In June 1915 there passed through the sally port of the old West Academic Building and into the area of South Barracks a tall, lean and erect son of the Old South from North Carolina—the son of a Naval Academy graduate of the Class of 1885. Maxwell M. Corpening, Max to us, had come to begin his military career at West Point. It is a good guess that Max’s love of horses turned him towards the Military Academy rather than Annapolis. His love of fine horses, dogs, and rolling hills was with Max all the days of his life.
Max brought to West Point the finest traditions of the Southland and that, combined with his West Point training, resulted in a very worthy representation of the Long Gray Line: his very attitude conveyed his love of Country, his courage to fight for it, and his dedication to the motto "Duty Honor Country.”
The Class of June 1918 was graduated after three years in the midst of World War I. Max was retained at the Academy as an Instructor in Tactics and Equitation for a year. With the signing of the Armistice, Max felt, as so many others did at that time, that a military career held a questionable future, and in so doing resigned his commission. Two years later, after being away from the Service and horses, Max, on being solicited, accepted reinstatement of his commission as a 1st lieutenant of Field Artillery and served for three years at Fort Sill with the school detachment. During this time, Max was again with his horses and during off-duty hours played polo and rode drag hunts. During this period a lifelong friendship developed with Colonel Robert R. McCormick, owner of the Chicago Tribune. Max resigned a second time and going to Chicago started a career with the distinguished newspaper owned by his friend.
During the years of the mid and later 1920’s Max, under sponsorship of Colonel McCormick, organized, coached and played with a polo team that established a fine record of wins over losses. But a real problem to them was a convenient place to play polo. Several country estates had polo fields, but in Chicago there was only one, a National Guard Armory.
Colonel McCormick organized a group to acquire land and build a riding club; Max was assigned the responsibility of guiding and directing the design, and the supervision of the construction. With this successfully completed, Chicago could boast of an indoor riding arena in downtown Chicago second to none in the Country. Polo flourished; Max as manager built this establishment into an outstanding, successful Riding Club. It was during these years that Max’s personality, keen sense of exploitations, and fine horsemanship paid off in establishing many lifelong friendships.
In late 1928 and early 1929 there was talk of a Chicago World’s Fair; Colonel McCormick brought together a group that sponsored the Chicago Black Horse Troop. This was Headquarters Troop of the 106th Cavalry National Guard. Max, as captain, with two fellow West Pointers and the son of the Commanding General, 33d Division, tackled the job of organizing this troop. This included the purchase of horses, and the recruitment of men to include a 48-piecc mounted band. The Chicago Riding Club was the scene of this activity. The troop was a great success and helped contribute pomp for receptions for many dignitaries, and went on to a fine record in World War II under the command of one of the original recruits. The training of this troop as a headquarters troop, and also as a rifle troop, was carried out very satisfactorily, and it was all a high tribute to Max’s leadership and ability.
War clouds were gathering, and Max had to devote all of his time to his job as Military Editor of the Chicago Tribune. For the next two years until 1937 his writings on military matters brought him high praise from many parts of the Country.
In 1937 he gave up his desk as Military Editor and became War Correspondent for the Chicago Tribune; for the next five years Max visited every major country in the world, and many minor ones, gathering news for Tribune readers. He covered the Japanese Invasion of China and thence around the world through the countries of Europe. During these years Max chalked up a lot of flying hours; and his dispatches on this trip carried such date lines as Honolulu, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Hankow, Manila, Makassar, Bali, Surabaya, Singapore, Bangkok, Rangoon, Jodpur, Baghdad, Athens, Ankara, Sofia, Rome, Bucharest, Budapest, Belgrade, and Saragossa, Spain. His return to the United States was in time to permit him to cover the maneuvers of the 7th Cavalry Brigade, the first outfit to be mechanized in the United States Army. Other assignments of this nature were the Army maneuvers held in the fall of 1938, the Plattsburgh maneuvers in August 1939, the maneuvers of the Second U.S. Army in May 1941, and the mimic warfare between the Second and Third Armies in the autumn of 1941.
In between times Max found time to take assignments that carried him to Latin America covering the eighth Pan-American Conference, held at Lima, Peru. He also reported conditions in the Central American Republics and in South America, in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. Following this there was another trip around the world with dateline stories from Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin, Basel, Lisbon, and London. During his stay in London his hotel was struck by a bomb, but Max lived to tell the tale; unscathed and as debonair as ever.
This was not the end of his travels because it was not long before he was off around the Cape of Good Hope in an effort to reach the Libyarn battle lines. En route he traveled through Rhodesia, Portuguese East Africa, Cape Colony, the Belgian Congo, and the Italian colony of Eritrea; being the first American correspondent to reach the Eritrean front. His writings described the British siege of Keren in detail. This trip was no luxury flight, but by air, by truck, and afoot, he finally reached Cairo.
It is not known just when and how Max developed his ability to write, but develop it he did, and in between his reporting he wrote on many phases of military activity, strategy, equipment, aviation, artillery, cavalry, mechanized forces, and horses. During all these busy years Max took this flying about with the cool composure of the Southern Gentleman which he was—every inch of his six-foot plus frame. It seems as if I can hear him now telling of his experiences as if he had been having just a wonderful time.
These days of being a world roving correspondent came to an end as the United States was drawn into World War II. In late 1942 Max finished a Senior Staff Course at Camp Davis in his home state of North Carolina. From then until the end of 1945 he served well in various antiaircraft groups in this Country and several staff assignments in England and Paris.
After World War II Max returned to Chicago and was one of the very first to realize the great need to develop industrial areas; referred to today as "Industrial Parks.” In this Max was, as usual, successful. Through all these years (35 in all), Max served on the Board of the Lake Shore National Bank. He finally settled down at “Sunny Oaks”—his home—with Grace his wife, his horses, his dogs, the hills, woods, and streams of that beautiful spot and called himself a “farmer.”
Max was a keen observer, direct and forthright; he was kind yet never feared to speak his mind when he felt it was the proper thing to do, or that it could result in benefit: either long range or short range. He was a sincere and fine friend, and I am sure that all who knew Max as I knew him admire and hold him in high regard, exemplifying all that our Alma Mater stands for.
-J. T. K. Aug. 1918