The below info is mainly from obituaries, military records, Wikipedia, and available info on genealogy sites.
William Joseph Smith “Bill”
April 5, 1928 to January 23, 2018
Yearbook photo. Obituary picture.
Bill was born in 1928 in Jersey City, New Jersey. His father worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Jersey City, NJ along with Dan Clair’s father. Bill attended Lincoln High School in Jersey City. There he studied Latin, was a photographer for the yearbook, played the trumpet, and was in the orchestra. He graduated early in order to join the Navy, sometime in late 1945 or 1946, and would later receive the World War II Victory Medal.
Military records show that Bill volunteered for Combat Air Crew training. He stated his reason for enlisting in the Navy was “a desire to fly.” When joining the Navy, Bill listed his hobbies as model planes, stamps, photography, and printing.
Bill attended initial Naval training at the Navy Technical Training Center in Memphis, Tennessee. Following that he trained in Jacksonville, FL as an aerial gunner, and then in Pensacola, Florida as an aerial photographer (reconnaissance). His training included identifying enemy targets from high altitudes, survival training, navigation, and map making. After completing training, he was assigned to Attack Squadron 8 and later Fighting Squadron 8 in Newport, RI. In 1947 he participated in the USS Leyte (CV-32) Mediterranean cruise. This included port calls to Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. During this cruise, he flew reconnaissance missions as a crewman during the United States’s show of force in support of the Greek and Turkish fight against communism.
Bill was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1947, and returned to his job at the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Jersey City, NJ. In 1951 he moved to Bloomfield, NJ and married his wife Dolores.
Bill worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad until 1976. He endured mergers, layoffs, furloughs, and ultimately the bankruptcy of the railroad in 1970. Bill continued to work for the Lehigh Valley Railroad throughout the bankruptcy until it became a part of Conrail in 1976. Bill worked the rest of his years with Conrail at the Oak Island Yard in Newark, NJ. He retired in 1993 as a Yardmaster. Bill died in 2018.
Bill Smith’s plaque in the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania Railroaders Hall of Fame.
Ira Daniel Cooper “Dan”
January 11, 1918 to September 29, 1944
Ira Daniel Cooper may very well be the inspiration for the hijacker’s choice of “Dan Cooper.” Ira Daniel Cooper went by Daniel (see below 1930 census). He lived about a mile from William Smith in Jersey City, NJ and attended the same high school, Lincoln High. Although not in the same class, they both shared hobbies of stamp collecting, and were in the orchestra. They also had similar ethnic heritage from Eastern Europe.
1930 Census showing Ira Daniel Cooper went by Daniel
Ira Daniel Cooper joined the Army for World War II, and achieved the rank of 1st Lieutenant. He served as a combat engineer, and was decorated with the Bronze Star for heroism, and the Purple Heart for wounds received fighting near Rome, Italy. He was killed in action on September 29, 1944 near Metz, France. He is buried in New Jersey.
Ira Daniel Cooper is memorialized in William Smith’s yearbook along with many other men from the same high school who were killed in World War II. William Smith was on the yearbook staff as a photographer, and would have been very familiar with this memorial. It reads:
OUR HEROIC DEAD of WORLD WAR II 1941-1945. “Whatever men have done, men may, -The Deeds you wrought are not in vain”
Daniel Eugene Clair (1919-1990). Believed to be the Dan LeClair in Max Gunther’s book (but not D.B. Cooper). Born in Ontario, Canada. U.S. Army, World War II. Alaska, and Fort Lewis, WA. Believed to have served in the Army Air Corps. Married to Jeanne Buskee. Dan had two sons from a previous marriage. Brakeman for the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Father worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Jersey City, NJ along with William J. Smith’s father. Dan died in Lehighton, PA. More info coming soon.
Dan Clair’s plaque in the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania Railroaders Hall of Fame.