From the time he was a boy, Merian C. Cooper wanted to be an adventurer, a wish that propelled him into journalism, the National Guard, military aviation, two world wars, and the cinematic killing of King Kong. During that time, he took part in historic events, like the hunt for Pancho Villa, and contributed to others, like the Doolittle Raid.
When he was six, he read a book by a French explorer who traveled Africa, and he was hooked on the idea of adventure. In 1916, that led the journalist and Georgia National Guardsman to Mexico, where he took part in the punitive expedition against Pancho Villa.
That only fueled his desire more, so he got a billet at a military pilot school in Georgia and graduated in time to go to France for World War I. He became a bomber pilot, but was shot down over Germany and declared dead until the American officers learned he had survived and been taken prisoner.
But he wasn’t done with Europe, soon heading to Poland as a captain and taking part in the Polish-Soviet War. He formed a new squadron, the Polish 7th Air Escadrille, with volunteers from France. The men saw protracted combat, and Cooper himself was shot down two times. The second time, he was captured by the Soviets and sent (a second time) to a prisoner of war camp.
After two attempts, he successfully escaped and was rewarded for his wartime service with Poland’s highest decoration for valor.
After returning to a peaceful America, he became a movie producer and writer, working on some cinematic classics, including the game-changing King Kong of 1933. He even played one of the pilots in the film.
But war came knocking again when the U.S. entered World War II. So, Cooper returned to service as a colonel and was sent to India where he served as a logistics expert for the Doolittle Raid, the legendary attack by carrier-based bombers against Tokyo itself in 1942. He was even eventually invited to see Japan’s surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri.