Author: CDR Walter "Wally" Cooper
CDR Walter "Wally"
Cooper, a 1938 graduate
of Oberlin College, had won eight varsity letters in football, baseball
and swimming. Wally planned a medical career and was accepted by
several colleges. He spent one year as Sportsmaster at St. Paul's
Episcopal School in New York City while attending New York
University to earn his masters degree in physical education.
Wally's enlistment in the Navy forever ended his high school coaching career and
ended his dream to attend medical school. He enlisted the day before Pearl Harbor was attacked but was deferred until
after the school year ended. On May 28, 1942, Wally reported to the
University of Notre Dame for his indoctrination. His first
assignment was in New York where he completed Midshipmen training
and commissioned Ensign.
At about that time LCDR
Draper Kauffman, the founder and CO of the Bomb Disposal School, was
looking, from among the newly commissioned officers, for volunteers.
Wally became the first to volunteer and was sent to Bomb Disposal
School in Washington, DC.
While Wally was completing his school, Admiral Ernest J. King issued
a directive to intensify training for the Naval Combat Demolition
Unit. As a result of the directive, a telegram was sent to LCDR
At the Pentagon, LCDR Kauffman reported to CAPT Metzel, the
Commander in Chief's Planning Staff. CAPT Metzel's orders were:
"During the next few years we will be making amphibious landings all
over the world. If the enemy has any sense at all he will protect
his beaches with obstacles which will stop our landing craft off
shore and force us to disembark our soldiers in water about six feet
deep where they will either drown or lose their equipment. Your job
is to put a stop to this. Get together some men and train them to
get rid of these obstacles. Your orders will allow you to go
anywhere you think best to set up a training base. You can have
anyone you ask for, in or out of naval service. This is an emergency
and we don't have much time."
One of LCDR Kauffman's first telephone calls was to Wally, who had
been transferred to Norfolk, Va. The new NCDU base was set up at
Naval Amphibious Training Base at Fort Pierce, Florida. Wally's
orders were to start staff of Underwater Demolition Training and set
up now the famous "Hell Week" physical training program for NCDU
which is the predecessor of the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT)
and SEAL Teams.
CDR France D. Fane, in his book "Naked Warrior," gave this
description of the rigors of "Hell Week." Since everyone expected
demolition operations to be conducted from rubber boats or in
shallow water, the trainees worked in full combat gear—heavy shoes,
fatigues or green combat uniforms, helmets, and Mae Wests (bulky
inflatable vest harness lifebelts). Every day of "Hell Week" started
with an hour of hard physical training,
topped off by a three mile double time march. Then came hours in
inflated black, bulbous--rimmed rubber boats. The six man units
paddled the loaded boats (explosives filled the seventh man's space)
against tides and surfs and wind. They portaged them over rocks and
reefs and dunes and jetties, by day and night. They landed and
launched them through surf, and paddled through muddy, weed tangled
inlets, working against a time schedule. For twelve to sixteen hours
a day, they had to meet increasingly tough physical tests.
The training was climaxed by "So Solly Day". Its purpose, wrote
Fane, was to weed out anyone with inherent fear of explosives, a
weakness which would imperil both himself and his teammates in
combat. Survivors of this training seldom knew such fear again."
Thirty to forty percent of the volunteers were washed out. Many
of the NCDU trainees were sent to Maui, Hawaii where they
learned to work in teams. Their operations in the Pacific were
highly successful. Wally and his group were transferred to
Norfolk, Va, then to New York where they embarked for England.
They reported to Plymouth on November 1, 1943 and were attached
to Commander Naval Forces Europe who had no idea who they were,
what they were sent for and what their future mission might be.
Fane wrote: "Such was the secrecy which shrouded the build-up
for the Normandy invasion. In December, nine more units were
shipped from one end of England to another without finding
anyone responsible for housing and training them. Very few
ranking officers knew of their existence. The top secret
invasion plan was so closely guarded that it could not be given
to the unit's junior officer. They were discouraged by the lack
of interest of anyone in high authority in their problems, and
morale became so low when the new of the UDT success in the
Pacific arrived in February 1944. Wally wrote seriously to Fort
Pierce requesting a transfer to the Pacific to see action."
They nearly became the forgotten men during the build-up for the
invasion of Normandy.
On D-Day (June 6, 1944) morning, Wally and his
men were towed across the English Channel in an open landing
craft. Wally was in command of 20 NCDU units. Their objective
was to destroy more than 1,000 of the most devilish obstacles to
a troop landing the mind of man could devise-huge concrete
blocks, steel bars, and the infernal Belgian Gates, three ton
monsters, 10 feet high and virtually immovable.
A H-Hour (6:30 am) Wally and his demolition crew actually led
the invasion force on the D-Day landing. In 45 degree water they
wore gas-impregnated coveralls over khaki shirts and trousers
and heavy underwater field shoes, a web belt with wire cutters,
banana-crimpers for mine horns, cartridges, gas masks,
inflatable life belts, canteens, first air packet, helmet, fur
lined M-2 coat, and a bulky 40 pounds of explosives. They had
just 20 minutes to clear the deadly mine obstacles in the three
and a half mile span of Omaha Beach.
Bellevue native Wally Cooper and his demolition crew led the
invasion force on the D-Day landing at Omaha.
They succeeded in clearing wide gaps so the troops were able to move
in. The cost was high. Wally's demolition unit suffered 68 percent
casualties—dead and wounded. They had worked in the face of heavy
enemy artillery and rifle fire. Later, when the tide would not allow
work on the demolition mission, Wally assisted the Beachmaster in
the evacuation of wounded personnel.
A photo at low tide
revealing a long stretch of obstacles erected by the Germans at Normandy
One incident that occurred on D-Day that went practically
unnoticed was: The forward troops ran low on supplies and were
bogged down. The Beachmaster had lost radio contact with the ships
furnishing equipment and supplies. The reason he lost contract was
the ships were out too far. Wally jumped into one of the evacuation
boats and rode out to ANCON (the amphibious command ship), climbed
aboard and was met by a captain who brought him to the admiral.
Wally told the admiral of the crucial situation. The admiral without
hesitation ordered all ships to up anchor and move in to a certain
The communication was restored and the much needed supplies were
sent in. Wally also suggested that bulldozers be send in to clear
the "rubble" (the boats were unable to negotiate the bank going up
from sand to level land), The admiral also ordered the dozers sent
The following morning the admiral and his aides came ashore and
met with the Beachmaster. He then commended Wally for action and
cited him for the Navy Cross. CDR Eugene Carusi concurred and
ordered his executive officer to write up the citation. That evening
Carusi was wounded and evacuated to the states. Wally never did
receive the award.
Just over a month after D-Day, Wally was called back to the states
and assigned to Admiral Ernest J. King's staff. He was to give a
first hand account of his unit's a Joint Chiefs of Staff and other brass.
Wally obviously upset over the casualties suffered in the
demolition unit, gave his report in language he was not accustomed
to using to his shocked audience. One captain protested but an
admiral arose and said, "It's too often that by the time we get
reports we only see the finer points". This young man is
giving us the real story. I suggest that you
give them (UDT) anything they need.
Later that day, Wally was guest on the "Report to the Nation", one
of the most listened to radio programs in the country during the
There were many Bellevueans listening and felt more than a little
pride as the announcer concluded his show with, "When the war is
over, monuments will be erected on the Normandy Beach for heroic men
like LT Cooper and his men".
At about that same time Robert T. Nye, a local businessman then
residing at 292 Southwest St., had received a letter from his son in
law, Ensign William Close, skipper of an LCI (Landing
Craft Infantry) who wrote: "All of Bellevue will be proud when they
know the facts about the part LT Cooper played in the invasion His
efforts are not to go entirely unnoticed and they certainly shouldn't
for I have the deepest respect for the part he played in the invasion."
Wally was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the Silver Star by the
Army, the Bronze Star and the Croix de Guerre by the French for valor.
Wally returned to Fort Pierce and volunteered for duty in the Pacific.
He was promoted from LTJG to LCDR. Eighty percent of his men volunteered
After participating in several engagements he came back to the states
on the rotation plan. Upon his return to San Francisco he was ordered to
return to participate in the Japanese surrender.
Wally led troops in to Japan to accept the surrender of land units prior
to signing of surrender papers by Admiral Chester Nimitz on board the
In the spring of 1946, Wally was in command of the UDT teams stationed
at the Amphibious Training Base at Coronado, California.
He was called upon once again by CAPT Kauffman ordering him to
Washington, DC. His new assignment was to organize a special force group
to take part in the highly publicized "Operation Crossroads", the
A-bomb test in Bikini atoll in the south Pacific. Wally's expertise made
it possible to collect water samples to determine the results of the
effect of the bomb. Because of the radiation they developed radio
controlled drone boats to successfully collect the samples for analysis
at Enewetok. In 1948 he left the UDT to attend war college and then to
gunnery school. He was assigned to a cruiser division and was on board
the USS Salt Lake City when it provided the most gunfire during the
He served as an aide to Admiral Berran Rogers, the Commandant of the
12th Naval District. He was also an aide to Admiral Chester
Nimitz. From 1953-55 Wally served on a special top secret assignment
under CIA, and three more years as an undercover agent in the Middle
East. The final decade of his career he served as professor of naval
science at the University of Washington in Seattle with some 400
students in the NROTC program.
While serving the he obtained a Masters Degree in Physical Education
Wally also took an intensive (rapid) language course to learn the
Turkish language. He was then assigned as an advisor to the Turkish War
College at Yildizz Palace in Istanbul,. In 1964 he was ordered to
McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fl. Wally was assigned to a special
plans division of a command called Joint Plans Readiness which consisted
of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines for emergency situations. He
retired from Naval Service Oct. 1, 1968, with the rank of Commander.