William E. Cooper Papers
Although not as well known as others who have achieved notoriety and fame in aviation circles, William Edward (Bill) Cooper was, nonetheless, a “mover and shaker” in the Dallas, Texas, and North Texas aviation and business communities from the 1950’s through the turn of the century. Throughout his life aviation interests were interwoven with his business activities until his death, due to congestive heart failure in Dallas on March 6, 2008.
Cooper was born October 16, 1921 in Wichita, Kansas. At the age of 17, he was introduced to aviation as he worked at Beech Aircraft while attending the Municipal University of Wichita (now Wichita State University.) America's entrance into World War II in December 1941 interrupted his studies; and the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942 inspired Cooper to enlist for pilot training in the U.S. Army Air Corps. His solo flight was in 1943.
First serving as a B-17 bomber pilot, Cooper became a B-29 bomber co-pilot stationed first on Guam with the 501st Group, 315th Bomb Wing, Very Heavy (VH), of the 20th Air Force. Among his military flying experiences were flying the P-38 fighter and C-45 transport, flying transport missions for prisoners of war and other cargo flights, and serving as co-pilot to the Chief Test Pilot of the 315th Bomb Wing (VH). He accumulated about 750 flying hours and earned two Battle Stars by the time he was honorably discharged in May 1946.
In an interesting autobiographical reflection written fifty years later in 1995 during the celebration of the Golden Anniversary of the end of World War II, Cooper wrote, “For myself, had the war not ended on August 15th, I might have been dead by September 1st. Our wing was flying a mission every third day. I would have flown a mission to Japan on the 18th of August. That, or any subsequent mission, could have been my last. The Japanese were desperately using suicide attacks on our planes; and, in addition, just the flight from Guam to Japan and back had a statistical loss rate of about 1% per mission. I am here because of God and Harry Truman.”
Cooper also wrote a historically significant manuscript analyzing the losses of B-29s during World War II, which included documentation of the fates of the crewmembers. Returning to his college studies, Cooper earned a degree in Business Administration in 1948. Employed by a color printing company in Wichita, he was transferred to Dallas, Texas in 1952 where, because his successful efforts were resulting in earnings higher than his manager’s, he received a registered letter in 1958 from the company’s chairman ordering him back to Wichita. Cooper’s response, also sent by registered letter, was “No.”
Cooper became involved in Dallas’ development as a wholesale merchandising center and after meeting Trammell Crow, a leading Dallas real estate agent, was appointed Vice President of the Dallas Market Center in 1958. Becoming the President in 1969, Cooper orchestrated the center’s growth from one building to a complex of six buildings and a 1,000-room hotel by the time he left the position twenty-four years later in 1982. His efforts also led to the use of the Dallas Market Center Apparel Mart as “Great Hall” in the 1975 motion picture Logan’s Run.
Remaining actively involved in North Texas aviation, Cooper played a significant role in the development of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. In 1986 he was appointed to the airport’s board of directors and served as chairman of the board from 1991 to 1993.
In November 1988, in partnership with the History of Aviation Collection at The University of Texas at Dallas, Cooper, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Jan Collmer co-founded the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas. Originally housed within the Dallas Love Field terminal building, the museum moved to a 100,000 square foot building dedicated May 21, 2004. On June 26, 1993, the museum honored Cooper and aviation notables General James H. Doolittle and Louise Timken with the “George Edward Haddaway Medal of Achievement in Aviation.”
Following World War II and for the remainder of his life, Cooper was an active participant in veteran’s organizations, especially the 20th Air Force Association. During the early 1990’s he became an influential figure in what was to become known as the Enola Gay controversy.
When the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum restored the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan at the end of World War II, a display was prepared to exhibit the bomber in a manner that was sympathetic towards the Japanese and critical of the use of the atomic bomb by the United States. Cooper, fellow airmen and veterans, and the American public at large, strenuously objected to the Smithsonian’s “revisionist history,” insisting that the display accurately portray the decision to use the atomic bomb as having been made to shorten the war, eliminate the need to invade Japan, and to ultimately save the lives of those that would have been lost in a prolonged war. Ultimately, the perspective of Cooper and like-minded Americans prevailed.
The successful outcome of the Enola Gay controversy made 1995 a memorable year for Cooper. In his introduction to one of his personal scrapbooks, 1995, The Golden Anniversary of the End of World War II, Cooper records the year’s highlights. First was the meeting of the Crusaders – individuals involved in the controversy who were not B-29 veterans – on July 15, 1995, in Washington, D.C., for a private viewing of the “adequately changed” exhibit of the Enola Gay and a tour of the Garber Restoration Facility where they saw the aircraft. That evening the group met with Paul Tibbetts, pilot of the Enola Gay.
The second significant event of 1995 was the meeting of the 20th Air Force Association board in Kansas City, Missouri, from which the group and 1,500 others toured the Harry Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, “to honor and commend Truman for ending the war and saving so many of our lives.” Cooper was elected the organization’s treasurer during this meeting.
The final highlight of 1995 for Cooper was the week of August 13th during which the 315th Bomb Wing (VH) Association met at Wright Field, Ohio for their annual reunion and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Cooper was named Past Chairman of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Past Chairman of the Dallas Council on World Affairs, and was actively involved in many other civic, religious, and business organizations. His services were recognized with numerous awards and honors.
At the time of his death, William Cooper was survived by his wife, Suzanne Blessington Cooper, and four adult children.
Permission to publish material from this collection in any form, current or future, must be obtained from the Special Collections Department, McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.