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Tracking down history takes time

By Staff | Nov 13, 2011

This week you will find a special bonus inside your Faribault County Register – our ninth edition of the popular “Our Heroes” magazine.

We know there are many of our readers who look forward to this annual special section. Many have told me that they have a copy of each one, and look forward to reading the new version each November.

I receive many suggestions from our readers – almost year round – with names of veterans to profile in the magazine. We keep a list of those suggestions and try and get to as many as we can.

The staff all works hard on this magazine, trying our best to make it as nice as we can. From the ads to the stories to the photos, layout and design, it is a group effort here at the Register.

The stories are not always easy to create. While we have a list of veterans’ names, details about them are sometimes hard to come by.

Sometimes they do not want to share any personal details about their years of service to their country, other than the basic facts.

And, it is sometimes difficult to find many details – pr about a veteran who was killed in action 50, 60 or 70 years ago.

Occasionally we get a bit lucky. This year, for example, the Winnebago Museum had information on Virginia Hope for that story. We had George Huber sharing a diary his father had kept in World War I.

I had some extra help on the story of Billy Hooper, as well.

After some research, I found the Blue Earth yearbook from the year he graduated, as well as the story of his death and his funeral in the old 1965 Faribault County Registers which are located at the Blue Earth City Library.

The bonus came, however, from a tip from A.B. Russ of the Faribault County Historical Society. He had found the names of Gordon Rippentrop and Dale Scott who had served with Hooper.

Luckily, it was possible to locate both men and hear their stories about their friend Billy Hooper.

Neither man, however had any photos of Billy or the ship. Rippentrop has moved several times and lost any pictures he might have had. Scott says he has a few, but they were in his lawyer’s office. He is battling lung cancer that he believes is from his years of serving in the engine room of the USS Kitty Hawk and is suing the Navy.

Pictures help make our Heroes stories better, so I needed to do some more research.

Hooper’s parents are both deceased. But, the obituary for Hooper notes he had a brother, Bradley.

After an internet search, a Bradley Hooper was listed as living in St. Peter at one time. However, there was not any listing for a Brad Hooper there.

More research revealed that Brad Hooper had died years ago. But, there was a listing for a Lincoln Hooper in St. Peter.

A phone call revealed that Lincoln Hooper is indeed Billy Hooper’s nephew.

“My father was Bradley Hooper, Billy’s only brother,” Lincoln Hooper says. “My dad died at the age of 54 in 1993.”

When Lincoln Hooper’s grandmother, Elma Hooper, died, he received a surprising inheritance.

“My grandma had kept everything about my uncle Billy in boxes, “ he says. “It includes all his service records, pictures, letters and medals.”

Many of the pictures with the Billy Hooper story came from that collection.

There are also dozens of letters from Billy and his mother to each other in the boxes. There is the letter from an admiral telling of Billy Hooper’s death. Letters from Hooper’s crewmates to his mother after his death, expressing words of sympathy.

One of those letters is especially interesting. It is from one of Billy’s crewmates who first expresses his sympathy, then makes a surprise revelation.

It seems he had talked to Billy often (including just hours before his death) and knew that the Blue Earth sailor had purchased a 1957 Chevy when he had been in boot camp in San Diego.

The crewmate says he knows the car is stored in Bakersfield, Calif., and that it needs some transmission work.

Then he makes an offer to buy it, saying he will pay the storage fee and fix the transmission.

Lincoln Hooper has spent quite a few hours going through all of the memorabilia of his uncle Billy – whom he never had a chance to meet. But, thanks to all the many items in the boxes from his grandmother, he is able to feel as though he did know him.

One thing Lincoln Hooper still wonders about, however.

Whatever happened to that ’57 Chevy?