Years-long search ends in ceremony honoring stagefield’s namesake at Fort Novosel

By Leslie Herlick, Fort Novosel Public AffairsJanuary 31, 2024

Mr. Robert Doerer, Deputy to the USAACE Commanding General, Fort Novosel Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Williams, Alabama Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution State Regent Patrice Donnelly, and Fort Novosel Garrison Commander Col. John P. Miller stand together after the Celebration of the Alabama Society’s Penny Pines ceremony at Hooper Stagefield, Fort Novosel, Alabama on Jan. 27, 2024.
Mr. Robert Doerer, Deputy to the USAACE Commanding General, Fort Novosel Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Williams, Alabama Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution State Regent Patrice Donnelly, and Fort Novosel Garrison Commander Col. John P. Miller stand together after the Celebration of the Alabama Society’s Penny Pines ceremony at Hooper Stagefield, Fort Novosel, Alabama on Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo Credit: Leslie Herlick) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT NOVOSEL, Ala. – A ceremony Saturday, Jan. 27 was the culmination of an almost 4-year-long hunt for a lost Penny Pines Forest and monument dedicated to the memory of 1st Lt. Ono David Hooper, a World War I hero. The Alabama Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) State Regent Patrice R. Donnelly presided over a Celebration of the Alabama Society’s Penny Pines at Hooper Stagefield, on Andrews Avenue in Ozark, Alabama.

Mary Lewey, DAR State Registrar, shared the history of the Penny Pines Forest during the ceremony. She said the Penny Pines project was a reforestation project brought forth by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the US Forest Service, to revitalize national forests that had been over-harvested, devastated by fires, and had little replanting. Lewey said that the DAR President General, Mrs. Henry Robert, chose the Penny Pine program as her Golden Jubilee National Project, proclaiming that each state was to have a memorial forest starting in 1939 and culminating in 1941 on the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution 50th Anniversary.

Each chapter was supposed to plant at least 1 acre of forest in their state, which would equal 500 trees. Each tree cost 1 penny, with the money came from donations from patriotic citizens, hence the name Penny Pines Forest. The forests were dedicated to revered Daughters or noble patriots of the time.

The Alabama Penny Pines Forest was planted on the Daleville Highway, four miles west of Ozark, according to a Southern Star news article dated June 5, 1941. The DAR sponsored 43,000 long leaf and slash pine seedlings, meant to grow into a living memorial for 1st Lt. Hooper. This forest preceded the Ozark Triangular Division Camp and Camp Rucker which wasn’t officially opened until May 1, 1942, and the stagefield, which was not built until 1955-1956.

Donnelly stated that one of the projects of the DAR was to find the Alabama Penny Pines Forests. This endeavor began in July 2020, where, through research, it was found in articles from the Southern Star in May and June of 1941 that the DAR unveiled a monument on June 6, 1941, “high on a hill overlooking the crystal water of Lake Tholocco…dedicated Penny Pines Memorial Forest in honor of the late Lieut. Ono D. Hooper, hero of the first World War.” This led their search to then Fort Rucker, where they worked with former US Army Aviation Center of Excellence Historian Ken Tilley to find out more of the history.

Donnelly then challenged the Emassee-Robert Grierson Chapter to find this forest and marker. Lisa Bonnell, a member of the chapter, said she was intrigued with the challenge as she was familiar with the post and the area near the Ozark gate, having spent many summers here with her aunt and uncle, who was a pilot at then Fort Rucker.

Bonnell contacted Bob Mitchell, the director of the US Army Aviation Museum, and told him about their discovery and asked what he knew about the forest and the monument. Mitchell drove out to Hooper on his lunch hour and found the lost monument, which was not exactly lost, but, sadly, just forgotten. The monument sits on a white boulder just south of the air traffic control tower, about 50 feet from Andrews Avenue, and has been there most likely, for the last 70 years.

The monument dedicated to the memory of 1st Lt. Ono David Hooper at Hooper Stagefield at Fort Novosel, Alabama.
The monument dedicated to the memory of 1st Lt. Ono David Hooper at Hooper Stagefield at Fort Novosel, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Leslie Herlick) VIEW ORIGINAL

Mitchell said of the DAR monument search, “That was a revelation to me. I flew there for many years and knew it was called Hooper. I assumed it was named for someone killed in Vietnam. It was fascinating to hear the whole story.”

Mitchell, US Army Aviation Museum Curator Bryant MacFarlane, and then Garrison Public Affairs Officer Jimmie Cummings arranged a visit to Hooper Stagefield for the Emassee-Robert Grierson Chapter members to see and photograph the monument in January 2023. The chapter then set in motion the celebration.

Curator Bryant MacFarlane and Director Bob Mitchell from the US Army Aviation Museum with the ladies from the Emessee-Robert Grierson Chapter of the Alabama Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Jan. 2023, on the day that they found the “lost” monument dedicated to the memory of 1st Lt. Ono David Hooper on Hooper Stagefield at Fort Novosel, Alabama.
Curator Bryant MacFarlane and Director Bob Mitchell from the US Army Aviation Museum with the ladies from the Emessee-Robert Grierson Chapter of the Alabama Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Jan. 2023, on the day that they found the “lost” monument dedicated to the memory of 1st Lt. Ono David Hooper on Hooper Stagefield at Fort Novosel, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jimmie Cummings) VIEW ORIGINAL

During the celebration ceremony, Donnelly praised service members and the Army. She said, “How apt the DAR forest was planted on land that would become a military base, as one of the mission areas of the DAR is patriotism.” She said that the stone that holds the memorial plaque dedicated to the memory of 1st Lt. Hooper “is steadfast, dedicated, and unwavering just like the soldiers of the United States Army.”

Fort Novosel Garrison Commander, Col. John P. Miller, who hosted the celebration, thanked the DAR members for their diligence in honoring the stagefield’s namesake.

Donnelly concluded the celebration, saying, “Today, we celebrate this marker. We also celebrate the brave men and women who answer their country’s call to serve and defend our liberties, and we must never forget all they do to ensure our freedom.”

Fort Novosel Garrison Command  Sgt. Maj. Gary Williams and Garrison Command Col. John P. Miller with the ladies of the Alabama Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution after the Celebration of the Alabama Society’s Penny Pines ceremony at Hooper Stagefield, Fort Novosel, Alabama on Jan. 27, 2024.
Fort Novosel Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Williams and Garrison Command Col. John P. Miller with the ladies of the Alabama Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution after the Celebration of the Alabama Society’s Penny Pines ceremony at Hooper Stagefield, Fort Novosel, Alabama on Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo Credit: Leslie Herlick) VIEW ORIGINAL

To read more about 1st Lt. Ono David Hooper, read the story- 1st Lt. Ono David Hooper: A true and gallant hero of World War I.