Sea or air, ships or planes. Parr Hooper, trained as a mechanical engineer in the early twentieth century, was drawn to both. Family tradition on his father’s side pointed to the sea. One of his great grandfathers, William Hooper (ca. 1792–1863), arrived in America from London about 1800 and settled in Baltimore, where he apprenticed himself to a sailmaker named Benjamn Hardester.1 Eventually the two formed a partnership, “Hardester Hooper & co. sailmakers.”2 The business passed to the eldest of William’s sons, William Edward Hooper, in 1843, just as the boom years of the clipper ships were beginning and demand for sail cloth was rising dramatically.3 The second son, James Albert Hooper—Parr Hooper’s grandfather—went into a related line of business with his father and Hardester: “Hooper & Hardester, grocers & ship chandlers.”4 James Albert Hooper became a prosperous merchant and businessman with a variety of interests, including the China trade; he was the owner of the Kate Hooper, which, by at least one account, was the second largest clipper ship built in Baltimore, with a reputation, even among clippers, for speed.5

Ship transport was important to Parr’s family on his mother’s side as well, though not as central to their interests. Parr’s maternal grandfather, the improbably named Israel Miltiades Parr, was the senior member of a grain-exporting firm and one of the largest shippers from the port of Baltimore.6

Parr’s parents’ generation came of age shortly before the turn of the century, during which period both the Parrs and the Hoopers became prominent in Baltimore society and business. The families intermingled in both arenas. James Albert Hooper’s youngest son, Herbert Hooper (Parr’s father), married Margaret Parr, Israel Miltiades Parr’s youngest child. Herbert Hooper’s sister, Corinne, married Margaret Parr’s cousin, Frank (Francis) Parr Lewin; Margaret and Frank were grandchildren of the Baltimore stoneware potter, David Parr. Herbert Hooper went into business with his brother-in-law, Henry Albert Parr; they were treasurer and president, respectively, of the Oakland Manufacturing Company.7 Both the Parrs and the Hoopers appeared in the Baltimore Society Register (“Blue Book”) from its inception in 1889. Like Maryland itself, allegiances within both families during the Civil War had been divided, but those divisions faded in the gilded age, to be replaced by a patriotic strain that prompted some members of the families to seek out ancestors who would justify their descendants’ designation as sons or daughters of the American Revolution. Parr’s paternal grandmother, Katherine (“Kate”) Elizabeth Holloway Hooper, the namesake of the clipper ship, was the granddaughter of Sabrett (Sabritt) Bowen, a sergeant in Colonel Stephen Moylan’s Fourth Regiment Continental Light Dragoons.8 The paternal grandfather of Mary Bowen Pope Parr (wife of Israel Miltiades Parr) was a Folger Pope of Salem, Massachusetts, who supported the Revolutionary cause financially.9

Parr, born September 5, 1892, was the youngest of the three children of Herbert and Margaret Parr Hooper. His sister Mary Bowen Hooper was born in 1888, and Margaret Hooper (my grandmother), in 1890. Herbert had married Margaret Parr in her father’s home at 1112 Madison Avenue in Baltimore, and the young family continued to reside there through 1905. I. M. Parr also possessed a country home, Fernwood, in Green Spring Valley, northwest of Baltimore City, where he and the family went to escape the summer heat; additionally, they vacationed for many years at Cape May in New Jersey and at the Blue Mountain House in western Maryland near the Pennsylvania border.10 While clearly an astute man of business, Israel Miltiades Parr (who, family tradition has it, delighted in his initials), “was domestic in his tastes and cared more for the family circle than for a club life . . . and was never so contented as when surrounded by his wife and children and his grandchildren.”11 The three Parr children thus grew up in comfortable and privileged circumstances in an affectionate extended family. Their father, Herbert Hooper, who, along with his brother Robert Holloway Hooper, graduated from St. John’s in Annapolis, is somewhat overshadowed in family memories by his father-in-law.12 Margaret Parr Hooper, a graduate of the Maryland Art Institute, was an avid photographer as well as a painter of china. Her artistic skill is represented in dinner services, still in the family, variously painted with accurately rendered flowers, birds, and fish.

Shortly after the turn of the century, many things happened that affected the young Parr Hooper. Israel Miltiades Parr died in 1901, and Mary Bowen Pope Parr in 1905. Daughter Margaret and her two sisters inherited the estate, which presumably meant that the Herbert Hoopers were well off. The family moved about half a mile to the northwest of the Madison Avenue residence to a home of their own on Bolton Street; it was probably here that a photo was taken of a model clipper ship built by Parr, evidence of his early interest in ship construction.13 Also around this time—December 17, 1903, to be precise—the Wright brothers flew the first powered aircraft. There is a family tradition that James Russell McQueen, who married Parr’s sister Margaret, saw the Wright brothers fly, although it was likely a later flight rather than the legendary one at Kitty Hawk. In any case, an entirely new field opened up for young men of a mechanical bent.

Not long after the Hooper family moved to Bolton Street, Parr enrolled in Baltimore’s engineering high school, Baltimore Polytechnic, graduating in 1910. That fall he entered Cornell’s Sibley College of Engineering. Among the subjects he studied was naval architecture, but he was also keenly interested in the possibilities of flight. He joined the Cornell Aero Club the fall of his freshman year and entered their second annual (!) model contest in February 1912.14 The description of the event in The Sibley Journal of Engineering merits extended quotation:

Several hundred spectators were present to witness the exhibition. . . . Suspended from the roof, glider No. 2 that entered the meet at Harvard last year, hung as if in full flight, while around the edge were arranged the models built by the contestants where they could be easily seen and examined.

All classes of machines were entered. Several biplanes of beautiful construction were entered by Frank Short, ‘13. Monoplanes appeared to be the favorites, however. Besides these common forms, one or two double manoplanes [sic] of the Langley type appeared among the entries. Considerable diversity existed also in the number and location of propellers. Some placed their propellers behind, others in front again, some employed one propeller, others two revolving in opposite directions. Most of the machines were built of wood and covered with paper or cloth. P. L. Scott, ‘15 presented an interesting model with plans [sic] of sheet aluminum.

Flights started at 8:15. All machines permitted to compete had been weighed, measured, and required to fly at least fifteen feet. According to the rules, the prize was to be awarded to the model attaining the greatest “equivalent” distance, equivalent distance being the actual distance multiplied by the weight of the machine and divided by the lifting area. One by one the miniature aeroplanes set out for the opposite armory wall. Each one after flying some distance performed a difficult maneuvre [sic] such as a spiral glide or cork screw dive and terminated the flight. No machine covered less than twenty five feet and many flew from fifty to eighty feet before alighting. The most daring performances were made by No. 9 and No. 14 which sailed straight upward the former entangling itself in the ball-net and the latter ramming a hole in the suspended glider.

The feature of the evening was the flight of No. 9 built by Parr Hooper, ‘13. The machine was a two-propeller monoplane. Starting from the floor at the east end of the armory it raced straight as a bullet for the other end rising on an even keel at a constant rate. Clearing the balcony railing it persisted in its upward course until brought to a stop by the back wall of the gallery. The flight was the longest of the evening. The actual distance was 127 ft. and the equivalent distance 196 ft. . . .15

While at Cornell Parr remained true to his southern roots by joining the Maryland Club; he joined the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity, as well as the Tau Beta Pi engineering society.16 He excelled in cross country running and was a member of Sibley’s track and cross country teams.17 In 1913 he graduated with a B.S. in mechanical engineering. He worked for a time in Philadelphia at the Lanston Monotype Company before taking a position at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation at Camden, New Jersey.18 In an undated letter apparently written shortly after he began at New York Ship, he told his father:

I am happier than I have ever been. I have been having quite a time combing out my brain in the evening, because I see so much in the day that I am almost intellectually swamped. All last week I did what I have previously traveled far, missed meals and trains to do, viz: walk around the shipyard and see things. I followed up a Cornellian who has been holding down my type of job for about a year, and he explained things and prevented me from getting lost.19

In the same letter, Parr writes enthusiastically about “the installation of the rudder, stone bearings, steering head, stuffing box, and spare tiller on the destroyer Jacob Jones,” which had been laid down August 3, 1914, and was launched in May 1915.20 He goes on: “We (The N. Y. S’bldg Co.) are working on 18 hulls at present. 2 battleships, 3 destroyers, one destroyer tender, one lumber vessel, 6 large colliers, one dredge, 3 oil tankers, and one pontoon hull.”

In early December 1915 he enjoyed showing his new brother-in-law, James Russell McQueen—also very keen on boats—through the yard before taking him and Margaret back to Haddon Heights, New Jersey, where he was living, for dinner. By the next fall he was feeling confident enough in his knowledge and experience to draw up “A Statement Concerning the Pipe Shop,” in which he argued that New York Ship’s incentive or premium system was not getting the most and best work out of its labor force. He recommended that the pipe shop, where he had served as a “premium clerk” and mechanic, institute better supervision of the men, while also setting up a trade school for them, improving working conditions, and providing adequate tools for their jobs, all for the purpose of improving and increasing the output of the yard. The paper closes with the suggestion that he, Parr, would be a good candidate for the position of pipe shop foreman. It would appear, from a later letter, that he sent this paper to Henry A. Magoun, the vice president of New York Ship and that it was apparently sufficiently interesting and talked about that a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, Henry Carter Adams, asked to see it.21 Around the time he wrote the paper he was sponsored by Frank B. King, a retired naval architect, and others, for junior membership in the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and elected at their meeting New York City in November.22 It certainly appeared that Parr’s future would be the sea and ships. When on June 5, 1917, a form required him to state his “trade, occupation or office,” he wrote, rather grandly, “ship builder.”

The form was his draft registration.23 On April 6, 1917, the United States had declared war on Germany, and the Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917, required all men aged 21 to 30 to register. At some point in April, May, or June Parr, rather than waiting for the draft to determine his fate, volunteered for the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps. There is no direct discussion in his letters of his motivation for this, but plenty of evidence for his desire to help the Allies defend France by defeating Germany—and for his eagerness to learn to fly.

The Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps (A.S.S.C.) was the predecessor of today’s Air Force. The origins of the U.S. Signal Corps itself go back to just before the Civil War, when army doctor Albert J. Myer persuaded the army of the usefulness of a signalling system called “wig-wagging”—using flags or torches—to transmit information. The central mission of the Signal Corps, then and now, is communications and intelligence. During the Civil War, the U. S. Army Signal Corps became involved with aeronautics when balloons were used by the Union for reconnaissance. Aeronautics again came into the purview of the Signal Corps shortly after the Wright brothers demonstrated the feasibility of heavier-than-air flight. The Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps, existed from 1907 until 1914, in which year it was absorbed into and replaced by the newly established Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. There were efforts to establish aviation as an independent entity of the military, but it remained under the Signal Corps throughout World War I. There are political, organizational, personality-related, and other reasons for this state of affairs, but one justification was that for some time during World War I the function of airplanes was reconnaissance, i.e, the information gathering and transmission role central to the mission of the Signal Corps. The use of planes in actual combat developed only gradually.

The Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps, underfunded, understaffed, and underresourced, faced enormous challenges when the U.S. entered the war in 1917.24 Among them was the need to train the large number of men who had jumped at the chance to learn to fly and had volunteered—and passed initial screening—for the A.S.S.C., and who were desperately needed at the front. A training system was instituted modeled on the system already established by Britain’s Royal Flying Corps (R.F.C.), which divided instruction into ground school, primary flying school, and advanced flying school. Ground school, as the name implies, involved no flying and was thus not hindered by the most crucial, and largely unmet, challenge to the A.S.S.C., a lack of planes. After study of the R.F.C.’s ground school at the University of Toronto in early May, Hiram Bingham, discoverer of Machu Picchu, professor at Yale, and subsequently a major in the Signal Officers’ Reserve Corps, oversaw the establishment of ground schools at eight U.S. universities (the Universities of California, Illinois, and Texas, Ohio State University, Cornell, M.I.T., Princeton, and Georgia School of Technology). Six of these Schools of Military Aeronautics were teaching their first classes by the end of May; Princeton and Georgia by the end of June or early July. New batches of students arrived and began an eight-week (later lengthened to twelve-week) course of instruction each week.25

Parr began ground school at the Ohio State University School of Military Aeronautics on June 25, 1917. During the first weeks (nominally three, but in fact four), when he was in the “junior wing,” he and his approximately thirty-five classmates were not permitted to leave campus (except for church on Sunday). This period was “given over to intensive military training, instruction in military topics, and practical work on the machine gun and the radio buzzer.” 26 The day started with calisthenics, and there were frequent drill exercises. Evidently some of the cadets found the military discipline—an aspect of their training insisted upon by General Pershing27— irksome, but Parr’s letters from this period are more focused on the camaraderie among the students, the beauties and resources of the campus (library, swimming pool, student union), the fourth of July festivities, and—a theme throughout his time at ground school—“the wireless code [which] is the hardest thing we have. . . .”28 Language arts of any kind were not Parr’s strong suit (he later struggled with Italian), and learning “buzzer,” i.e., Morse code, presented an enormous challenge. It is a credit to his perseverance and determination to graduate to flying school that he ultimately passed a major exam in wireless with 100% (an event that merited a telegram to his mother). Remarkably, he never later complained that as a pursuit pilot in France he had no occasion to send or receive wireless code.29

On July 23, 1917, Parr wrote his mother: “We are Squadron D now and started on a regular stiff college schedule this morning.” In theory, the class moved weekly up the letters of the alphabet until they reached their 8th week and “H Squadron.” However, as men came in with seniority from officers’ reserve schools, they crowded out those already enrolled, with the result, for example, that Parr had spent two weeks in “B Squadron.” One might regard this as an example of the flexibility of the military or one might conclude that they were having to make it up as they went along due to the intense pressure on the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps to turn out pilots. In any case, on July 23, Parr was in the “senior wing,” which meant that he and his classmates were permitted to go off campus, but also, as he noted, that they had a “stiff college schedule.” Bingham provides an overview:

The Senior Wing consisted of five weeks of lectures and laboratory instruction, and included signalling with buzzer, lamp, and panelled shutter, and a few lectures on the care of the radio apparatus; care of machine guns, and practice in clearing jams; lectures on bombs, theory of flight, cross-country flying, meteorology, and night flying; explanation of instruments and compasses; practical work in map reading; lectures on types of airplanes; classroom work in aerodynamics; practical work in rigging and repairing; lectures on the principles of internal combustion motors and the care of motors and tools; practical work with various types of engines; a little practice in trouble shooting; lectures on the theory of aerial observation, with special reference to observing artillery fire; practical work with the buzzer on a miniature artillery range; and a few lectures on liaison with infantry, and the latest tactics of fighting in the air.30

During his weeks in the “Senior Wing,” Parr wrote variously: “We took [a machine gun] apart and watched particular actions. It was the most valuable lesson I have had yet.” “In Rigging Lab an army flyer took us all over the machine naming all the parts and functions, and we are supposed to remember them.” “In Eng.[ine] lab Friday I . . . made a pretty good free hand drawing of a aero motor carburator [sic].” “This morning in Lab we had to draw the uncovered body of a curtiss machine showing all the spars, struts, & wires, and then answer about 10 questions about its structural features. Tomorrow we get a test in astronomy and meteorology.” “The chemistry Prof. gave us another lecture on explosives.” “ . . . new class today viz: ‘Maps.’ We have been given a confidential artillery war map of Belgium around Ypres pronounced ‘U-pray.’ We have got an awful bunch of stuff to memorize. A lot of map symbols, 40 wireless code words for signalling from the aeroplane to the artillery and another bunch of code from artillery to aeroplane.” “The Cross Country & General Flying exam tomorrow. It includes, astronomy, meteorology, instruments, and photography.”31

On August 21, 1917, now in his final week and Squadron H,

We had our first class (3 hours) in miniature range today. We use a large university hall with a very high roof. On the floor is a wonderfully executed landscape plan of part of Belgium, on such a scale as it will actually appear from 6,000 feet. We go up on a scaffold platform to observe it.

There is a marvelous system of lights under the map and land signal boxes. On the platform there is wireless key and signal lights. We play the real war game with it. One fellow acts as the artillery battery commander and sets [sic] at the keyboard on the ground, and another fellow up on the scaffold plays aeroplane observer. The fellow on the ground signals up the target and then the observer calls for the various shots and signals down where the shells burst. . . . The map is about 10 x 20 feet and is a work of art, accurate scale corresponding to the real map on the observers [sic] board, and accurately collered [sic].

There were exams every week, and pressure was intense. Bingham wrote that “in view of the large number of applicants, . . . the enormous expense of flying instruction, . . . the shortage of training equipment, . . . and the necessity of getting the best men trained as rapidly as possible, . . . the most important function of the ground school was the elimination of those who did not give immediate promise of becoming good flying officers.”32

Where those who completed ground school successfully would be sent was a matter of intense interest, speculation, and rumor among the cadets. On July 1, 1917, Parr wrote his father: “I wish for August 20 and the Dayton flying school to come.” (In May construction had begun on a flying training field, Wilbur Wright Field, near Dayton.) By July 22, however, the cadets were getting inoculations on the assumption that they would soon be going to France. In early August the news was that some men would be hand-picked to go to France, while the remainder would go to Dayton. By mid-August: “The competition in our squadron for berths to France is the keenest stuff ever.”33 For Parr, a good exam mark brought him closer to France. A poor one: “That bungle in the astronomy quiz makes me sick. Every time I think of it I see the French liner leaving the dock at N.Y. and I am still on the dock.”34 However, also in mid-August, Italy suddenly appeared as a possible destination: “The dope is that when we graduate the 300 honor men that were to be sent to France will have gone and that volunteers were in order for the Italian front or Fort Sill Oklahoma. . . . I and many others put our names down for the Italian Front.”35 By the next day: “Everybody is getting very enthusiastic for Italy. All the jokes, remarks, & songs have shifted from French girls to Italian girls.”

In Parr’s case, all the rumors were wrong, but they reflected options the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was frantically exploring as it sought to provide ground school graduates with actual flight training in the absence of a sufficient number of airplanes in the U.S.

While at ground school, Parr managed, despite the pressure of classes and exams, to enjoy an active social life. There were women attending summer school at Ohio State University, and there were dances, dinners, swimming dates, and canoeing. Early on, he became good friends with a fellow Marylander, Temple Nash Joyce, who was in the class ahead of him. He double dated with John Chadbourn Rorison, in the class behind (and other men from that class figure in his later letters: Robert T. Palmer, Thomas J Herbert, and Dudley H. Mudge). Mainly, however, he palled around with men in his own class/squadron. The membership in the squadron shifted: only 7 advanced from B to C on July 16, 1917, with the rest of C filled out with new men coming in from an officers training camp. But most of the men Parr writes about during this period were members of the final “H Squadron” who graduated August 25, 1917, and who went on to Europe with him: Guy Samuel King “Red” Wheeler, Charles Carver “Rox” Fleet, Dewitt “Dewey” Coleman, Hugh Douglas Stier, and Clarence Horne Fry. There is a photo of Squadron 7 (i.e., the seventh class to graduate from ground school at Ohio State University) taken August 15, 1917, with the men identified, that has been handed down in our family and in at least one other: Stier’s granddaughter has posted a copy of it to her family website.36 The men—a number of whose names come up in Parr’s letters—were, in addition to those just named: Allison Henderson Chapin, William Thomas Clements, James F. Crankshaw, Nathaniel Davis, Philip Dietz, Charles William Harold Douglass, Thomas Franklin Fielder, Roy Olin Garver, Harry Daniel Hundley, Clarence Bernard Maloney, Joseph Kirkbride Milnor, Reuben Lee Paskill, Arthur Sanford Richards, Roland Hammond Ritter, Charles Barbour Rollins, Joseph Frederick Stillman, Jr., Lynn Lemuel Stratton, and George Herbert Zellers.37

After graduation, with “no orders from Washington,” the men were at loose ends, “disappointed about not getting in N.Y. tonight.”38 Parr went home to Baltimore, where he stayed until about September 4, 1917. On September 5, 1917, he wrote his father from “Y.M.C.A., Aviation Field, Mineola, N.Y.” For the next two weeks, the order of the day was “hurry up and wait.” Parr spent one enjoyable weekend, along with Clarence Bernard “Mac” Maloney, at the New Jersey home of their squadron mate Rox Fleet. He also went into Manhattan where his Aunt Ella (his mother’s sister) and her husband Frederick Reese, by now (Episcopal) bishop of Georgia, were staying, and had a pleasant evening of dinner and a show at the Hippodrome with them. On his last Saturday in the States Parr went out to Roselle in New Jersey to visit Louise Harriman Millikin, whom he know from Baltimore; he was enchanted with her and her two young children.

Parr and his mates were also occupied with getting properly outfitted for their journey. There was clothing to be seen to, but also equipment. They had been told they would need field glasses, a compass, and a wrist watch, ideally with a stop watch and second hand, the last to be used “for gauging the distance of shell bursts, bomb dropping, etc., and it will be very important.” For glasses, Parr writes his father “I will take your good opera glasses, many thanks. We do not want powerful glasses because of the vibration of the plane, and I want them small.”39 In his letter of September 5, 1917, from Mineola, Parr thanks his father enthusiastically for the watch, “the best thing in camp.” Parr was also thinking about getting a camera, but his very good friend from New York Ship, Danish-born Knud Sehested, anticipated his wishes and “sent me a most wonderful camera. It is a vest pocket size with all modern improvements. High speed lense and shutter; a very accurate focussing mechanism. 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Ansco. I bought the daylight developing outfit and I will send you home some good pictures.”40

On September 13, 1917, Parr wrote that “our Major took a trip to Wash. yesterday. Before he went the word was that we would go over 3rd class. Now we know we are going first class.” Instructions for mail were sent: “Address me at Washington, Aviation Corps, Washington, Aviation students c/o Major MacDill Italian Detachment.” Finally, in his letter of September 17, 1917: “It is sort of sad that I did not get home again, but it is almost just as well. We don’t have to see each other to know that we are O.K. Good faith in Providence and an optimistic imagination.”

Having spent several years focused on ships and the sea, Parr was off to Europe to take to the air in planes.