Posted by: SJS | September 8, 2011

Belton Copp’s daring mission to Manila Harbor in ’45

While I knew that PT 373 under Commanding Officer, Lt. Belton Copp, had been the first US surface craft to enter Manila Bay since the Americans had been driven out in 1942, I knew very little about the details of that historic mission.  A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Belton’s son, Allyn, and he shared with me his father’s account of that amazing mission in February of 1945. 

Belton Copp, USN

Lt. Belton A. Copp, USN photo from Allyn Copp

Here is what Allyn passed on to me:  “Dad’s story of voluntarily entering Manila Harbor at night, being pursued by kamikaze boats, engaging a convoy and finally escaping through the mined entrance of the harbor by sidling up next to a big Japanese freighter, is astounding.  Dad said that this escape was inspired by the Odyssey when Odysseus and his men hung under the exiting sheep while the blinded Cyclops guarded the entrance.  (He studied Greek and Latin in school).  Being only inches from the big freighter gave them protection from the guns on Corregidor and from the freighter’s armament as its guns could not be depressed to shoot down at a steep enough angle to strike the relatively fragile PT.  Belton remembers seeing the barrel of the 50 caliber bow gun glowing red then orange as it was heated by firing at point-blank range into the side of the freighter.”

Allyn continues:  “The result of that night was, among other things, that Dad lost his left arm and nearly his life though he says that he was lucky and what he’s really sorry about is that the Bow Gunner lost his life.  The war had a profound impact on all those who participated.”

I am deeply grateful to Allyn for sending me the account of his father’s mission and for the photographs of this remarkable naval officer who so clearly embodies the spirit of the PT fleet.  Whether my father, Red Stahley, was aboard the 373 working the radio on that fateful night, I am still attempting to discover.  What I do know is that Red was on PT 373 for other missions when the crew came under intense enemy fire.

Allyn reports that his father is now 91 and that his memory is fading but that he still knows his boat number and holds memories of the war “as if it were yesterday.” 

What an honor it has been for me to learn about the heroic service of Lt. Belton Copp and to have contact with members of his family.  And by the way, who else but a PT officer would have the smarts and savvy to base his escape plan on the model of Odysseus?   That’s an excellent example of putting your education to good use!

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Responses

  1. That’s such a great story! Man, what courage they all had.

  2. Stephen told me this story when we had dinner with Maryellen last Monday night.

    Next day I heard a presentation from the government’s Department of Education to the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) introducing us in more detail than usual to the National Core Standards.

    One of the more amusing points made in the standards set was the goal of having middle school children reading only 30% literature and 70% informational texts by that time. “Informational” texts are, of course, according to the standards, “better preparation for a life of reading informational texts for jobs.

    I sat electrified with this story in me. Abundant proof that in literature we find expressed all the creative solutions of the human psyche, archetypes and answers. “70% Informational texts,” indeed! Thank heaven for the fact that Lt. Copp was in school without core standards so that literature could fuel his imagination for quick strategic thinking at the right moment in his important life.

    • Patrice,
      Thanks for your insightful comment. As we met for dinner last Monday evening in Maryland, Lt. Copp was entering the final 24 hours of his earthly journey at his home in Connecticut. How wonderful to think that his story could touch our lives so deeply. It was great to see you and spend some time together. I really appreciate your input to the blog. Please write again!
      Stephen


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