Z SQUARE 7, A B-29 TRUE STORY

Lt Robert E. Copeland

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Lt Raymond "Hap" Halloran
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March 9 and 10, 1945 Over Tokyo
Lt "Hap" Halloran on March 10, 1945
General Earl Johnson
General Earl Johnson Biography
313th Bomb Wing Mining Missions
Lt Robert Copeland, copilot, Z Square 8
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Major Robert Fitzgerald and Lt Robert Copeland

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 True Story."
 
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. 
 
Dear Mom,
          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 six missions.
 
          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.
 
         

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Kobe Hyogo Ken POW Camp where Lt Copeland crashed.

St. Bonaventure Monastery
Capuchin Fathers
1740 Mt. Elliot Avenue
Detroit 7, Mich.

Nov. 7th 1945


Dear Mrs. Copeland

I am a Franciscan Capuchin Missionary Priest - taken on Guam by the Japanese - and was interned nearly four years in Kobe, Japan.

The B-29 in which your son, Lt. Robert E. Copeland, lost his life was body-crashed by a Jap plane immediately over our prison camp two miles back of Kobe at about 4 AM on March 17th of this year, during the first big raid on Kobe.

I am fairly certain that your son was one of the five killed instantly when the tail-assembly fell (at the body-crash) on a ridge behind our camp. Sgt. David W. Kelley was also one of those five. Only two men survived the crash. Lt. Robert W. Nelson and S/Sgt. Algy S. Augunas - and I hope they are now home.

When the Jap soldiers failed to bury the bodies we internees secretly buried them, and later erected crosses with their names - and marked the spots clearly. Rest assured that we Fathers in camp prayed at the graves and also in our masses for the men.

One of the internees most active in learning all details about the crash is Mr. Harold E. Brinkerhoff (of California) - but I cannot remember his address. I began a letter to you about three weeks ago, but waited to see if I could obtain Mr. Brinkerhoff's address.

Please accept my sympathy at your great loss. These men were real heroes and they helped save many lives - Although the lost their own. Shall let you know if I learn more.

May God grant your son eternal rest!

Sincerely yours,

Fr. Marcian Pellet

O.F.M. Cap

P.S. Fr. Alvin says that he buried Robert's body, and that it had fallen after the tail assembly. He says that Robert's body was in fine condition and that his grave was well taken care of.

Fr. Marcian P.

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Thank you, Bill Copeland, for providing this information about your Uncle Bob. 

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