Francis Coppage Sr., banker, dies at 82

January 14, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Francis I. Coppage Sr., a retired Baltimore banker who was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry after he saved the lives of two shipmates during a World War II battle in the South Pacific, died Jan. 4 of urinary failure at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore. He was 82.

In November 1942, while he worked as a water tender first class in the boiler room of the cruiser Minneapolis, the ship was leading a group of other cruisers on a mission to intercept a Japanese task force at Tassafaronga, off the northwest coast of Guadalcanal.

Five minutes after the enemy was sighted, a torpedo tore through the side of the Minneapolis. Both of Mr. Coppage's legs were broken and several shipmates were severely injured.

With the boiler room compartment rapidly filling with water, he managed -- despite his broken legs -- to drag two of the injured to safety in a water-tight compartment and shut the door.

The ship was saved after being run aground at Tulagi by Capt. Charles E. Rosendahl, who had been commander of Lakehurst Naval Air Station at the time of the Hindenburg disaster in 1937.

Before the Guadalcanal engagement, Mr. Coppage had participated in seven other historic naval campaigns -- Coral Sea, Midway, Bougainville, Solomons, Fiji Islands, Lunga Point and Savo Islands. His decorations, in addition to the Silver Star, included the Purple Heart.

Born in Churchville, the son of a physician, he moved with his family to Patterson Park as a youth. After the death of his father, he quit high school and joined the Navy. He served in China as a member of the Yangtze River patrol from 1938 to 1940.

"We were in China when the Japanese were invading but didn't have any particular hatred toward them. We even exchanged cigarettes with them once when they were camped on the same dock we were tied to," he said in a 1944 interview. "But on Dec. 7, we were about 30 miles from Pearl Harbor when the fireworks started, and believe me, we saw red in more ways than one."

After spending a year in Navy hospitals recovering from his injuries, Mr. Coppage received a medical discharge in 1943, ending a 12-year Navy career.

After he returned to Baltimore, he worked during the remainder of the war at Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River. After the war, he was recruited by Admiral Rosendahl as a civilian employee of the Navy to manage the Lakehurst Naval Air Station power plant.

He returned to Baltimore in 1947 and attended Baltimore College of Commerce, graduating in 1951. He went to work as general ledger of Union Trust Co. at its Baltimore and Light street headquarters. He was in charge of collecting and recording the bank's daily operating reports until his retirement in 1973.

During retirement, he volunteered more than 2,500 hours at the now-closed Veterans Hospital on Loch Raven Boulevard. He was a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the USS Minneapolis C-36 Association.

The former Lutherville resident moved to Roland View Towers on Roland Avenue in Hampden in 1982.

He was a vestryman and lay reader at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, which he joined in 1926. One day a month, as a lay reader, he conducted services at Church Home Hospital. He had been treasurer more than 30 years of the Coppage-Coppedge Family Association Inc.

A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. today at St. Michael and All Angels Church, St. Paul and 20th streets.

VTC He is survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Ruth Elizabeth Smith; a son, Francis I. Coppage Jr. of New Haven, Conn.; a brother, James A. Coppage of Baltimore; two grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

The family suggested memorial contributions to the church.

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