This information about Lt Robert E. Copeland was provided by his nephew and my friend, Bill Copeland.
Lt Robert E. Copeland was a member of the 881st Squadron of the 500th Bomb Group in the 73rd Wing and copilot of the
B-29 42-24849, tail designation "Z Square 8." His B-29 was rammed by a Japanese fighter and crashed into a POW Camp near Kobe
on March 17, 1945. Two crewmembers survived but were subsequently beheaded by their captors. Lt Copeland's diary entries show
his daily activities from March 1, 1945 until he was killed on March 17, 1945 and are shown in the book, "Z Square 7, A B-29
The remains of Lt Copeland were returned to the United States in 1948 and buried at Normal Hill Cemetery in Lewiston,
Idaho. Lt Copeland was 20 years old.
This unfinished letter to his mother was found in his personal belongings.
The thing about combat that is beginning to impress me most is
the appreciation I now have for the finer things of life. The love one has for their friends, the love and need for a woman,
and the things one wants to do for that dream girl when this thing is all over. A woman somewhere seems to be the driving
force behind all men in combat.
You're so scared that even at 400 miles an hour doesn't seem fast
enough. The bomb run is only four or five minutes long, but it seems like hours.The bomb bay doors are only open for one or
two minutes, but that seems like an eternity because that's when we are most vulnerable. Each burst of flak jeers at you and
says, "I'll get you yet" and any second you expect a burst to do just that. All of a sudden the flak quits and as you
start to breathe a sigh of relief, someone says, "fighters at 10 o'clock, coming in," You begin to relax now because here's
something to do, something you can shoot back at. They're coming in all over, 9,3,10,12 and 2 o'clock; the tailgunner is even
calling out some from the rear. During all this the bombs have gone away, the doors are closed and we're hightailing it for
home and a nice juicy steak, maybe. You aren't even thinking of that though because that damned upper turret is playing a
raucous death song for the devil that just went between us and our wingman. Here comes another one at 12 o'clock level, the
Jap puts his Tony up on its side and he keeps getting bigger and bigger, his four guns are winking at us, you think he is
going to ram us. somehow he doesn't and we continue to beat our way out of what seems like an abyss. Maybe it's more like
a wild horrible nightmare from which it is impossible to awaken, but neverless, we do make it once more. We are smiling, shaking
hands with each other and recounting the events of the past few minutes as though they were just part of a dream.
As we approached the target in the center of Tokyo, the searchlights
suddenly come on and light up the whole sky. For a while they weaved around like tentacles of an octopus, but suddenly one
of them flashed by then came around again and on the third try hit us squarely and stayed on us.
The rest, attracted like flies to a piece of candy, swung on us
and they all followed us through the bomb run. It was impossible to see out in any direction except up. And there the stars
were shining their encouragement and I offered a prayer to God at that very moment. It must have been answered because flak
was exploding so close that it was rocking the ship and we could hear it, but only one hole was in the ship. The Bombardier
says, "Bombs away" and we begin as violent an evasive action as possible. During this one fighter has made his pass and missed.
Soon the flak ceases. I looked out the same upper window and offered a prayer of thanks for our deliverance from that which
would have liked to crush us.
We've survived six missions now and they seem to be getting easier,
at least mentally. The raid over Akashi was easy. I'll never forget how beautiful the trip could have been had we not been
under the strain of battle. In the clear, cold rarefied air at 28,000 feet and in the brilliant sunlight things take on a
different aspect. You're so much closer to God up there and it's easy to call on Him for His help and that's what I did. He
must have answered my prayers. Japan rose out of the sea as a dark brown blotch but soon evolved into familiar shapes and
a beauty which I hadn't noticed before. Nagoya Bay was on our right and it's color of azure blue and the contrasting
pine covered mountains on it's west shore was a scene of immense tranquility. Those pine covered mountains brought back
memories of a country that will always be dear to me. (north Idaho and eastern Washington) Off in the distance was Mount Fujiyama
and it's snow covered cone protruding over the cumulus and was a sight of rare beauty. Beauty soon took a back seat and war
with all its threats gripped us.
The door to the Black Corridor had again been shut and we were
again traversing its floor and wondering if we would see the other end. Over Osaka the flak started coming up and soon fighters
were reported. It turned out to be one of our easiest trips over the target. When we left the coast the Door again seemed
to open wide and again the sun was shining. Again I offered my thanks to the Lord who had brought us safely through these
I am not afraid to fly in combat but on each mission I become
more and more aware of the insipid foolishness of war. I don't want to kill anyone. I want to be free to live my life in peace
doing the things I like to do most. My whole life is flying, everything I have ever done has been pointed toward that thing
alone and without it I think I would be as empty as a seashell on the beach. It hurts very deeply to have that which is paramount
to me connected with fear, pain and even death.
I had visions of a small amount of success in burning out Tokyo,
but couldn't under any circumstance have imagined the amount of damage we did achieve. Dante's Inferno would have taken on
proportions comparable to a bonfire. As we approached the coastline we began to see a faint glow in the direction of the city
and a good many small fires out on Chosi Point started by our ships unable to reach Tokyo. As we turned in towards our target,
it vanished behind an enormous cloud of smoke. Searchlights were weaving around but they didn't pick us up and we soon entered
the smoke that spread for many miles east of Tokyo. We could smell burning wood and the heat waves rocked us as though we
were in a storm. We broke out and found ourselves flying in a corridor formed by two pillars of smoke, the end of which could
have been the "Gates of Hell," because there at our feet lay Tokyo by now a sea of flames. It was a horribly wonderful sight
and one I'll never forget. Fires were everywhere and the destruction wrought could have been nothing less than catastrophe.
This was the end of the letter.