomber Command.

At the end of the war, he was promoted to brigadier general. For his contributions, he was also aboard the USS Missouri to witness Japan’s surrender.

It’s worth mentioning that the famous 303 Squadron inherited all traditions from the Polish 7th Air Escadrille, including the honor badge design. It was one of the most successful squadrons during the Battle of Britain

He was awarded the Order of Virtutti Military, Poland’s highest military decoration for heroism and courage and also the Polish Cross of Valour.

Merian C. Cooper

Additionally, he was awarded the Mexican Border Service Medal, the World War I Victory Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. Also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but he declined to accept the medal.

Cooper was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1952 and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though his first name is misspelled “Meriam”.

Merian C. Cooper died in 1973 at the age of 79 in San Diego, California.

Information was received from War History on Line.  Pictures were mainly from the Cooper Museum and Wikipedia.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

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Farewell Salutes –

Norris Bird – Hampton, IA; US Navy, WWII & Korea

Wayne Carver – Logan, KS; US Army, WWII, ETO

Robert Flucker – Rochester, MI; US Army, WWII

Standing Guard

Charles Hankins – Sulligent, AL; US Navy, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, Master Chief (Ret. 32 yrs.)

Ardis Hudak – Toledo, OH; US Navy WAVE, WWII

Paul McCullough – Hialeah, FL; USMC, Korea, Purple Heart

Edward O’Neill – Papakura, NZ; RNZ Army # U42660, Vietnam, Infantry regiment, Victor 5 Co.

Robert Perkins – Sebastopol, AUS; RA Air Force # 12569

Hans Schlichting – Houston, TX; US Army, 11th Airborne Division

James Walsh – Johnston, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on August 10, 2017, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 105 Comments.

  1. Phew! What a roller-coaster ride of a life, all of it thrilling. Topped with King Kong!
    I wonder what his aversion to the DSC was?

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of heroes feel they would not have been able to do the things they did without the help of those who trained him or those around him at the time. For whatever reason he kept this quiet and I sure didn’t know about before last year! Thanks for reading the article.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this amazing story of an incredible man ‘s accomplishments! It seems for some one lifetime is not enough !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not much to say about this man, his story tells it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great story! Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yet another glimpse into that strange world of ours where fact is truly stranger than fiction and a whole lot more interesting. Thank you for another unputdownable story from real life.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great story! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a fantastic story this is! Thank you …

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, what a hero, several times over. Great story, GP, and one of vast inspiration too.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi dear I have nominated you for the mystery blogger award check it out here https://tashneevmavee.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/mystery-blogger-award3/

    Like

  10. Very interesting post, in which I learned that Poland was attacked by the Soviet Union and successfully defended itself with the help of Merian Cooper, our hero of two nations. Truly a fascinating story!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Honestly, I stand in amazement at the lives some people live. Sometimes circumstances play a greater role than for most of us, but the willingness to engage and respond — and to persevere in the face of terrible difficulties — takes a special kind of person. And who couldn’t enjoy the end of this tale? That the creator of King Kong would have a background like his seems amazing. On the other hand, his background may have given him the ability to create King Kong as a creature who had more than a monster’s characteristics. Great post — such an enjoyable read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder if it’s written anywhere if Kong was supposed to symbolize something or someone – or – was it his escape from war?… It is a concept worth thinking about, Linda. Thank you for dropping in and giving me your thoughts.

      Like

  12. Wow, what a fascinating story! (Shot down 3 times, if I caught them all? Yikes, that alone…) Now I need to find the original King Kong and finally check it out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great story GP. There are some heroes who are much bigger than fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Remarkable life and great post. Thank you for continuing to bring these gems to us. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. One of the best stories, GP. Made me smile. That joke about the zip code is fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Quite an action packed life, wasn’t it? How did he have time to fit it all in?

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Great post, as always. I have done a ton of reading on WWI aviation, so if you’re ever looking for recommendations on that, especially memoirs, let me know!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Enjoyed The inspirations from Merian Cooper’s story. During his life he put 1 foot in front of the other and kept on going.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I agree with you guys – – what a movie this would make, quite a tale!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. What an astounding story. Thanks for posting. However, it was Cooper’s great-grandfather who served under Pulaski at the Battle of Savannah.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. You have done it again. I am not a student of military history, but I still am regularly surprised when you come up with one of these fascinating stories. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do try to find things that might be interesting to all. The military sure isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; so I’m very happy to find a topic you’ve liked!

      Like

  22. What a diverse career. If you wrote him as a fictional character, no one would believe it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fact always does seem to be stranger than fiction. The other day, I saw a sunset I had to call my better-half over to see. I said, ‘just look at that. if an artist painted it – no one would believe it was real!’

      Like

  23. Wow! That is a fascinating story! I never knew . . .
    Some people do have an ability to make their lives exciting. And I’m not one of them! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  24. What a fascinating life. Thank you, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. An incredible story that we had no idea of. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Such a colorful character. Sounds like the perfect subject for a biopic.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. What a story! What a man! What a movie (the original King Kong)! A real triple threat to start the day — thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Thanks for sharing. I remember seeing reruns of King Kong as a child. It’s great to see tie ins like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Considering all the risks he took, he should have gotten a Lifetime Achievement Award just for living so long.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I thought I was familiar with Cooper’s life, but never heard all this war background stuff about him. Good post, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Wow! What a story.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. What a great story! Four wars, all that action, and KIng Kong too. Now that’s a life!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Thank you for sharing this life with your readers. He was quite a remarkable man.

    Like

  1. Pingback: Merian C. Cooper, extraordinary life of a hero of 2 nations and King Kong | Pacific Paratrooper | First Night History

  2. Pingback: A Polish Connection | itkindofgotawayfromyou

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