I Asked About…Johnie Copeland 1922-1980

It’s really odd how things happen. I attend an exercise class twice a week at my church. All of the women in this class are over 50 except for the occasional daughter or granddaughter who is brought along. One particular lady whose name is Eunice, I knew to be in her eighties. My mom had a really good friend in high school whose name was Eunice. Although I didn’t think she was my mom’s friend as I vaguely remembered what she looked like, the other morning I decided to ask Eunice where she went to high school. She told me she’d attended my alma mater, St. Charles High School, so I knew that she was not my mother’s friend. Because Eunice grew up in St. Charles as did my relatives, I asked her what her maiden name was. “Holtgriewe” she responded. We continued on with our exercise class and as  was lying on my back doing leg lifts, it hit me why that name sounded familiar. Holtgriewe was the name of the man my Aunt Mary married after she and my Uncle Johnie divorced and I knew this Holtgriewe had been from St. Charles too. After class was over, I asked Eunice if by some chance she had a sister-in-law named Mary. “No,” she responded, “but my cousin’s wife is named Mary.” I asked her if her cousin and his Mary had lived in Florida as this was the last place I had tracked Mary to and she said they had, but that Mary had passed away a couple years ago. I said, “I think she may have been married to my Uncle Johnie.” Eunice said she knew that Mary had been married before she married her cousin and after we talked some more, we decided that indeed, her cousin Mary was my Aunt Mary. What a small world!

My dad’s brother, Johnie Copeland Schultz was born April 20, 1922 in Black Oak, Arkansas. He was the second child of John Henry Shoults and Maggie Johnson (Mabel was their first). Probably the first thing you are thinking is, she obviously has gotten confused with all the spellings of the Shoults name; that would be the only explanation for having written that Johnie Copeland Schultz was the son of John Henry Shoults. But, no, you would be wrong. You can credit the United States Navy with the change in Johnie Copeland’s last name. When he enlisted on July 7, 1942, his name was spelled wrong. He did not realize the error until he received some official documents. When he approached his commanding officer about the mistake, he was told it would be easier for him to change his last name than to change the military records. And this is exactly what he did.

For several years, Johnie was stationed on the USS Edward C. Daly, an “Evarts-class ‘short-hull’ destroyer escort.” Wikipedia states that in October, 1943 “while fueling at Samoa the men of the USS Daly rescued the crew of a downed patrol bomber in heavy seas, destroyed the plane, and buried the pilot at sea.” After Mabel passed away we were going through a trunk in her basement that belonged to Johnie. Inside the trunk was carbon copy of the following story:

USS. EDWARD C. DALY DE-1,

October 5, 1943

A rather eventful day in the lives of sixteen men.  The fifth of October 1943.  Ten of us were cruising at eight thousand feet, all was well and everyone carefree, for soon within the hour, we would set down at Samoa for a well earned rest and a night’s sleep.  Abruptly, the serenity of smooth power in our twin engines broke as they coughed and died.  Immediately the smooth precision of a well trained crew went into action — the crew chief sprang to the wobble pump as the pilot took over the controls.  The transmitter sent out to Samda a distress call and maintained a steady output until we hit.  The motors continued erratically to catch and die for forty five minutes through the gallant efforts of the crew chief, navigator, and five fighter pilots whom we had as passengers.  Most of them blistered their hands but it was most worthwhile as we gained many miles toward our objective.  It is yet the opinion of everyone aboard that we would have made it but for the wearing out of the hand pump.  The plane lost altitude all during the time and between turns at the wobble pump.   The men scuttled the cargo, nearly all the worldly possessions of men aboard, until only the things necessary to survive at sea remained.  With only a few feet remaining between us and the water all aboard went aft and strapped themselves down with the exception of the pilot, co-pilot, and radioman. Then with a jar, a slight bounce, and terrific jolt there was a shudder as of a dying monster.  The plane veered out sixty decrees to port and stopped.  By that time the members of the crew in the forward compartment had hurried aft and the life rafts were out and the others were throwing food, gear, etc. into them.  We all dove over and climbed into the rafts and slowly drifted away from our plane.  After a few minutes she started settling rapidly forward and with a last graceful farewell the tail rose vertically and she slipped silently into her watery grave.  We, in the rafts watched her go, feeling very much as though we had lost a very gallant friend.  She had a heart of steel though her hull was of aluminum.  Then, through our distress calls, and the excellent radar ashore, a B24 arrived, circling low and swooping over us waving cheerily and accepting our heartfelt gratitude.  He stayed with us until a P-B-Y attempted our rescue and failed and for some time after about two or three hours drifting in the rafts a PBY came over circling and landed on the choppy sea.  He circled us, his propellers chopping the air sometimes frantically, sometimes effectively, she would come plowing through straight at us, then swing around in an attempt to get some part of the plane within our reach.  Time and again he would try.  At times we would get hold of the strut, or some part of the plane, once even we had a rope in our hands but it was too weak and the strands parted.  It seemed impossible to get a hold on the plane unless she came straight for us and continued on that same course regardless of the danger from the propellers so this she did.  As the nose passed me I grasped the ridge around it as the only hand hold available out the drift of the two rafts was far too strong for the puny hold I had and I slipped off.  One raft slipped around the props and ours headed straight into them.   Once again that day we faced death but cheated the “grim reaper” through the providence of “God” and “Fliers Luck”.  All in the raft rolled out and ducking low in the water cleared the props by a good eighteen to twenty-four inches.  If there had been a swell at one time, well, the answer is obvious.  I for one couldn’t have been writing this.  After clearing the prop the back wash carried us past the retractible landing gear where one man “Smitty” stayed in attempting to slow us up.  It did slow us up enough so that someone got a good hold on the open gun blister and pulled us to the side of the P-Boat.  With Three men holding tight to the P-boat the other two pulled the second raft in and we all climbed aboard.  “Smitty” slid and to the blister and joined us, a damp but happy crowd.  The pilot of the P-Boat in a hurry to take off asked some of us to come forward to balance the weight.  This, four of us did, standing immediately in the rear of the cockpit.  Some of the sicker ones were lying in the bunks amidships and the remainder stayed in the gun blisters.  Then the attempt to take off.   Heading into the wind and showing the throttles forward we began to pick up speed.  Until almost attaining flying speed and just clipping the waves we plowed head on into a fifteen foot wall of water.  The port engine threw it’s prop through the roof of the cockpit and on out into the clear on the starboard side.  We in the hold, all thought it was just the windshield breaking from the impact of the wave until our pilot slumped sideways from his seat with a little skin, all that was left of his head, hanging down and the blood running and spurting from the stump of his neck.  After a second look I saw blood and brains splattered over controls, dials and the rest of the cockpit.  It was sickening to our hearts and souls for he was a gallant fellow and I recalled the cheery smile and thumbs up sign as I had dived under the props.  May he rest in peace and serenity for the bible says “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.  Our heart felt thanks and our admiration will go with him always. After this there was little for us to do but sit and wait for another attempt at rescue which was about nine hours later, and it did come in the form of a DE, the U.S.S. Edward C. Daly (DE-17).  The circling plane above us notified us by blinker of its coming and for hours after we prayed and watched the horizon for sight of her.  Sometime after eleven, we were all vague as to passage of time the, shouted someone, “There she is.”  We all jumped to our feet and climbed to the top of the blister or leaned far out and sure enough “there she was” or at least we all waited thankfully for her.  Moving out of the darkness of the night she came a dark sinister looking shadow but to us a symbol of all we had to live for.  She would not have been more beautiful had she been built of gold and inlaid with diamonds.  After circling us she hove to and lowered the whaleboat to come to our rescue.  Here the sailors in the whaleboat deserve credit for they too were a gallant little crew, buffeting the waves and battering through she came tossing and rolling to us.  After two heroic tries every man of us were aboard the “Daly” and the brave pilot of the P-Boat was being prepared for burial. We all drank hot coffee and slept till day.  I think every man of us must have relived that day over and over that night but we were too tired to become fully conscious of what had happened till the following day.  The day finally came and we awoke to the cheeriness of the sun and the companionship of a grand crew.  At fourteen fifty we held a burial at sea for First Lieutenant Sax U.S.M.C.R. with a last prayer and in keeping with all the traditions of the sea his body slid into the sea thus ended the two days which will always be remembered in the lives of the fifteen men and always the memory and admiration of the sixteenth will be with us.  God Bless Him. Signed   One of the Fifteen.

Johnie remained in the navy until 1946. On December 14, 1945 he married Mary Barton. Mary and her sister lived in the same rooming house where Johnie’s mother, Maggie, was staying. Mary became a great help to Maggie and eventually met her son, Johnie. Johnie and Mary had one child, a son, who was born with a heart defect and lived only about two years. Johnie and Mary divorced but remarried again around 1960. My father and mother traveled to Black Oak with Johnie and Mary where there were married by dad and Johnie’s uncle, Sidney Johnson.

Charles and Jeanette Shoults, Mary and Johnie Schultz
Charles and Jeanette Shoults, Mary and Johnie Schultz

Their second marriage was not any more successful than their first marriage and Johnie and Mary again divorced. Johnie never remarried and died on August 23, 1980 from a heart attack.

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3 comments

  1. I just happened to be looking up information on my grandfather who served on the Edward C Daly. Google search led me to this page. Do you happen to have pictures from your Uncle’s time on the Edward C Daly? Do you know what his job was on ship? Just wondering

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