Sunday, October 2, 2011


            The morning of Sunday, July 3rd, 2011 was a busy one at Incheon International Airport, as University students from a dozen countries began to arrive on flights from around the world to participate in an unusual gathering. In keeping with its long-time commitment to saying “Thank You” to the nations whose wartime efforts 60 years ago saved their country from Communist invasion and domination, the Republic of Korea was hosting an “International Peace Camp” for the grandchildren of the veterans of that costly struggle often referred to (incorrectly) as “the forgotten war”. Among the nearly one hundred participating youth would be a dozen Americans, including several from Utah.
            In the following seven days, they would visit museums, national cemeteries and key battle sites, and learn about ancient Korean culture and traditions, while being housed at the campus of KonKuk University in Seoul and comparing notes on their own varied national origins. High on the list of memorable experiences would be the high-speed “bullet train” trip to Busan (the wartime Pusan Perimeter where U.S. forces held on to a mere tip of land in fierce fighting), and a visit to the barbed-wire boundary with Communist North Korea – the infamous DMZ.
            Under the watchful and affectionate eye of their Korean/American sponsor – Mrs. Sunny Lee, of Springdale, Utah – the group would enjoy shopping expeditions, restaurant tours and their own brand of entertainment with costume-sampling and a self-produced talent show.
            When all the photos are in their proper e-files and journal notes set aside, this third generation of warrior grandkids will hopefully have experienced a life-changing connection, not only with a piece of history, but with the grandfathers who cared enough to defend a people whose names they couldn’t pronounce in a land which wasn’t their own.

Lindsey Cooper waits in line along with South Korean school children to enter the Korean War Museum in Seoul.

Lindsey is joined for lunch at Seoul’s world-famous Bibigo restaurant with new friends from the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand as well as Amanda Wilcox from Utah.  
Served in a traditional Korean setting, a main course of Bibimbap introduces the International visitors to a popular combination of spicy vegetables, rice, and mushrooms with the ever-present kimchee as a side dish.

In an evening of cultural exchange, traditional Korean costumes are tried on by (from left to right) Lindsey Cooper from Highland, Utah (Al’s granddaughter), Alex from the U.K., Alicia Wilcox from St. George, Utah and Andrea Matheson from California  and Utah.

Proud grandfathers, George Matheson of Salem, Utah and Al Cooper of  Rockville enjoy memories of service in Korea 60 years ago; George with the 213th Field  Artillery Battalion of the Utah National Guard, Al with the U.S. 5th Air Force. Both  returned to Korea in 2009 as guests of the Republic of Korea.


            If I had to choose a pre-revolutionary American, who more than any other, could claim a per-eminence among a pantheon of heroic figures of history – not just here in America, but on the world stage- it would be one who was born in Boston in 1706 in something less than promising circumstances. His father was a candle-maker whose humble earnings had to feed a family with thirteen children spanning a generation from youngest to oldest. His mother, Abiah Folger had been a next-door neighbor to my own 8th great grandfather, one of the founders of Nantucket in the 1630s. What’s even worse, he was born on a Sunday – a sinful event in Puritan New England, necessitating immediate baptism on the day of birth.
            Young Benjamin Franklin was apprenticed to an older brother in the print business after only a month or two of formal education in a “Latin school”, revolting against harsh authority and “running away” to Philadelphia at age fourteen. Launching his own career as a printer and publisher of pamphlets and newsletters, he exhibited an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and wisdom which would have made him remarkable in any age. Over a period of thirty years, he established libraries, a hospital, fire departments, a postal delivery service, and eventually at least four universities of higher learning. His interest in all things scientific led him to landmark discoveries with electricity and the invention of the first electrical storage battery; medical breakthroughs in the study of the human circulatory system, and a free-standing fireplace which revolutionized home-heating.
            Drawn into politics, he was elected to Pennsylvania’s Assembly in 1751 following 25 years as the clerk and archivist of that representative body.  He attended the Albany Conference in 1754 where he introduced a plan for union. He was sent as an agent of the colony to London where his insight into Crown politics invested him with a unique understanding of trans-Atlantic relationships. Later, as America’s representative to France, he would almost singlehandedly bring that powerful ally into full support of the emerging American revolution, and where his portly figure would become a welcome sight on the streets of an adoring Paris where Franklin proved himself to be anything but the “country bumpkin” many expected.
            In January, 1774, Benjamin Franklin went before England’s Privy Council following the event which became known as the “Boston Tea Party”, in an effort to convince the “Mother Country” that relationships with the people of the Colonies deserved new thinking. In anticipation of this grand undertaking, he purchased a black velvet suit for the occasion.  Instead of a cordial welcome, he was treated with unmitigated scorn, and for two hours was subjected to ridicule and abuse as he was excoriated by the Crown’s Solicitor General, Sir Alexander Wedderburn.
            Returning home, the humiliated Franklin folded up and packed away his black velvet suit, a reminder of the most degrading experience of his life, determined never to be seen in it again.
            He would, however, break that promise; First, in 1778 when he signed a treaty with France, recognizing the United States as an independent nation, and finally, in Paris in 1783, when England in effect acknowledged their loss in America’s war for independence. Of this occasion, Dr. Franklin – perhaps the wisest and shrewdest statesman the United States has ever sent abroad - explained “This suit has seen my worst day, it deserves to see my best”.

The Golden Age of Radio Drama Part II - The Lone Ranger

            “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”
            With those resonating words, and against the orchestral strains of music from Rosini’s “William Tell Overture”, millions of America’s children – and probably, just as many adults – gathered around their radios three times a week to welcome one of America’s most revered heroes into their homes. Originating from the studios of WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan and eventually carried by 150 radio stations around the country, this most-honored example of radio drama during the Golden Age of such entertainment endured for 2956 episodes between April, 1933 and September, 1954.
            For the benefit of later generations who might not know the genesis of the characters and the mythology which brought them together, let’s take a moment to go back into “the thrilling days of yesteryear”.  Even avid listeners of the day might not necessarily have known that the story all began when six Texas Rangers were gunned down in a criminal ambush. A Native American named Tonto happened along and discovered that one of the Rangers was still live. By coincidence, the survivor – Dan Reid, whom Tonto would nurse back to health – was the same man who had saved Tonto’s life in the past. Together, they dug not five, but six graves, inventing the fiction that Dan together with his brother John Reid was dead. Thus, he becomes the “masked man” in his war on crime and search for the ambushers.
            Except for a few early episodes, the lead role was played by a Michigan actor named Earle Graser, from April 1933 until his death in a highway accident in April, 1941.  I was eight years of age when news of his death finally trickled down to me, and like kids all over America, I felt as if I had lost a special friend. While I understood that this was only the actor who had died, I was still devastated. Every time we passed a highway accident in our own family travels, I would be reminded of the “Lone Ranger” I had grown up with. Even after Brace Beemer transitioned (slowly, and with the help of a microphone gimmick) into the new “Masked Man”, it wasn’t quite the same. Beemer had a deeper voice and looked more the part he would play for the next 13 years, and became well known as The Lone Ranger, even into the days of television.
            After the days of television, Jay Silverheels would play the part of Tonto, and it was my privilege to get to know him personally as we shared a booth space at a Los Angeles convention around 1970.
            The writers and producers of the long-running radio series held to a code from which they never departed: There was no smoking, drinking or swearing, and no scene ever involved a saloon; there was no glamorizing of the “bad guys”, who were usually known by a nick name, with no reflection on any minority identity. The Lone Ranger adhered to precise speech and correct grammar – no accent or local jargon; and respected the virtues of being prepared mentally and physically. The scripts honored love of country, friendship and the need to make the world better in some way. The “Masked Man” never shot to kill, but to disarm the bad guy. Parents of the 30s and 40s didn’t have to worry about what their kids would be exposed to when the “Lone Ranger” and “Tonto” were allowed into their homes.
            P.S. A radio “spin-off” of this classic drama featured a nephew of the fictional Dan Reid’s son whose name would be Britt Reid or . . .”The Green Hornet”.

Actor Clayton Moore played the "Lone Ranger" when 
television required more than a great radio voice.

The Golden Age of Radio Drama Part I - The Mysterious Traveler

There were two places in the home of my youth where the family gathered. One, of course, was the kitchen table, where we shared not only good food, but great conversation.  The other, and second most important room was “The Den” – comparable to what might be advertised as a “Family Room” by present-day realtors. There, the center of attention was the tall, polished Philco radio receiver, filled with vacuum tubes which shone brightly enough to invite a warning knock on the door during a war-time “black out”.  Since our residence was almost within line-of-sight of such famous and powerful New York City radio “voices” as WABC, WJZ, WCBS, WNBC, WQXR and others, reception was pretty good except during storms and the attendant static.
            What I will always think of as the “theatre of the mind” – or radio drama – really grew out of a written art form known as “pulp fiction”, serialized stories in a range of genres, from “Detective Mysteries”, and “Cowboy Westerns” to “True Romance”, “Science Fiction” and everything in between. With the economy of the late 20s and early 30s in the trash heap, some very fine authors found themselves without a marketplace until the so-called pulp era publications with their lurid artwork came along.  Such famous names as Earl Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie and dozens of other gifted writers and story-tellers were able to keep bread on the table while the public, desperate for low-cost entertainment, couldn’t get enough of it.
            The magic of radio opened up another whole world for both writers and out-of-work actors, as well as musicians looking for a gig.  And of course a listening public totally in tune with this new “stay-at-home” art form became hooked.  On more than one occasion, family members with “connections” would take me with them to New York City broadcasting studios where as a very young kid I could watch through the glass as a group of people holding typed scripts in their hands gathered around and shared a single microphone, while a sound effects man (more about this later) occupied his own corner behind a table filled with objects capable of sheer aural wonder.
            Together, we laughed at “Fibber McGee & Molly”, “Baby Snooks” and “Can You Top This”, and came running when we heard the frantic call “Henry! Henry Alderich!” followed by the querulous reply “Coming Mother!”  I have to admit though that glorious shivers ran up my spine on Saturday nights as the sounds of a distant but approaching steam train came from the Philco’s speaker, followed by the clickity clack of the train pulling into the station, and the deep, creepy, sonorous voice of an actor named Maurice Tarplin inviting me aboard: “I am the mysterious traveler, and I have a story to tell; won’t you come aboard?”
            Thus a weekly tale of mystic mayhem and hair-raising malice would come into our den, and I would be mesmerized, as much by Tarplin’s sinister voice and the sound of a steam whistle as by the weird and wonderful tales he would narrate.  Originating in NYC and carried by Mutual Broadcasting stations around the country like our local WOR, the series was a national favorite from 1942 to 1945, proof that no other medium could generate the level of terror created by the listener’s own vivid imagination during the golden days of radio drama.

Realizing a life-long dream, Al Cooper can be heard hosting his own radio program each Monday at 4:00 PM on Cedar City’s 590 AM Talk Radio.