Brothers In Arms

I found two obituaries today, both for First Battalion marines who passed away in 2013 – Harlan C. Jeffery (February 26, 2013) and Ernest M. Jeffery (October 23, 2013). Much to my regret, I never managed to contact either of these gentlemen, though Harlan gave several interviews in the past few years. (Harlan and Ernest will be the subject of a later entry.) There is an unusual anomaly in the 24th Marines Red Book which I use as a source for many of the personal photos on this site. It must have been a publishing error, and one which probably irritated Harlan or Ernest after the war. Although they served in different companies (Ernest with Company A, Harlan with Company B and later the assault platoon of Headquarters), they have the same picture.


Ernest or Harlan?

It’s easy to imagine a harried enlisted man, under a deadline to get a sheet of photographs laid out and printed, making a mistake – the surname Jeffery, though not unique, wasn’t terribly common; there were less than twenty Jefferys in the Marine Corps in 1943 – and adding the same photograph twice. (Based on other photographs I’ve seen, I’m willing to bet the picture above is Harlan.)

Although the picture mixup is almost certainly a printer’s error, it got me to wondering if the two Jeffery boys were related. It turns out they are not, but First Battalion had an unusual number of genuine brothers serving in the ranks.

The Coopers: Carl and Howard

Carl and Howard Cooper grew up together in Kanawha County, West Virginia. Carl, the eldest, was born on November 17, 1918; John Howard Cooper Junior followed on April 26, 1924. The family patriarch, John H. Cooper Senior, passed away in 1928, leaving Carrie Cooper in charge of eight children: Sarita, Doris, Clara, Carl, Evelyn, Howard, Annabel, and Joyce. Carrie herself died on July 19, 1942; just over a month later, on August 24, the two Cooper boys enlisted, receiving sequential serial numbers (Carl was first in line with 444768, Howard became 444769). The brothers trained together at Parris Island and New River, both specializing in heavy machine guns, and were assigned to Company D, First Separate Battalion in late 1942.

The Coopers stuck together in their company, and were possibly assigned to the same crew. Each qualified as a heavy machine gunner and were on track for promotion, but Howard ran afoul of Marine Corps discipline in June of 1943. Charged with “disorderly conduct,” he was restricted to base with extra duty for two months–and missed out on the round of promotions that netted Carl the stripe of a Private First Class. Presumably somewhat chagrined, Howard worked diligently to improve his reputation, and finally got his stripe on August 30. Further adventures resulted in an Absent Over Leave charge in January, 1944–as the battalion was on standby to ship out, Howard felt the full wrath of the battalion commander, who stripped him of his rank two days before they departed for combat.

On February 1, 1944, the 4th Marine Division became the first American fighting force to enter combat directly from the United States. Despite his recent reduction in rank, Private Howard Cooper retained his machine gunner’s MOS, while PFC Carl Cooper served as an ammunition handler. As members of Dog Company’s 3rd MG platoon, they deployed their water-cooled weapon to support the riflemen of the line companies during the invasion of Namur.

Although the island was secured in just over 24 hours, an overwhelming American victory, several hundred Marines became casualties. Both Cooper brothers received the Purple Heart for wounds suffered on Namur–but Carl’s award was posthumous. He was “found dead in the field” on February 2, shot through the head. Howard Cooper saw his brother buried in the Pauline Point cemetery on Namur before boarding a ship that would take him back to Maui.

This notice ran in the Charleston Gazette on March 5, 1944.
This notice ran in the Charleston Gazette on March 5, 1944.

It has been reported, but not confirmed, that the Cooper brothers were side by side at the time of Carl’s death–and that ever after, a furious rage fueled Howard Cooper’s waking moments. A powerful thirst for revenge guided his actions in combat (“all he talked about [was] killing Japs, killing Japs, killing Japs”) and a powerful thirst for alcohol made him a menace on liberty. (1) Indeed, he had once been arrested for fighting before the war, and his imposing physical stature would have made him a formidable opponent.

A violent reaction to a violent trauma might be expected, but a look at Howard’s records suggests the complete opposite. Never again was he absent over leave. After transferring to Charlie Company’s machine gun section and receiving his Purple Heart, he earned back his PFC stripe and never lost it again. He received a commendation for excellent service on Saipan, and when his tractor was taken under fire off Tinian, crawled under fire to get help for wounded buddies. He fought through Iwo Jima, was one of the very few members of the company to survive the Division’s biggest battle unwounded, and after all these exploits was promoted to corporal and placed in charge of a squad. By the end of the war, Howard Cooper he was one of Charlie Company’s most skilled and experienced machine gunners–and had doubtless avenged Carl’s death many times over.

A good Marine: the Charleston Gazette of December 15, 1944, reports on Howard's exploits overseas.
A good Marine: the Charleston Gazette of December 15, 1944, reports on Howard’s exploits overseas.

Howard was honorably discharged on November 6, 1945. He returned to Rand and the Red Parrot Coal Company, moved in with his sister Doris Caldwell and family. The move home may have been a challenge, made more difficult by Carl’s absence. Sadly, Howard would not have the chance to lead much of a civilian life. On May 17, he was killed in a horrific automobile accident that claimed the lives of three of his friends. In a final, tragic irony, Howard was to have arranged the return of Carl’s body from overseas–a task that fell to Doris Caldwell, who had her brothers buried in nearby Sawmill Cemetery. (2)

howard cooper crash
The Charleston Daily Mail (evening edition), May 17, 1947.

The Cooper brothers were finally reunited in 1948, when Carl’s remains were returned from overseas. Today, Howard and Carl rest in Sawmill Cemetery in Winifrede, Kanawha County, West Virginia.

The Marstons: Donald and Dewey

Don Marston was a typical American boy. Born in 1922 to Dewey and Gladys Marston of Baltimore, he grew up at 2717 Atkinson Street with three younger brothers and a baby sister. School either held no appeal or had no practical use for Donald; he left after the sixth grade and went to work as a laborer, bolstering his father’s stonemasonry income. The outbreak of war meant more than a chance to defend the country – it meant a steady paycheck for servicemen. Donald enlisted in the Marines in September 1942; a year later he was a Private First Class with Company C, 24th Marines.


Donald Marston, 1943

In combat, a man’s education or background didn’t matter as much as his reliability when the chips were down. Donald carried ammunition for a .30 caliber machine gun in three major battles – Namur, Saipan, and Tinian – surviving each without a scratch. By the fall of 1944, he had moved up in seniority to become a squad gunner, and was preparing for the next big invasion when the 17th Replacement Draft arrived at Camp Maui. In the sea of fresh faces, one stood out. Eighteen-year-old Dewey Addison Marston had followed his big brother into the war.

Dewey Marston’s assignment to Charlie Company must have been the result of a favor granted. He had volunteered on June 1, 1944 (less than a month after his eighteenth birthday, and while Donald was en route to combat in the Marianas), qualified with the BAR at Parris Island, and shipped west hoping to join the Fourth Marine Division, managing to land in his brother’s company more by design than by fate. How much Donald knew of Dewey’s plans remains unknown, but the older veteran welcomed the younger “boot” and the Marston brothers were soon taking liberty together. (One wonders at the reaction of Howard Cooper, mentioned above and a member of Donald’s platoon.)

The Marstons would not go into combat side by side, as Private Dewey Marston belonged to a rifle platoon, but Donald was surely looking out for his little brother once they landed on Iwo Jima. Dewey would fall first, badly wounded in action on March 1, 1945 and evacuated by ship to a hospital in Hawaii. He spent the rest of the war in medical care. Donald was also hit on Iwo; his wounds were serious enough to merit an airlift to Guam, but not bad enough to keep him from returning to Charlie Company. Had the atomic bombs not been dropped, Donald would have landed on the beaches of Kyushu.

As it was, the Marstons were discharged within days of each other, and both returned to Maryland. Dewey passed away in 1975, while Donald lived until 1990.

The Klinkoskis: Frank and Alex

In nearly every company, there was a pair of buddies who were seemingly joined at the hip. They might have been hometown friends, or bonded over the indignities of boot camp, or simply got on well during a weekend liberty. Frank and Alex Klinkoski fit this description better than most; they were twins. Born minutes apart on January 4, 1926, the Klinkoskis grew up in Lansing, Ohio and (naturally) came of age for military service at the same time. Like the Cooper brothers, the Klinkoskis joined up on the same day, received sequential service numbers (Alex 969224, Frank 969225) and went through Parris Island with the same recruit platoon. The brothers expressed interest in and qualified to operate the Browning machine gun, were assigned to the 65th Replacement Draft, told to report to Company B, 24th Marines at Camp Maui, and promoted to Private First Class on October 26, 2944.

The Klinkoskis served together in combat for only one day. Frank was wounded on February 20, 1945 – Iwo Jima’s “D+1” – possibly by friendly fire, as both an air strike and a naval bombardment were called down on his company’s position. Alex hung on for six more days before being evacuated to the USS Lowndes; he returned to the company on March 5 and fought through the rest of the battle. The twins would not serve together again; Frank’s wounds ended his military career (he was honorably discharged September 24, 1945) while Alex was promoted to corporal and prepared for the invasion of Japan. Fortunately, he saw no further combat and was discharged himself in April, 1946.

alex klinkoski

Alex Klinkoski, wartime photo.

Frank Klinkoski died in 1995, while Alex (as I learned while researching for this article) recently passed away on June 22, 2013.


(1) Reported in WW2 Experiences Iwo Jima, an un-cited blog entry by mundtot81.
(2) Thanks are due to Carl Howard Caldwell–nephew of Carl and Howard Cooper–for providing the brothers’ service records and making updates to this article possible.

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