Albert Cooper was born on May 31, 1933, in Coytesville, New Jersey. After graduation from high school in Vermont, he enlisted in the US Air Force in 1950. He received basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas followed by air police training at Samson Air Force Base in New York. In October 1952, he was deployed to the Korea by ship. Over the next year, he was assigned to investigate crimes, perform counterintelligence, and was responsible for the security of a radar station as a member of the Air Police Squadron until returning home in 1953. Through his experiences, he developed great admiration and respect for the Korean people.
Albert Cooper talks about a secret counterintelligence mission alongside two British spies to uncover South Koreans working against American interests. He mentions that while this mission itself bore little fruit, he developed a "love affair with the Korean people."
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One Last Grenade
Albert Cooper talks about defending a radar station that had come under attack. Alone in a fox hole, he intermittently fired his rifle and threw hand grenades to keep the enemy at bay until he had exhausted his ammunition save one last grenade, which he kept and brought home as a memory of the battle.
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Gift of Food and Spoon
Albert Cooper describes one of his most memorable experiences in Korea. While on patrol, he was invited into a Korean home for rice with beans. Having trouble with chop sticks, an elderly Korean woman gifted him an ancestral spoon. He talks about what that spoon means to him today and the bond between the US and South Korea.
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Proud at Every Bend of the Road
Albert Cooper compares and contrasts the Korea that he left in 1953 with the Korea he revisited in 2009. Amazed at Korea's progress, he describes being "proud at every bend of the road." He says he is most proud that Koreans are happy and prosperous.
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[Beginning of recorded material]
A: My name is Albert Coyt Cooper. I was born in a small town called Coytsville in New Jersey. And the name of Coyt happens to be my own middle name. And the town is named after my great-grandfather who began that town overlooking the Hudson River right across the river from New York City. If you go across the George Washington Bridge, you come to what used to be that town.
I: When you born?
A: I was born in 1933.
I: Um hm.
A: I will be 81 years old in another week, May 31.
I: May 31 of ’33.
I: And you said that the Coytsville was created, named after your grampa?
A: My great-grandfather.
A: Who came over from England and founded the town which is no longer Coytsville. It has been swallowed by newer communities and, uh, part of the Interstate system, the highway.
I: So, what did your grampa did for this?
A: Well, he was a, an explorer and a developer of, of land, uh. He did everything that it took to set up a new community. He brought workers over and, uh, started a leather-working factory in New Jersey, made jobs for many people from his homeland which was Great Britain, England and uh, was a person who did many things.
I: Ah. That’s very impressive. So, what school did you go through there?
A: I went to my, my grade school and my high school partly in New Jersey. We moved to the state of Vermont where my family bought a farm, a dairy farm, when I was 14 years of age. And so, um, I finished my high school years, uh, in Vermont, uh, where I met my wife. And it was from Vermont that I enlisted as soon as the Korean War broke out.
I graduated from high school when I was 16.
I: When, what year was it?
A: It was 1950. I turned 17 the week before I graduated.
I: Um hm.
A: And then on June 25, the War broke out in Korea. And uh, and therefore I cancelled plans to pursue and education and joined the military almost immediately.
A: And began training in the U.S. Air Force.
I: Enlist or draft.
A: I enlisted.
I: Why? Why did you enlist because
A: Family tradition. My father was a wounded Marine in World War I. My brothers served in the Marines in World War II, and I can go all the way back to the Civil War of American with my family traditions. And so, um, it never entered my mind to do anything to avoid going into the military.
I, I wished to serve. I have always been interested in History. I had, as a student in high school, uh, won debates and visited the United Nations. I was there when, um, Pakistan became a nation of its’ own.
I: Um hm.
A: I had a deep love of History. I understood the history of the Far East and of Asia.
I understood, um, the unfortunate negotiations which took place between the allies at the end of World War II which created the division in Korea. I felt badly about it. I felt it was a huge mistake. And I was not surprised when the uh, invasion took place. And I wanted very much, um, to see if I could play a part in correcting history.
I: What was Korea to America in early 20th century?
What was Korea to American leadership, President Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt? What was the Korea to Americans?
A: Well, I think prior to the World War II, uh, period, uh, I think that Theodore Roosevelt had looked upon Korea as just something for Japan, uh, to govern. I think there was kind of then implicit decision that Japan would be the power in Far East Asia,
and Korea would just fit in there nicely. I don’t think anyone up until World War II had thought of Korea as anything but a strategic piece of a puzzle. I don’t think there was a real sense of connection, and I know as I went through school and studied history, Korea was just viewed as, uh, one of those places that had been there forever, um, but kind of fit in with the Japanese, um, way of life.
I: Did you learn anything about Korea while you were in, um, high school?
A: Um, yes, I did because I was a student of U.S. History.
I: Uh huh.
A: And uh, as a student of U.S. History, I had a sense of connection with other parts of the world. But I hadn’t seriously studied Korea as a stand-alone subject, only as a piece of a giant puzzle.
And because of World War II, during World War II I was a young boy. And I had maps on both of my, of my walls, the pacific war on one war, one wall, and the European wall, uh, on, on the other. And I moved the pins. I followed the battles. I understood what was happening in the pacific because I had a brother who was serving in the pacific theater.
and so, my, my sense of where Korea lay and its strategic importance in the future, uh, I think I understood better than most of the people around me.
I Amazing. I, this is first time ever, uh, the Korean war veteran, the interviewee mentioning about Theodore Roosevelt’s perspective on Korea. Do you know the secret agreement?
I; made between, what is it?
A: I, I, I do. I, I knew that they had agreed that Korea would be a part of the great Japanese, greater co-prosperity sphere, and we would not interfere with that. I know of a special voyage that was made, uh, to, to Asia by, by Roosevelt’s, uh, by Theodore Roosevelt’s chosen people, um, in order to kind of lay the groundwork for that. but it was never publicized in America, uh.
very few people knew about, knew about that voyage, and knew about Theodore Roosevelt’s, uh, I don’t know how to describe his politics. But he saw himself as a, as a world leader when, in fact, I think, Teddy Roosevelt knew very little about the world. I also know about plan orange.
I: What is that?
A: Plan orange was a plan developed by our war department as early as, oh, 1893, uh. it, it was, as most countries do, it, it laid out a scenario of what we would do if we ever went to war with Japan.
a: If Japan were ever to attack us, and as a part of plan orange, Korea was mentioned as one of the pawns in any tradeoffs that might take place in such a war, uh. Actually, plan orange, um, pre-supposed the idea that Hawaii would become our bastion in the west, and that would be the main area from which we would conduct a war across the pacific island by island, uh, against the Japanese empire.
And this was, this was planned as early as 1893. And it was known as plan orange.
I: Do you know Dean Acheson declared that the Korean peninsula will, would be excluded from the American defensive perimeter?
A: Yes, I do recall that now that you mention it.
I: Um hm.
A: Yeah. I think what it probably did was to invite the, uh, the, the, communists to see south Korea as an easy, as an easy victory.
So, I, I think Dean Acheson, uh, has a large responsibility, uh, to bear for, for that, for carrying that, out that wish.
I: Um hm. When you enlisted and where you go the basic military training and what was your specialty and rank so on?
A: I, I enlisted as a Vermonter, traveled to San Antonio, Texas, took my basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, uh, which was overrun, um. The Air force was not able to cope with the big influx of enlistees at that time.
Uh, I went through a rather quick basic training. and uh did.
I: Do you remember when you enlisted?
A: Oh, oh yes. I, I, I went, I, I went there just at Christmas time, uh, 1950.
I: Um hm.
A: Uh, I arrived in San Antonio. and uh, my specialty, I had, I wanted to be a, a gunner on a b29 bomber. I, I grew up loving aviation. I k new that I couldn’t train as a pilot because I didn’t’ have the vision, uh, required, nor did I have the college education which might have assured me, uh, an officer’s, um, commission.
But I was very happy to be in an enlisted man, and I thought the best thing that I could do was to become a g, a gunner on a bomber. That way I could realize my ambition to get into aviation, to fly, uh, and I wanted to have a hand in combat.
I did not want to be a desk warrior, um. but when I got done my basic training, they sent me back to New York state where they were opening up a new base to train, uh, new enlistees called Sampson air force base. and I did not have a specialty.
So, when I arrived there, they asked me did I wanna drive a truck. Did I wanna be a cook? and I didn’t wanna do either of those things, uh, and my, I looked up on the blackboard behind the man giving me the questions, and it said air police squadron. and I said what’s that? and he said I don’t know. No one has ever asked me before.
So, he got on the phone, and he called a man who turned out to be the program marshal, the, in charge of uh, of, of police work on that base, and so I became an air policeman. I joined the air police squadron, uh. in the meantime, I had applied to go to aviation gunnery school, um, and um, thought I would just do this thing for a while.
I’d put on the white helmet and wear the gun and be a policeman, um, until I was invited to go to gunnery school. By the time I got the invitation to go to gunnery school which I did, I really liked what I was doing. and I was close to home, and I had a girl there named Shirley who is now my wife of 60 years.
and so I stayed during the police work. By the time I shipped out to Korea, I was fully committed to criminal investigation and solving crimes and keeping peace and being an expert on all kinds of weapons.
I: Tell me about, you said that you went to college before
A: I’ve never
I: You, yeah. You, you
A: I’ve never gone to college.
I: Right, right. So
A: I have lectured in colleges. but I’ve never been a student.
I: When did you leave for Korea?
A: I left in the, um, fall, probably October of 1952.
i: How, through airplane or ship or what?
A: went over by ship.
I: Um hm.
A: from San Francisco.
A: It was, it was a bad voyage. We went through two hurricanes, two typhoons, whatever the, the local people called them at the time. So, it took, uh, 17 days, uh, to reach Japan. I did some training for just a short while.
And then I flew from Iwakuni, Japan over to, uh, to Seoul.
A: Then, then to Kimpo.
A: Um hm. Kimpo was a wreck at the time. Seoul was a wreck at the time, um. They didn’t know exactly where to send me. But um, ended up being sent up to the 38th Parallel where the action was still going on, uh, where I became, I came, became the person who was in charge of the security for a radar interceptor outfit.
We guided both the bombers. We, we were the ones that sent the bombers up to Pyongyang. We were the ones that guided the close air ground support of the troops on the ground, uh. We were surrounded on three sides by the enemy. We occupied, uh, mountain top called Kukla, Kuklabong, something like that. And uh, that’s where I spent my, my year in Korea, up until the Armistice and a little bit beyond.
I: So, what was your main mission, was to protect as Air Force police?
A: Uh, I became really in charge of security for all of the technical men who were there. They knew how to do radar. They knew how to do radio. But they didn’t even know how to fire a weapon most of them. So, I was in charge of a group of men who did all their protection, uh, right up to, um, a Quad 50 machine gun and uh, everything that went with it.
But I also was given charge of all criminal investigation for that part of the western front of Korea. For all branches of the American military there,
(PORCHAKOV), Old, Old, Old Baldy, um, a mountain known as, uh, Christmas Mountain. That was an American name, uh, for it, um. I started all to ride down on the Imjin River, uh, where the Imjin River was a dividing line between the two lines.
A: We fired 50 caliber at each other across the river. I worked with the Army. I worked with the Navy. I worked with the Thais, with the people from Columbia, with the French, with the English, um. And uh, I was a criminal investigator. I did my first murder, my first homicide when I was still 19 years of age, uh. I worked very closely with the Koreans.
I had to interface with the local Korean police chiefs in all of the communities in, in which I, I worked, uh. And for a while, I went on a secret mission with British Intelligence with two British spies. And it was at a period of time when the relations between the U.S. government and the Syngman Rhee administration were very poor.
And it was at a time when the Americans were striving to arrive at an Armistice, uh, agreement. And Syngman Rhee did not want that. And I, by the way, agreed with Syngman Rhee. But anyway, um, I was involved in the counter espionage operation to try to find out who were the people, uh, who were South Korean government people who were working against the American interest.
I don’t know that we ever accomplished anything, uh. It gave me a taste of working, uh, doing counter spy type activity, uh, which I didn’t particularly enjoy. But one of the neat things about my job there was, uh, my relationship with the South Korean people, uh. My interpreter was a young man named Chow Well Bin, and, and Chow became almost like a brother, uh.
I couldn’t have done any of my work without him. He was my interpreter, uh. When I had, uh, a North Korean prisoner to interrogate, um, Chow Well Bin was the man for whom I, I did it. And I had several occasions to, to do that, to interrogate. And uh, in fact I took one prisoner myself who was a Second Lieutenant in the North Korean People’s Army, uh.
And so I worked in the villages, uh, quite often, worked in the villages where many of the people who were inhabiting those villages had escaped from North Korea, were actually North Korean people, uh. And, and uh, these were people whom I had to defend. They were part of my responsibility, uh. And that was one of the things that gave me a unique opportunity to see the personal side of Korea.
My, my principle connection with, uh, with Korea, my love affair with Korea, is with the people. I immediately found a, an affection for the people that I came to know.
I: Why is that? Is that because of Korean culture, Korean personality? Why are you falling with the Korean people?
A: Well, I think by that time, I had acquired enough of a personal knowledge of Korean history that I had a great respect for a civilization that dated back that many centuries in time.
I have always been impressed by the power of tradition. And to me, the people of Korea, South Korea because those are the ones I got to know, were rich in tradition.
I: What was the typical category of the criminal activities done by American soldiers?
I: What was it?
A: One of the first things I was taught when I got there,
I went to an investigator school in Seoul that was run by Americans. And my instructor was a former detective from New York City, a tough old, uh, cop. And while there, this man told me, he said if you have a crime committed, particularly a crime of theft and it could equally as easily have been committed by an American of a Korean, start with the assumption that it is the American, and you will be right 90% of
A: Of the time.
A: I think that, um, a lot of the Americans who found their way into the military, um, especially those who had been drafted, uh, and I don’t want to pick on one branch of the service more than another. But I would say Army draftees who were not there because they wanted to be there, who didn’t like being there, who hated being there, um, and who had had probably their own experience with criminal activities before they ever entered the service, uh,
Just found it easy there to do the same thing. There were certain objects that were worth a lot of money, uh, to the Korean population. Army blankets, tires, uh, cigarettes, toothpaste, soap, bathroom tissue. These were all things, and beer. These were all things that had value.
And so Americans took advantage of that. Almost all of our transactions, business transactions with the civilian population, we were not allowed, we were not supposed to use American money. We had military script. But we were supposed to work in won, uh. We were supposed to use Korean currency which nobody did. We bought almost everything with cigarettes.
And so it became, because cigarettes had value, they were worth stealing. And there were just many, many things that one could steal, uh. The one time I did have to turn a young Korean boy over to the police chief was because he’d been stealing turkeys, um, from our freezers, from our food freezers.
And uh, I disliked having to do that because I think Korean justice was very harsh whereas to me, a 14-year-old kid, I, I would have slapped him on the wrists and sent him home. But the Korean police chief, I don’t know what he did to him. But I felt badly about doing it.
I: Can you give me one good example of the criminal activity, activity done by the, committed by the American soldier for example?
A: Um, again, alcohol, um, in, in m any forms, if you could get into a warehouse and get a hold of a case of Scotch Whiskey, uh, you were on easy street.
I: So, like the PX, right?
A: Yeah, a, a PX or uh, even just a warehouse where things are coming in, um.
I: You mean American whiskey or American, yeah.
A: Um hm, yes, yes.
A: Uh, or sometimes they would go to Japan on an R and R, on a rest and recuperation, and they would bring back something that they knew as of value in Korea. And it, whether they sold it to Americans or whether they sold it to Koreans.
There was an element of crime among South Koreans that I have to admit, um, and that was particularly when they discovered that some of the troops, I’m speaking of people from Thailand, um, um, places like that, who were hooked on drugs. These are people who had grown up with Opium. And when they got to Korea and didn’t have a source of Opium, um, there were some very smart Korean criminals who realized that there was a market, uh, for anything that would take the place of Opium.
And so, I think drugs had caused a certain sub-culture in South Korea.
I: Wow. So, the American soldier were also using some kind of drugs too at the time?
A: Yeah, but nothing, nothing like, um, I never saw it much with Americans. But I saw it with, with, with the Taiwanese. I saw it with people from, uh, Central America, from uh, from Columbia, um.
And I was given a responsibility for a village which was called Little Chicago. I don’t, I can’t remember the Korean name. But that whole village had become criminal, um. Almost every hut in there was an Opium smoking hut.
I: Where, uh, what, Seoul you mean?
A: No, we were far north of Seoul. We, this is very close to the 38th Parallel.
I: I see.
A: On the western side of Korea.
I also found a great deal of dishonesty among French soldiers. Can’t explain why, um. I think alcohol was a problem for almost of United Nations troops over there because they were away from home. They were kind of free to do what they wanted to do, uh.
They weren’t subjected to close observation, um. I think those people who weren’t involved in actual combat, um, became, uh, lazy, uh, bored, uh, and of course to some extent prostitution, um. Some of them, and this is where some of the Korean people themselves were, in my mind, indulging in criminal acts., by, by making prostitution available.
Most of us had grown up in, um, an America where we had lived through the Depression years. We had known hard times, um. The military has, attracts a certain element of, of people, uh, even in the best of times. A people who are malcontents, who can’t find work or have gotten in trouble with the law.
And one of the things that was happening in the U.S. at that time was young men who were picked up for some minor offense but wanted to avoid having it go on their record or wanted to avoid doing jail time were given the choice. If you, if you will enlist in the, in the Army, we’ll drop all charges.
I: Is that right?
A: And I’m not saying that this was a big thing. But it was one thing that affected the, uh, the cultural level of the men who were coming to Korea.
Not everybody was there to do good. Not everybody was there because they were valiant, uh. And maybe even the majority of guys didn’t really want to be, when my, when my ship landed in Yokohama and we got off that ship, they were, they were waiting at the bottom of the gangplank with our orders. And they divided us in half.
Those who were gonna be stationed in Japan went this way. Those that were heading for Korea went this way. I, when I found out I was going to Korea, I tossed my hat in the air because that’s what I wanted to do. I did not want to have an easy life in Tokyo. I, I wanted to be a soldier. I wanted to, to serve my country, um.
I, I wanted to find a way, um, to be relevant, to be important, to be worthwhile. And uh, and leading other men and being an example to other men, uh, as a non-commissioned office, I was, I was, I think a very good non-commissioned officer. And I was in charge of about 50 men. And it was my job to, um, lead them and to inspire them and to keep them alive.
And, and hopefully to leave a good impression behind on the people that we met. I hated it when I saw men, Americans coming back from the village with, uh, laundry that they’d stolen off of somebody’s line cause the local Korean people took in our laundry. And to see them stealing it, uh, or to see them coming back with a chicken that they had obviously stolen from the village, I hated that, um.
I felt ashamed of the way some Americans behaved. Now, most of the men that I served with were technically educated people. They were the best that we had. They were the ones that knew how to operate all of this fancy equipment. My job was to keep them alive.
I: Were there any dangerous kind of situations
I: Or moments that you almost kill, being killed?
A: We had our, our, our radar unit which was on top of, of a mountain, Kuklebong, something like that. Uh, it came under, it came under fire, uh, one night. And I was awakened, and I volunteered to put together a group of men. It was a very difficult trip up that mountain. Our men went up there only twice a day.
And only a very small staff could stay up there. So they were, they were not well armed. And so I volunteered, and I took a group of men up there that night. And we were taking incoming fire from all around the top of that mountain. And uh, one of the reasons I have that grenade still sitting up there.
I: Where is it? Over there, right?
A: It, it’s somewhere on the top up there.
I: Is it real?
A: Well, it’s defused long ago. I brought it home with me.
I: So that’s from the Korean War?
A: Uh, I, yeah. I was defending a position where my orders were to throw a hand grenade over the side. It was a very, very steep embankment. And to keep the enemy from coming up there, I would throw a hand grenade over like every ten minutes or so. And then I would do a lot of shooting with my rifle to make it sound like there were a lot of us there. But I was all alone. And they were supposed to come and relieve me like 3 A.M. in the morning, but nobody came.
And so all of a sudden, I felt down in that box, and all the grenades were gone except one. And, and so I was, I was very frightened cause I was all alone in this very strange foxhole. I’d never been in it before. And just surrounded by sandbags. And so I took that last grenade, and I pulled the pin, and I held it here because I didn’t have any other ammunition.
And I thought if somebody tries to come over those sandbags, this is what they’re gonna get. And finally day, daybreak came, morning, and uh, we, the firing had stopped. Everything was okay. I put the pin back in the grenade, and I’ve kept it ever since. And before I came back home, I, I took it apart, and I burned the fuse and emptied out all the, the powder and uh, I put it in the bottom of my, of my baggage coming home.
I didn’t think they’d let me get away with it. I was sure that by the time I arrived in the U.S., they would check my barracks bag and they would take that away. But nobody ever checked my bags. And so, it, wherever I’ve lived, it’s always been with me
I: What was the happiest moment for you during the service in Korea?
A: Well, I don’t know if the term is happy. But I think one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had
I: Yeah, yeah
A: was the experience with the spoon. I was on a one-man patrol out into the nearby village of Cheongri. And it was rice harvest time. And uh, it was, it was an area that would, that the enemy could infiltrate at any time. And so, we would make these patrols out there to make sure everything was alright in the village, that the people were safe.
And so I was all alone, and I was walking in a trial between the rice paddies. And as I passed by this thatched roof farmhouse, uh, a, a Korean gentleman came out, and he bowed and, and, and uh, and scraped and so forth and, and motioned me into, they had, they had a home that they, little thatched roof house that they lived in. They had another one that they kept an ox or a cow in. And they were eating their dinner.
And they were seated around, uh, a little fireplace, and they had a pot of be, of soybeans that they had cooked up and a pot of rice. And so they begged me, I, we didn’t talk much to each other. I knew very little Korean, and they didn’t know much English. And I did not want to invade them their privacy. But I knew that I had to respect their invitation.
So, they brought me a bowl to eat with and gave me chopsticks. And there I was with this bowl of rice and these beans and chopsticks. And I was having a terrible time. So
I: I bet.
A: So, mama-san looked at me, and she was chuckling. And she got up and left, and she came back, and she handed me this spoon. And uh,
I: Is that that spoon?
I: Was that the spoon that you
A: It, it’s a brass spoon.
A: And that’s what I ended up eating my meal with. And then when it was time for me to leave, they wouldn’t let me give the spoon back. I did everything because I could tell by looking at it that this has been around for a long time. I felt that this was a piece of their family history.
And like most poor rice farmers, they didn’t have much. And I felt terrible about taking that spoon. But I did not want to disrespect their wishes. And so I felt that I had to take the spoon or else insult them. And I’ve never forgotten, um, the moment and in fact, I get tears in my eyes when I picture that moment with that humble farm couple.
And their little meal that they felt so honored to share an American. And then the gift that they made me take. So maybe not a happy moment. But probably one of the most memorable moments of my connection with. And when you asked me why do I like Korean people,
how can you have experiences like that in a land that’s been torn apart by war and not love those people?
I: What, so what is the symbol of this spoon to you?
A: Great, a sense of welcome, a sense of thank you for coming to our benighted land.
To me, that’s, that’s what it meant. And I have to tell you that every experience that I have had over the years living here near Sonny and then going back to Korea in 2009, um, I’ve come home, and I have spoken to audiences here. I do public speaking.
I do my radio program, and I go to schools and talk to school children.
I: Tell America program?
A: And I tell them, I said you as Americans may have forgotten what we did in Korea. But the Korean people have not forgotten what we did there. And I’m not sure that Americans have fought in any foreign war in which that has been as true as it is in what happened with Korea.
We have somehow built a bond, I feel, with the Korean people that exceeds anything that came out of World War II, certainly anything that came our of Viet Nam, and certainly anything that’s coming out of the wars in the Middle East now. Um, I think Korea was not a war that we lost. I think we could have done better.
But I think it’s a war that we won. And I think it’s a war where we won unselfishly. I think Americans were unselfish in what they did, not every individual fighting man. But the cause that took us there was a righteous cause, that it was spiritually a good cause.
And it’s a highpoint of my life. I have done many things in my life. I have had numerous professions, and I continue to, to do things. But I am defined by that one year more than by anything that’s happened in my life. It’s where I learned about love/
Little kids ask me, they say what good can come out of a war? And I tell them about a day that I spent, uh, in a MASH hospital where American boys were dying. And I went there to give blood. They needed blood. And I volunteered to give blood. And I laid on the ground and watched my blood run into the arms of other American men.
And I watched Americans with their friends in the area where they knew they were dying. And I watched an American Marine cradling his buddy in his arms and singing to him. And I tell kids that when you watch MASH on television, forget it. That’s not what Korea is like. What I learned there is that men who fight side by side learned to love each other in a very special way.
I think you also learned to love the people that you fight beside and for. Uh, a lot of the ROK soldiers, a lot of the Republic of Korea soldiers that, uh, I saw, um you know, in, in, right next to combat, were not well trained, uh, were not well armed, um. But they were brave and courageous in what they were doing.
And I love them for it.
I: When you go back to, to Korea 2009
A: Um hm.
I: Tell me about
A: Well, one of the things that we set out to do was to find my house boy. And uh, Ko, Ko Jin Ho, uh, whom I knew as Sammy, uh. We all had house boys that came into our tents and cleaned up for us and polished our shoes and took care of us.
And, and Sammy was a young boy and uh, and he was my house boy, our house boy. And uh, when I left Korea, I, he was the person that I, I missed the most, um. I knew he’d had a tough life. I knew that he had come from the north, um. And so Sunny knew the story.
And so Korean television found out about it, and they set about trying to find him so that I could have a reunion with him. And uh, and they finally did. And he was in a retirement home for people who had, were losing their minds and down in Taegu. And uh, Sunny made sure, and the Korean people that were helping us, made sure that I got taken down to Taegu to go to that home and, and meet with Sammy who probably didn’t have a very good memory of me.
I think his mind was fairly gone. But it meant a lot to me. I took all the Korean money that I had with me, and I left it with his sister
I: When did you find it about this house boy (INAUDIBLE)
Female Voice: Well, whenever I talk to, whenever uh, they can apply for the Revisit, and I’d call and talk a little bit about that they had experienced, and he mentioned about this. And so um, I was contacted by the KVS, and I told them the sister story, if they can find the house boy and uh, reunite him with Al, that would have been lovely gift, uh.
So they did. They did the search all the names who were in the Korean War time, and they contact each one of them, and uh, found out he was the one. And at the beginning he, he didn’t remember
Female Voice: anything. But as we talk, he remember.
I: You were there?
Female Voice: Yes, I was, I was allowed
A: Yeah, she was, yes.
Female Voice: Yes.
I: And what did he talk?
Female Voice: Um,
Female Voice: I, I said that do you remember when Al used to give me a blanket and extra things to take you out to sell it
And he said oh yeah. And then he said, uh, nobody will do that to him but Al did that. He remember that. And also he talked about this (INDUAIBLE) young man who saw that, uh, the program
I: Um hm.
Female Voice: And uh, he came all the way to Utah, and he brought this (INAUDIBLE) for us.
I: Who, that Korean?
A: He knew
Female Voice: Oh yes.
A: He knew about this story.
Female Voice: He said this is a gift to you. He came all the way here.
I: Um. That’s why you have it now.
A: Yes. Yeah, right.
I: The spoon produced another set of spoons,
I: And that produced, and cherish the moment.
A: And the beautiful letter that he sent with this. It’s why I continue to do what I do.
I: What do you do?
A: My weekly radio program. I just, today’s number 584 radio program in this series, uh. This will be my 270th newspaper article, um, that comes out next, uh, next Monday. Uh, today’s newspaper for Spectrum has an article in it, um. I often, I, almost 1/3 of my subject matter has to do with remembering our warriors. And I work, I, I, I write about all of the wars. I write about the American Civil War.
I write about Abraham Lincoln and some of my favorite generals. I, I write about my father’s experience in World War I. My father was very badly wounded in World War I, uh, in France, uh. I had a brother who served in the Pacific in World War II. And, and so um, I have an interest in the contribution of our military heritage to the history of the world.
No country, no country has bled so much in foreign lands as has my country. And I’m proud of that heritage. And I don’t want people to forget it. I don’t want kids to forget it. I don’t want their parents to forget it. And I know I might be a, a very lone voice. But so long as I have my voice, I will do what I can.
My, my, my kids and my grandkids are very well educated. I mean, they’ve had it up to here with the history that I share with them. You can’t walk into this room and not know, uh, that my heart lies with, uh, with what has made my, my country great. And I’m just proud that for one brief period of time, I had a chance to go somewhere else and do something worthwhile as an American from my generation.
I: Anything you want to add to this interview?
A: Well, um I just ask my friends who go to and from Korea that wherever you have an opportunity, tell your fellow Koreans that not all Americans have a short memory. But there are among us some, some of us whose lives were, were changed in major ways by our connection with the Korean people and because of their freedom.
I: Went back to Korea in 2009, what did you see? In addition to the your Sammy and
A: I, I saw a country that made me proud at every bend in the road. The architecture, um, their respect for one another. I saw a happy people. I saw a, a healthy people. I saw a driving economy, um.
The Korea that I had left behind is where I saw little children crying in the street. And the Korea that I went back to was one where I saw children laughing and having fun and holding hands and playing games. There were no games being played in 1952. So you know, I saw the architectural grandeur of Korea.
That’s, that’s the obvious part. But what I, what I really was thrilled by was to see happy people enjoying the fruits of the free land and a vibrant economy. And that is what it was all worth.
I: What is the real relationship between Korea and the United States?
A: During the, uh, administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the U.S. State Department attracted a certain breed of statesmen who thought like Socialists, um. I don’t, I don’t know whether it came from their college campuses, their studies. I don’t know where it came from. But they found a friendly home and a breeding ground in the State Department of those final administrations, the Roosevelt and Truman administrations.
I think Dean Acheson was one of those. Somewhere along in his years of academ, he became influenced by an admiration for Socialism and maybe even Communism. And I, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they were out to change the world. But they had, they had a very, very Socialist idea on the way the world ought to be organized.
And I think they saw Mao. I think they saw, they saw, the good part, what they would have thought was the good things about Communism as being an answer to many of the world’s problems. They were wrong. But I think they felt that way. I think they were influenced that way.
I: So, to myself, I’ve been asking. What is the relationship between Korean and U.S.? Now we are the closest ally.
A: Um hm, right.
I: We are the closest trading partners.
I: Uh, we represent freedom. We are the closest, uh, military alliances, too.
I: But if you go back, history wasn’t like that. So now I think I’m getting answer to my question. What is the relationship and how we become like this. I think this is the blood of Korean War veterans.
A: Um hm.
I: Who went there, the country they didn’t know.
A: Yeah, yeah.
I: And they fight for Korean people against Communism.
I: And that is the real linking dot of these two countries together.
A: I’ll tell you what I fear. I fear that as our generation, those who served in Korea, are no longer holding positions of influence in our government,
I worry about our, our promises to defend South Korea, the Republic of Korea. I think we are on shaky grounds. And I think it is because there has been an erosion. I, I mean what, what you described is, is the Korea and America, that I think of. But I’m not sure that everybody that gets to hold a position of importance in U.S. government has that same outlook.
I distrust our commitment to the defense o f our friends in Korea. I hope I’m wrong.
I: What do you think will be the trajectories of the further evolution of the relationship between these two countries? What do you see ahead, and where do we have to go?
A: I think what you’re doing here today is a, a very big thing, uh.
Each time that I have met with someone like you, even a television cameraman who came into our home here, uh, every one of these people that I have met seem to have the spirit of continuity that we need to work toward. I think you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re right in aiming towards the upcoming generation, um. I, I, I, I can only hope that all of these efforts pay off.
If you had somebody like Sunny Lee living in every community in America.
I: Yeah. Thank you for your patriotism. Thank you for your love of Korea. And thank you for your fight.
A: Well, thank you for all that you have done for me cause the Korean people have had a part in shaping me. They may not know it. Although I had, I had a strange thing happen when there was a meeting, a government leaders meeting going on in Cedar City.
This is when they were setting up the, uh, sister city relationship between Cedar City and Gapyeyong.
A: And I walked into that meeting and um, a fine looking young Korean lady sprang to her feet, and she came running across the room, and she went like this. She said my mother loves you because I had said some things that were captured on television tape when I was, um, at the 38th Parallel.
And apparently it got picked up on Korean National Television. And uh, and so here I had somebody I had never met, uh. But she knew who I was because of some words that I had said while I was in Korea. And that, that impressed me.
[END RECORDED MATERIALS]
Al on Duty
19 year-old Al Cooper “smiles” for a picture while on duty in the winter of 1952 at an advanced U.S. Air Force radar control site near the 38th parallel.
Korean Traditional Spoons
Korean Traditional Spoons
"Albert and Shirley Cooper. "
A picture of Albert and Shirley Cooper, which was taken in August of 2013.
Al at a Patriotic Gathering
Al Cooper smiles at a patriotic gathering.
Al on the Radio Program
Albert Cooper during a typical day hosting his radio program.
Al on Duty
19 year old Al Cooper “smiles” for a picture while on duty in the winter of 1952 at an advanced U.S. Air Force radar control site near the 38th parallel.
Lindsey Cooper, granddaughter of Al Cooper, visits Korean school children during the “grandkids' trip” in 2010 in Korea.
Al Cooper holds a homeless Korean boy he and his company had unofficially adopted and took care for near the small village Chi-hyang ri. He and his company named him “Sikoshi Joe.” Sikoshi Joe was one of two or three Korean boys the company took in at the time and provided food, shelter, and love. Taken in Korea, around 1952-53.