Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Old photos reunite friends after 65 years

Byrum Cooper made aviation history in 1957 as a navigator in the first squadron of B-52 bombers to fly nonstop around the world.

The 24,325-mile journey at an average speed of 530 mph required several in-flight refuel­ings. Most important during the Cold War, it demonstrated the nation's ability to deliver a nuclear strike anywhere, any time.

Just 10 years earlier, Cooper didn't think much about war. He enjoyed a simple life in a town so small its high school counted only 17 seniors. He weighed 125 pounds, but every boy played football, and so he did, too.

"Good thing I was fast," he recalls with a fair amount of pride. "I could outrun everybody."

The wildlife near his home on the Pithlachascotee River in New Port Richey fascinated Cooper, especially reptiles. He occasionally let an admiring eighth-grader tag along. They found lots of snakes.

And then one late summer day in 1947, Cooper took his Gulf High School diploma to the University of Florida to study biology. That eighth-grade boy, Walter Casson, would stick around. He would go on to a long and successful career as an engineer. He would become a steward of his hometown's history, keeping up with the lives of many Gulf High grads from his generation.

But for 65 years, Casson never thought much about that older boy who had spent only four years here. Then in June, James Washington Clark III, grandson of Port Richey's first permanent settler, died at age 91. His cousin Frances Mallett, 92, made certain that his collection of old photographs went to Jeff Miller, a Gulf High math teacher who originated and maintains fivay.org, a valuable and growing online museum of Pasco's history. Some of those photos included Cooper.

Casson provided Miller with identifications. He hadn't thought about Cooper in years, so he set about searching the Internet for references to him. Casson found the B-52 story, chronicled in a book called Around the World Flights — a History.

He tracked Cooper to his home near Winter Haven and called him.

"I was rather surprised," said Cooper, 82. "Pleasantly, I must say. It made me think about those carefree days and what a great town New Port Richey was back before the highway (U.S. 19). Can you imagine? There were only 700 people in all of west Pasco. Everybody knew each other. But once I moved away, and especially once I started moving around every few years in the military, I just lost touch."

Cooper's time in New Port Richey could be attributed to tragedy and the citrus industry. His mother died the day after he was born. His father, a cabinet maker in Winter Haven, had 14 children from three wives. Byrum came last. Three years later, his father died and Byrum eventually moved in with a brother 16 years older who ran a citrus-packing house in Palm Harbor.

"We moved to New Port Richey just as I entered high school," Cooper said, "because it was a lot nicer than Palm Harbor. We lived on the river. I walked to school."

In his third year at the University of Florida, Cooper accepted Air Force recruiters' invitation to sign up for flight school. "I washed out after 30 hours," he said, "and went into navigation training." In nearly three decades as an Air Force officer, he worked on B-47s and B-52s with the Strategic Air Command. He flew aboard AC-130 gunships in Vietnam in 1969-70, strafing enemy targets along the Ho Chi Minh trail and the Mekong River at night.

He jokes that he spent three years at the Pentagon "flying a desk." He retired a lieutenant colonel and returned to Winter Haven. He had three children with his first wife. They divorced after 35 years and he remarried 23 years ago to Linda, who joins him as a volunteer for the Lake Region Audubon. They were caretakers for the Audubon's nature center for 13 years and today help survey wildlife in state parks and water management districts.

Cooper, who goes by "Buck," had mixed emotions when Casson called. His first question: Is Harry Clark still alive? Harry, a descendent of that first settler, died in 2002.

Casson went down the list of Gulf High students from that era who are no longer with us. A thoughtful man, he offered this observation: "It is strange that we have these precious memories, but we're all guilty of not keeping in touch."

Comments
Carlos Gomez says he was guilty of only one thing in Sunday’s epic walkoff homer celebration

Carlos Gomez says he was guilty of only one thing in Sunday’s epic walkoff homer celebration

BALTIMORE – Carlos Gomez is perfectly willing to explain the specific elements that went into his epic celebration tour around the bases following Sunday's walkoff home run.The bat flip and raised arms were his initial reaction to how well he h...
Updated: 21 minutes ago

High school scoreboard for April 24

Tuesday’s scoreboardBaseballCalvary Chr. 8, Jesuit 1Boys TennisClass 3A, District 9-10 Regional Semifinal: Osceola 4, King 1Girls TennisClass 3A, District 9-10 Regional Semifinal: Osceola 4, Freedom 1...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

ST. PETERSBURG — Caps and gowns were in the future for Bryson Welton-Williams and his two friends.Then came Tuesday’s horrific car crash.The three 18-year-old Lakewood High School seniors drove off from school a few minutes early, just 22 days away f...
Updated: 3 hours ago
SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

LAND O’LAKES — A school resource officer at Sunlake High School is under investigation after he tried to take a female student into custody on Tuesday, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.School officials asked the SRO remove the student f...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Teen killed after SUV runs red light; man who fled scene captured

Teen killed after SUV runs red light; man who fled scene captured

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 17-year-old girl was killed Tuesday when her car was hit by a sport-utility vehicle that ran a red light, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.One of the occupants of the SUV who ran from the crash scene was captured hours late...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Softball: Haley Murphy, East Bay back in top form

Softball: Haley Murphy, East Bay back in top form

PLANT CITY — East Bay senior Haley Murphy had to take a few games off early this season to give the flaring tendinitis in her left knee a rest.When Murphy did come back around midseason, East Bay coach Glenn Rodriguez eased her into the fl...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

The family of the 18-year-old Sarasota high school student under fire for the racist prom proposal he sent out on social media this weekend has publicly apologized for their son’s actions.They also said that as a result of his actions, he will not at...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Softball: Boca Ciega gets a shot at defending district champ

DUNEDIN — Standing in centerfield during her team's Class 6A-9 district semifinal Tuesday night, Boca Ciega's Mia Blasingane had one dominating thought: "We want Tarpon Springs real bad. I was saying that to myself. I want to see Tarpon Springs...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Softball: Alonso knocks off defending state finalist PHU in 9A-8 semifinals

PALM HARBOR — To get an idea of just how tough the competition is in Class 9A, District 8, consider that there has been a different tournament champion each of the past three seasons.All three — Newsome (2015), Alonso (2016) and Palm Harb...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rays Journal: On the early rainout, pitching plans, medical matters, more

Rays Journal: On the early rainout, pitching plans, medical matters, more

BALTIMORE – If the Rays were going to get rained out Tuesday, they were happy  the Orioles made the decision at a good hour, around 5 p.m."I think they probably did the right thing in the fact that they knew there's a bunch of rain coming,...
Updated: 3 hours ago