‘ Cooler King’

Daugh­ter of war hero and ar­chi­tect shares story

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - BETH BRIGHT

In 1963, Steve McQueen brought to life the char­ac­ter of the Cooler King in the film “The Great Es­cape,” which re­told the ac­count of a mass es­cape from Sta­lag Luft III in Sa­gan, Ger­many, 20 years ear­lier. The Cooler King, an ac­com­plished forger and es­cape artist, was based on none other

than Hot Springs na­tive Ir­ven Granger McDaniel.

“It’s the great­est story ever told,” said Diana Hampo, McDaniel’s daugh­ter. “It’s one of those sto­ries that has its place and time in his­tory and it shouldn’t be for­got­ten.”

McDaniel, who was best known in Hot Springs for his ar­chi­tec­ture, de­signed with his father the Va­pors, Belvedere Coun­try Club, First United Methodist Church, City Hall, Horner Hall, and The Greater Hot Springs Cham­ber of Com­merce, “just to name a few.”

“I joke a lot of times that they de­signed ev­ery­thing in town,” Hampo said. “My dad and my grand­fa­ther both have build­ings on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places, which is re­ally cool for a father and son.”

But to un­der­stand his ar­chi­tec­ture, she said, one has to know the full story of the war hero.

In the early 1940s, prior to the United States’ in­volve­ment in World War II, McDaniel was a stu­dent at Hot Springs High School and tak­ing fly­ing lessons. He was 17 years old.

“Even though Amer­ica wasn’t in­volved yet, he de­cided he needed to save the world,” Hampo said. “And with that, he forged his birth cer­tifi­cate and went to Canada to en­list in the effort. They needed pi­lots, so they sent him to Eng­land to the Royal Air Force.”

McDaniel en­listed in the R. A. F. on July 4, 1941, just five months be­fore Pearl Har­bor, and was a cap­tain of a Short Stir­ling Bomber, a four- en­gine plane with a crew of nine men, in­clud­ing him­self.

“Keep in mind, he’s 17,” she said. “That just amazes me.”

Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle in The Sen­tinel- Record in 1942, af­ter sev­eral suc­cess­ful flights, McDaniel was “cited with other mem­bers of his crew by King Ge­orge of Eng­land for his courage and skill in car­ry­ing out raids across the chan­nel.”

A week later, Hampo said her father’s story took a turn for the worse.

“His plane was shot down over Ger­many, but he was sure that he could make it home,” she said. “But when he re­al­ized he couldn’t, he had to crash in the North Sea. He was thrown through the wind­shield and was able to get two of his crew out.”

McDaniel later re­counted the story of the crash in an in­ter­view with The Sen­tinel- Record, say­ing six of the crew were killed by a Ger­man Messer­schmitt.

“The front gun­ner, mid- up­per gun­ner and I were the only of our crew to suc­ceed in get­ting into the dinghy,” McDaniel said in the ar­ti­cle, ex­plain­ing that they floated for four days and nights “sub­sist­ing on one malt tablet a day and a very small amount of wa­ter, be­fore be­ing picked up by a Dan­ish fish­er­man.”

The fish­er­man could not take the men to Eng­land for fear of putting his fam­ily in jeop­ardy, so McDaniel and his men were turned over to the Ger­mans in Den­mark.

While this would seem to be the end for any other story, McDaniel had other plans.

“He had writ­ten a let­ter to his mother on Whit­ting­ton Av­enue, and the one thing he asked the fish­er­man to do af­ter turn­ing him over to the Nazis was to make sure that let­ter got to his mother,” she said.

The let­ter, she said, was witty and full of warmth and faith, though in it he apol­o­gized for let­ting his fam­ily down.

The let­ter says that he thought he could take his crew home on three en­gines, and tried to get his crew to crash po­si­tions be­fore the crash.

“Hon­est mom, I want you all to know I tried to save my crew,” he wrote.

Not be­ing able to save more of his crew was some­thing that al­ways tor­tured McDaniel.

“He told her he was go­ing to be ‘ just fine’ in POW camp and that he was plan­ning to use the time to learn ar­chi­tec­ture,” she said. “Where he got the idea that he would be able to learn ar­chi­tec­ture in POW camp, I’ll never know.”

The let­ter ar­rived to the home on Whit­ting­ton two weeks later with no post­mark and no stamp. By some work of “the un­der­ground” his let­ter made it to his mother, Hampo said. On Aug. 17, 1942, he was im­pris­oned by the Ger­man govern­ment.

“Be­cause he’s a man of good faith, he was some­how put in the camp with an ar­chi­tec­ture pro­fes­sor from the Univer­sity of War­saw,” she said.

Over the course of McDaniel’s time in the camps, Hampo said he es­caped sev­eral times.

“His job was to es­cape, and ev­ery time they would catch him, they put him in the cooler — or soli­tary con­fine­ment,” she said. “It was a small, con­crete cell with no lights. He was there so many times, that’s where he got the nick­name the Cooler King. For fans of Steve McQueen, this is their fa­vorite part of the story.”

Spend­ing a lot of time in soli­tary con­fine­ment made McDaniel creative in his ways of pass­ing the time.

“He said in one in­ter­view that he prac­ticed yoga while in the cooler and you think ‘ In the 1940s?’ I mean, who prac­ticed yoga in the ’ 40s?” she said. “But in do­ing that, he would re­mem­ber the math the­o­rems from his text­books and if he con­cen­trated long enough, he could re­mem­ber the ex­act pages and the cap­tions un­der the di­a­grams. He said he could re­mem­ber en­tire books and would re- read them, page by page.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hampo, her father was a man who never lost faith in the fu­ture, mankind or his abil­ity to change the world, some­thing that was re­flected through his en­tire life.

“Any­one who met him knew he was blessed and mag­i­cal, and that was ev­i­denced at an early age,” she said. “He and my mother met and fell in love in third grade at Jones School. They wrote let­ters back and forth the en­tire time he was ‘ sav­ing the world.’”

Hampo said half the let­ters were sweet and lov­ing, while the other half were the two “bick­er­ing back and forth about his mus­tache.”

In his at­tempts to es­cape, McDaniel worked in the forgery depart­ment, forg­ing doc­u­ments and pa­per­work those es­cap­ing would need to get past guards, Hampo said.

In four of his at­tempts to es­cape, he made it out­side the camp. In 1943, he suc­cess­fully es­caped and made his way to the Rus­sian bor­der.

“He came home to Hot Springs af­ter that, and when he got here he sat for his ar­chi­tec­ture li­cen­sure and with­out his high school diploma, he made the high­est score in the state’s his­tory,” Hampo said.

For McDaniel, his ex­pe­ri­ences in WWII were his in­spi­ra­tion for some of his most fa­mous build­ings in Hot Springs — he looked for de­tails peo­ple wouldn’t nor­mally think of.

“Take the old field house at Hot Springs High School with its near- per­fect acous­tics,” she said. “That field house was de­signed af­ter a French air­plane hangar, and it looks like it.”

When Hampo’s father died in the mid- 1970s, her mother, Ann Stell McDaniel, was pas­sion­ate about of­fer­ing orig­i­nal art­work, draw­ing plans and let­ters to the ac­tual build­ing own­ers as part of their ar­chi­tec­tural legacy, a tra­di­tion her daugh­ter has car­ried on.

“When we can’t find the own­ers or they don’t re­ally want them, we have placed draw­ings and blue­prints at the ( Gar­land County) His­tor­i­cal Society,” she said. “Ar­chi­tec­ture can have a tremen­dous im­pact on a com­mu­nity. My father’s work was so strong and elegant, I’m proud ev­ery time I get to talk to folks about his work.”

Re­cently, Hampo found sev­eral draw­ings and de­sign doc­u­ments for the Con­gre­ga­tion House of Is­rael. On Thurs­day, she pre­sented pres­i­dent Mary Klompus and Sue Kop­pel of the Con­gre­ga­tion board with some of these items, as he de­signed the cur­rent build­ing.

Through giv­ing back these de­signs, Hampo hopes when peo­ple learn about his vi­sion, pas­sion and un­wa­ver­ing faith and hero­ics, they will find a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for his de­signs, giv­ing her father the recog­ni­tion he de­serves.

“My hope is that some­day Hot Springs comes to ap­pre­ci­ate the beau­ti­ful build­ings of its past. Not just his, but all of them. We have some of the most beau­ti­ful ar­chi­tec­ture here.

“He be­longs on the Ar­kan­sas Walk of Fame. He’s a war hero and his story is one that needs to be pre­served,” she said.

The Sen­tinel- Record/ Richard Ras­mussen

GIV­ING BACK: Diana Hampo, cen­ter, talks with Con­gre­ga­tion House of Is­rael Board Pres­i­dent Mary Klompus, left, and board mem­ber Sue Kop­pel on Thurs­day about the de­sign doc­u­ments her father cre­ated when work­ing on the con­gre­ga­tion’s cur­rent build­ing.

Sub­mit­ted photo

COOLER KING: Ir­ven Granger McDaniel was best known in Hot Springs for his ar­chi­tec­ture, hav­ing de­signed many well- known build­ings around town, but his time as a Ger­man POW earned him the nick­name the “Cooler King,” which later in­spired Steve McQueen’s...

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