I wanted to put this blog post out earlier this week, on Veterans Day itself, but was still awaiting some details about my grandfather — S. Cooper Dawson, Jr. (known as Cooper and as the first Dawson family member to own and run Camp Alleghany), and so, while it’s a little bit after the fact, I hope you’ll enjoy reading about him!
Back in the day — and before his life at camp — Cooper was in the United States Navy. He was a lieutenant and a weapons officer on a Edsall-class destroyer escort called the USS Thomas J. Gary during World War II.
While I have many delightful memories of my beloved grandfather, I can’t say that I could rattle his military history off at the drop of a hat.
But I wanted to know it, and wanted to be able to honor him for his service.
So I asked my dad, Samuel Cooper Dawson III (our Sam — you know him as today’s Camp Alleghany Director), to give me a few details. He relished the prospect, taking a little trip down memory lane and sending me a lovely mini-history of Cooper’s service.
Cooper’s naval life
As my dad recalled about his dad:
Cooper was in the US Navy 20+ years. He started in the regular Navy then switched to the US Naval Reserve (USNR). He retired as a Captain.
His first ship was the Thomas J. Gary, DE 726. The DE stands for Destroyer Escort. It was a small ship used primarily for escort duty. He was the Gunnery Officer for the Gary and made 35 trips across the Atlantic. The Gary had “fast” escort duty. That means the ships they escorted carried supplies like munitions, planes, tanks – anything needed to fight the war.
At the end of WWII, he was assigned to the USS Ligueria. The Ligueria was a converted troop transport used for supplies. It was a floating Wal-Mart! He left NY Harbor as the captain yet his rank was only Lt. Commander (LCDR) He then went through the Panama Canal, and went to Japan and then China.
While in China, Cooper purchased Chinese rugs that both my sister Marion and I still have and shipped them home to his mother — my grandmother. He bought them north of Shanghai where the ship was berthed.
In another anecdote, it seems that he, a Navy Chief, and a Marine got on a train that they thought would take them back to Shanghai, but soon found out the train was headed to Manchuria! As soon as they could, they got off the train and caught another one headed south.
He also told me that at one of the ports in Japan, he noticed a large number of Jeeps at the end of the pier that were not being used by the Army. He asked the Colonel in charge of the base near this port if he could have one of them. When the Colonel refused, Papa told him that until he could give him a Jeep, he would not open the ship to the Colonel’s soldiers. Next morning at the end of the pier there was a Jeep for the Ligueria painted Navy Gray!
In the 50’s the Gary was converted to a DER — Destroyer Escort Radar. It was used as a radar picket ship in the Northern Atlantic.
Cooper always kept in touch with the Gary Reunion group. In the early 90’s he invited the Gary’s reunion group to come to Alleghany for a few days during the latter part of Family Camp. He had Green Team member Mark McJunkin (alum Jane Anne’s brother) paint the ship’s name and number on the upriver side of the barge just for his Navy buddies! They were very touched by his gesture. There were about 20-25 couples as I remember, and I know they reminisced a lot, but I don’t remember what type of functions other than meals and happy hours they had. But clearly it was fun for them all!
Honor at camp
Well that was a fun history lesson about my grandfather!
I remember that he was a super patriotic guy and made sure that patriotism and respect for our country and the values of honor and loyalty were such was a big part of camp life and culture. It still is today. Honoring those traditions also honors his memory in a way, which is felt in the solemnity of traditions like Reveille, flag raising, and nightly Taps.
In terms of wartime stories at Camp itself, legend has it (but I can’t find proof of this) that when WWII ended in August 1945, when the Japanese surrendered, they announced it at camp and everyone just ran to the river and jumped in as a celebration! I need to read through some Alleghany Rattlers from that time to verify this, but it’s a fun story nevertheless :).
I also have heard that during the wars summer camps were considered a safe haven for kids to go to to escape what was happening overseas, and they always stayed at camp the full summer.
We would love to hear stories about any of our alums or Green Team members who are veterans. Feel free to chime in in the comments field below or on our Facebook page.
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls