Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 12, 2013

One of Paintsville’s veterans

J.R. Vanhoose
For The Independent

PAINTSVILLE — As I have been writing and researching for a book on the history of the Paintsville basketball program, I have come across many examples of former Tiger players who have served our country.

Not many people living today know about the brave service of some of these men and there is one in particular whose story I would like to share on the day after Veteran’s Day.

Hysell P. Cooper played on the first two basketball teams at Paintsville High School (1922 and 1923). After graduating from Paintsville High School in 1923, he became the first Paintsville alumni to attend the United States Naval Academy.

According to the 1927 Academy yearbook he was described as “[an] athlete and musician rolled into one.” At Annapolis he was a member of the Navy wrestling team and was considered an “average” student. However “average” his grades were it was enough for him to graduate from the Academy in 1927.

Upon graduation he was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy (June 2, 1927) and retained at the Naval Academy for aviation instruction during the summer of 1927. Upon completion of his duty at the Academy he was assigned to duty in Maryland. He was promoted to Lieutenant (Junior Grade) on June 2, 1930 and ordered to duty at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. He was promoted again a few years later, this time to Lieutenant. With his new rank, he was assigned to Patrol Squadron 22 (VP-22) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on June 6, 1938. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Cooper, and the rest of his command, was stationed on Ford Island, located right in the middle of Pearl Harbor.

Returning to Pearl Harbor on December 5, 1941 from a long tour of duty at Midway and Wake Islands, many of the squadron’s planes (PBY-3s) were not in great condition. According to an after action report (December 19, 1941) the squadron had 14 PBY-3s in commission on December 7. Of those 14, a dozen were available to fly, with one under repair. The report continues, “The squadron was in relatively poor material condition because of its extended operations… In addition 10 of its planes were approaching 18 months service and were due for overhaul.”

When the attack on Pearl Harbor began, one of the first bombs dropped by the Japanese fell on Ramp 4, at the south end of Ford Island. This bomb hit among the 12 PBYs of VP-22. In the blast that occurred and the subsequent fire, seven of the aircraft were destroyed, the remaining five were damaged enough to place them out of action for a few days. Lt. (JG) Thomas H. Moorer (later to become an Admiral) from VP-22 described the attack, “We had twelve planes, which were parked outside the hangers, and most of them were shot up quite severely… I saw the Pennsylvania and the Nevada get hit, and I saw the Arizona go up in a tremendous explosion… Of course everyone wanted to go out and retaliate….”  

Ted LeBaron, a maintenance mechanic with VP-22 recalled, “I heard an explosion. When I looked up I could see a cloud of black smoke in the area of our hangar… At this moment, there was a commotion on the opposite side… Looking up, but not very far up, I was looking at a Jap pilot in an open-cockpit torpedo plane who was waiving at us!” He continued, “When I did get to the hangar, I think nearly all of our planes were gutted from the burning of the gas in the wings. I remember that the guy on duty in our hangar at the time of the bombing was firing his .45… he was maniacal about wanting to get even right then and completely frustrated by having only a .45 pistol, since all of our machine guns had been destroyed by fire during the bombing.”

The squadron (VP-22) suffered losses on that day but Lt. Cooper was unharmed. According to the Paintsville Herald on December 25, 1941, “Lieutenant Hysell Cooper, who was at Pearl Harbor when that base was bombed by Japan on December 7, is safe and unhurt. This information was received by his parents…” Not long after the surprise attack, Lt. Cooper was promoted, this time to the rank of lieutenant commander on December 16, 1941.

Hysell Cooper served during the remainder of World War II and rose through the ranks. After completing the Army and Navy Staff College Course he was promoted to the temporary rank of Commander on September 10, 1942. He was promoted to the rank of captain on July 1, 1945 and served as the commanding officer of the USS Breton.

He commanded the ship from July 1945 until the ship was decommissioned on August 30, 1946. A career naval officer he retired from service in November 1952 with the rank of Rear Admiral. Rear Admiral Hysell P. Cooper, a native of Paintsville, died on June 12, 1957 in Oakland, Calif., of complications from a heart condition. He was buried in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Mateo Co., Calif.  

J.R. VANHOOSE, a former Paintsville High and Marshall University basketball star, is a history teacher at Phelps High School.