Marguerite Harrison reached Poland just in time for the winter holidays. Conditions were harsh. Five years of war had left Warsaw in shambles. Poland, which had emerged from the remnants of three empires, struggled to gain a foothold in the new European order. War had broken out with Russia as Lenin sought to expand his influence and the Bolshevik ideology.
The winter of 1919-1920 was unseasonably cold, and many Warsaw houses lacked fuel. Basic items such as food, clothing, and blankets were scarce, and prices were exorbitant for what little there was. In the poorer sections of the city, Marguerite often saw funeral processions behind the tiny coffins of children who had died of hunger and disease.
Marguerite socialized frequently with Americans from the aid missions working in Warsaw. At a Red Cross dance shortly before Christmas, a nurse introduced Marguerite to young American aviator in a Polish officer’s uniform. He was Merian C. Cooper.
He was only 26, but already he had experienced a life’s worth of adventures. During World War I, he flew bombers over France until the Germans shot down his plane and took him prisoner. With the war’s end, he ventured to Poland to help with food aid. But that work was too tame for the adventurer. He went to Paris, recruited other former American pilots, and formed a bombing squadron to help Poland fight Russia.
Although Marguerite was 15 years older than Cooper, the two hit it off immediately. They had mutual acquaintances, and, even more important, a love for danger and excitement. The day after they met, Cooper returned to his squadron, but they later would share many adventures.