A Rendezvous with History: Lonie Lee Copeland

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Amanda Thompson, contributor writer at Pacific Historic Parks

June 4, 1942 marked a turning point in the war between Japan and the United States. America had been on the defensive end of Japan’s attacks for six months following Pearl Harbor, but with the assistance of expert code-breaking, the US Navy was able to impede Japan’s plans to attack Midway Island and gain an offensive position that would continue until the end of the war in 1945.

The Battle of Midway began with the Japanese attack on the US base on the island. Japan’s objective was to ensure that the United States could never be a formidable power in the Pacific. However, after attacking the Marines waiting on the beach, the first wave of Japanese bombers headed back to their ships to refuel. The American carriers, sortied nearby, sent out their attack planes and the enemy was taken by complete surprise. The battle lasted four days and resulted in heavy losses of life on both sides, including the USS Yorktown, but ultimately a Japanese retreat.

One of the men who experienced this major battle was Lonie Lee Copeland. He was stationed on Midway Island as part of the Defense Battalion with the United States Marine Corps. Here is part of his story:

“We knew three weeks ahead of time that the Japs was coming. Didn't know when. And we got reinforced the 3rd Defense Battalion and two companies out of Radio Battalion and got some B 17s in. They hit us about 6:30 or 7:00 that morning [June 4]. The Japanese bombers were coming in, so we opened fire soon as they got in range. I guess they were at about 10,000 --15,000 feet. We could see them and we could also see our fighter planes hitting them, hitting the bummers too. I think we shot down quite a few. The battle lasted about two hours. The Japanese Zeroes came in so low we couldn't use the three inch, but we were firing our rifles… at Zeroes…they were coming straight in on us. See we didn't know the Navy was out there to help us at all. We were in the dark. We didn't have many to come back from Midway. They all got shot down.”

Copeland went on to fight at Eniwetok and finished the war out training Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He returned to Midway Island for the 50th anniversary in 1992.

If you know someone who would be interested in sharing their Pacific War or homefront story to be preserved in our Oral History Collection please contact us at oralhistories@pacifichistoricparks.org. To see Copeland’s full oral history and others like it, visit our digital collection at www.pacifichistoricparks.org.