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First Lieutenant William E. Copeland
U. S. Army

April 25, 1913 - October 24, 1944
Center Hill Cemetery

Oakhurst, San Jacinto County, Texas

Gold Star Mother

Nettie Irene Jones Copeland

1st Lieutenant William Edward Copeland, U.S. Army [April 25, 1913 - October 24, 1944] was born to Jack Erastus Copeland [April 9, 1891 - May 29, 1970] and Nettie Irene (Jones) Copeland [September 9, 1894 - January 13, 1981] at San Jacinto County, Texas.  He married Miss Mary E. Zipprian of Matagorda, Texas and they had two children, William Edward Jr. born in Freeport, TX and Anna Belle.  On November 25, 1940 at Huntsville, Texas he joined the U.S. Army from the National Guard.  At the time of his death he was attached to the 17th Infantry Brigade, 7th Infantry “Hourglass or Bayonet” Division. In 1943 the Division was trained in amphibious warfare and later participated in the liberation of the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska.  It was on the island of Attu 1st Lieutenant Copeland was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross  for extraordinary heroism  on May 24, 1943.  On January 31, 1944 the Division landed on islands in the Kwajalein Atoll in conjunction with the 4th Marine Division, and in a week of heavy fighting, wrested them from the Japanese.  Elements took part in the capture of Engebi in the Eniwetok Atoll, February 18, 1944.  The Division then moved to Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, remaining there until mid-September when it sailed to join the assault on the Philippines.  On October 20, 1944, the Division made an assault landing at Dulag, Leyte, and after heavy fighting secured airstrips at Dulag and San Pablo. On October 24, 1944 the 17th Infantry Brigade was engaged with other units in the capture of the Buri airstrip near Burauen, during the battle 1st Lt. Copeland was Killed in Action.  He received the Silver Star Medal for his heroism during the taking of the airstrip. He was first interred at the U.S. Armed Forces Cemetery, Leyte #1, Philippine Islands. After his family requested his remains be repatriated to the United States c.1948/49, he was returned home and buried at Center Hill Cemetery, Oakhurst, San Jacinto, County, Texas.  While he was overseas his wife Mary and the children were living with her Mother, Minnie Belle Zipprian, at Matagorda, Texas.  As a result of her living in Matagorda, the War Department erroneously classified 1st Lt. Copeland as a Matagorda County casualty, when he should have been classified as a San Jacinto County casualty.  We are proud to honor his service and heroic sacrifice on our county war memorial.

Leyte Cemetery under construction.
Photo Courtesy of the LT.COL. O. H. Davidsmeyer collection

Ceremonies to commemorate
first flag-raising ceremony
at Leyte cemetery.



Photo Courtesy of the
LT.COL. O. H. Davidsmeyer collection


The following letter from the War Department has been received by Mrs. Mary E. Copeland of Matagorda, telling of the posthumous award of the Silver Star for gallantry while serving as first lieutenant in the Philippines.

Lt. Copeland is the son of Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Copeland of Huntsville. He entered the service Nov. 225[sic], 1940, from the National Guard and served in the Aleutians, Hawaii, the Marshall Islands and met his death October 24, 1944. He held the Purple Heart.

Mrs. Copeland and their two children Anna Belle and William, Jr., make their home in Matagorda.

The communication reads:

DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS            “For extraordinary heroism, in action at [Attu, Alutian Islands] May 24, 1943. Lieutenant Copeland’s platoon was stopped and pinned to the ground by heavy enemy machine gun and rifle fire as it attacked up a precipitous and hazardous slope on [Attu]. Lieutenant Copeland led a small group of his men to a position where they could place fire upon the enemy. He then crawled forward, alone, under withering enemy machine gun and rifle fire to within grenade range of the enemy position, from which he killed and drove the enemy out with grenades. This daring action permitted Lieutenant Copeland’s platoon to advance to its objective. His determined and aggressive leadership contributed greatly toward the ultimate reduction of the enemy and capture of [Attu].”

SILVER STAR            “For gallantry in action near [Burauen, Leyte, Philippine Islands], at [Buri airstrip] , on 24 October 1944. When the motorized patrol which he was leading encountered a [Japanese] soldier, Lieutenant Copeland promptly opened fire and killed him. He dismounted, moved forward, located an enemy strongpoint, and despite heavy fire from this position, moved to his vehicle and radioed the location to his Battalion Commander, thus enabling the main body to advance without danger of a surprise attack. Upon completion of this mission, and without waiting for reinforcements, he initiated a flanking attack against the enemy position. While leading his men in this heroic attack, Lieutenant Copeland was mortally wounded by enemy fire. His courageous and self-sacrificing devotion to duty so inspired his men that they held their position against a superior enemy force until reinforced.”                                           

The Daily Tribune
, July 31, 1945

NOTE: The items inside brackets were added for this page. The original newspaper article had those items removed by the censors.



Photos from Center Hill Cemetery courtesy of Carla Clifton.


Copyright 2006 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Jan. 28, 2006
Mar. 15, 2010