We have seen a lot of tension this past year in the Pacific Region between China, Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea and Japan. Back in August, we all watched several U.S. government officials embark on a highly visible trip to Taiwan. This was intended to project strength and support for one of our allies.
All this seems a world away from Philomath but is nevertheless a strategic defense concern for both the United States and the Asia-Pacific Region.
What many may not know is that a young man who spent many happy days of his life in Philomath was both taken as a prisoner of war and ultimately went missing in action on Dec. 15, 1944, in this same region of the Asia-Pacific Theatre.
This month’s Love of Learning aims to piece together his story.
Duane Cosper was born on New Year’s Eve 1913 to Cecil Cosper and Leonora Williams-Cosper. They lived in Portland at the time of his birth. When Duane was young, his parents ultimately decided to divorce and parted ways. Cecil moved to Walla Walla, Washington, while Leonora chose to bring Duane and his older brother, Lavelle, to the Benton County region.
Duane, Lavelle and his mother were all active members of the United Brethren Church in Philomath. Duane grew up playing violin in his high school orchestra and graduated from Corvallis High School in 1930.
While he was growing up, his mother fell in love with Edwin Golden from Philomath. She decided to give marriage a second chance and remarried on June 20, 1920. Duane Cosper became Edwin’s stepson.
Edwin opened a drug store in Philomath during World War I that he ran in town for the next 26 years. In addition to running the drugstore, Edwin was elected as the mayor of Philomath sometime in the 1920s and served our community as the mayor for over 20 years until 1945.
The Corvallis Gazette Times mentions a picnic lunch that the mayor and his wife hosted in the July 4, 1932 edition. Duane was also mentioned as an attendee among the 23 others who participated in the “enjoyable gathering.”
On Dec. 19, 1933, the G-T ran a story about the successful Christmas program that the Ladies-Aid Society hosted at the Philomath College Chapel. The article also shares that Duane Cosper read “The Night Before Christmas” for the large crowd.
Duane went on to attend the University of Washington in Seattle where he attended Army Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was also a member of the Lambda Alpha Chi Fraternity. According to a University of Washington Magazine article, he graduated UW with the Class in 1938, earning a degree in geology.
On June 3, 1938, the G-T mentions Duane’s mother, Mrs. E.C. Golden, traveled from Philomath to Seattle to attend Duane’s commencement from UW. After graduating, Duane would go on to work as a geologist in Montana and Arizona before joining the military in June 1941.
Once he joined the Army, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to the Philippines to a coastal artillery battery in 1941.
On Dec. 7, 1941, enemy armed forces from Imperial Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The next day, President Roosevelt said in his speech, “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
What he or anyone may have known was that just 10 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on the same day as his speech, enemy forces from Imperial Japan would invade and occupy the Island of Corregidor in the Philippines where Duane Cosper was stationed.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, “Captain Duane L. Cosper was assigned to Battery D, 59th Coast Artillery within the Visayan-Mindanao Force during the defense of the Philippines in World War II. He was taken as a POW following the Japanese invasion and was interned in the islands until December 1944.”
In the June 4, 1943, edition of the G-T, Duane’s mother shared that she had received word from the War Department that her son was a prisoner in an enemy prison camp. This was the first she had heard from her son since Pearl Harbor had been attacked 19 months earlier. His mother spent all that time wondering and worrying about what happened to her son.
The headline on the front page of the Gazette-Times on Aug. 10, 1945, read: “Capt. Duane Cosper of Philomath Dies In Prison Ship Sinking.” It is difficult think that just the week before this tragic headline, atomic bombs had been dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9). The war was almost over and yet Leonora, his mother, had just received word her youngest son would never return from it.
Duane’s Gold Star Mother shared the letter she received from the War Department notifying her that her son had been killed with the G-T.
The letter is quoted saying, “From the available information, it appears that 1,619 prisoners of war were embarked on December 13, 1944, at Manilla, on a Japanese vessel, presumably for transfer to Japan. The ship was bombed and sunk in Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippines Islands 15 December 1944.
“After considerable delay, there has been received from the Japanese Government a confirmatory report of the sinking, with partial official lists of those lost and of survivors. Nine hundred and forty-two of the prisoners of war, among them your son, are officially reported by the Japanese to have lost their lives at this time.”
It is impossible to fathom the depth of grief of his Gold Star Mother felt in this context after receiving a letter from the War Department that her son spent three years in a prison camp and ultimately went missing in action after being boarded on a prison ship that would later get bombed and sunk. It is beyond heartbreaking to imagine.
Victory over Japan (VJ Day) was on Aug. 15 when Imperial Japan agreed to surrender. This was just five days after the news of Duane Cosper’s death hit the press. This is hard to comprehend.
Mrs. E.C Golden most likely received Duane’s medals posthumously. He was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Silver Star among other medals. His Silver Star citation reads:
“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes Pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Captain (Coast Artillery Corps) Duane L. Cosper, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving with the Visayan-Mindanao Force, Philippine Guerilla Forces, in action in the Philippine Islands in World War II. Captain Cosper’s gallant actions and selfless devotion to duty, without regard for his own safety, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
It is heartening to know that a couple retired Marines Corps sergeant majors are walking the entire length of Highway 20 from coast to coast on a project they call “The Long Road.” They started in Boston Harbor aboard the USS Constitution and plan to end their 3,365-mile trek in Newport. They walked through Philomath on Wednesday and plan to end their journey at the Newport Veterans Memorial on Saturday.
They are making this journey to raise funds to help support research to find missing servicemen and women that were either POWs or MIAs. They are hopeful the funds they raise can help the DPAA continue to research and repatriate the remains of the missing. There are 81,600 service people that are listed as MIA. One of them is Capt. Duane L. Cosper, who was killed on Dec. 15, 1944.
We must never forget him. Hopefully someday, we can bring him home.
(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at Lifeinphilomath@gmail.com).