Biography: Thomas “Tom” Lenox Copeland was born on April 17, 1924, in Pendleton, Oregon. He was the son of Edwin W. Copeland and Delia Copeland and grew up on the family farm in Walla Walla, Washington. During his sophomore year in high school, he presented a report on mammal reproduction, which led to his teaching sex education, using the report, for his last three years of school. He also participated in the ROTC program for the same three years. His experience speaking to groups of people, along with his ROTC experiences, would serve him well in the coming years. He graduated from Walla Walla High School and attended the Kemper Military Academy in Booneville, Missouri, for a brief period
Service Time: He enlisted in the Army on December 7, 1942, and was sent to Camp Hood, Texas, for basic training. Due to a lack of qualified basic training instructors, and using his high school ROTC experience, he became a special instructor until March, 1943, entering Officer Candidate School at that time and earning a commission as a Second Lieutenant in June, 1943. He was assigned to the 702nd TD Battalion in July, 1943, but the unit was overstaffed and his next assignment took him to the 42nd Infantry Division in December. He remained there until receiving orders to report to the replacement depot at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in June, 1944. In short order he was shipped to England and less than 72 hours later was on the beaches of Normandy, France, and heading to another replacement depot. In early September he was assigned to the 636th TD Battalion, originally being designated as a Forward Observer but eventually becoming a Platoon Commander in Company C. He was wounded by artillery shrapnel on January 6, 1945 and was promoted to First Lieutenant in April of that same year. In August he became the Commander for Company C, 636th TD Bn. He was one of the youngest Company Commanders in the European Theatre. Following the end of the war, Tom did not have enough points to return home so he remained with the 636th, training replacement personnel in preparation for moving to the Pacific Theatre.
After the war with Japan ended in September, 1945, he was assigned to a discharge center in Bad Aibling, Germany, which was used to process German POW’s who had been captured in the American Zone. In April of 1946, he became the Commander of the 774th Tank Battalion, which was in charge of operating the discharge center and was promoted to Captain in June. Finally, in August of 1946 he returned to the US and was assigned one last task. He was to oversee a train load of recently returned troops as they traveled from Fort Dix, NJ to Fort Lewis, WA. Over nine days, the train stopped in numerous locations dropping off troops, eventually reaching Fort Lewis where Tom was discharged. He earned the following medals, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, American Campaign, EAME w/4 battle stars, Victory Medal, Victory Medal (Belgium), Insigne du Blesse (French Purple Heart), Victory Medal (France), Combat Cross (France), Medal of Defense (France), Army of Occupation and the Croix de Guerre (French Unit Citation).
Post Service Years: Immediately after returning home, he enrolled at Washington State College in Pullman, WA. It was there that he met and eventually married a fellow student, Dolly Doble, in 1946. They returned to the family farm and raised three children, Tim, David and Brooke. Tom graduated in 1951 with a degree in Agricultural Engineering. He worked with his father to operate and expand the family farm, introducing new crops and investing in an irrigation system to support the diversification. His participation in the creation of the Washington Wheat Commission led to his run for the Washington State House of Representatives in 1956 and he was elected. Realizing the legislative processes hadn’t kept pace with the post-war society, he worked tirelessly to bring the processes and technology into the modern era. Over the years he rose in leadership positions, serving as Whip in 1961 and 1963, Minority Leader in 1965 and Speaker Pro Tempore from 1967-1972.
The photo on the left shows Tom as a Washington State Representative and on the right are Donna and Tom on New Years, 2006.
In 1972 he ran for the State Senate but lost the election and retired from politics. He returned to the family farm, working to expand operations and becoming involved in trade relations with Japan. Dolly had passed away in 1970 and in 1973 he married Donna Edwards. She was the daughter of Don Edwards and Jean Ruggles and was born in Seattle, WA. They were very active in the Walla Walla community until moving to Olympia in 1989. Tom worked for Employment Security for three years, maintaining his interest in migrant labor relations. The couple moved to Arizona in 2004 where Tom is an ardent woodworker and maintains his interests in technology and politics.
Much of the information in this article was obtained from Thomas L. Copeland-An Oral History, compiled by the Washington State Oral History Program. The interview and editing was conducted by Anne Kilgannon. We would like to thank Tom for his service to the country, both in the military and as a legislator, and for the information and photos he provided.