Private Coleman arrived in Honolulu on May 9, 1929. After in processing, he was assigned to casual duty which included
cutting grass or kitchen police (KP) with the 74th Ordnance Company. The company commander at the time was Captain
Grosvener Watkins, who would later invent the 22-caliber "Hornet" rifle cartridge. Private Coleman spent the next three months
walking guard duty around the base perimeter. Later he was detached to Fort Kamehameha for duty with the ammunition storage
At that time, most coastal areas of the United States (and Hawaii) were defended by the Coastal Artillery. Generally, these
were naval guns that had been mounted inside of fortifications around harbor areas. Caliber varied from 12 to 15 inches. Many
were mounted on "disappearing mounts." When ready to fire, the gun was raised above the casement and fired. The recoil forced
the scissors mount to fold down thus hiding the gun from view.
Private Coleman worked inspecting the stored ammunition. The particular type of gun propellant was referred to as "Explosive
D," which was very sensitive to high temperature. The ammunition detail was considered a high-risk detail and therefore was
on a six-month rotation basis.
After his tour with the ammunition detail, Coleman was assigned to Hawaii Ordinance Depot about two miles from Honolulu.
Private’s pay in 1929 was $21.00 per month. All he could afford to do was walk the two miles into Honolulu on Friday
night or Saturday and work out at the YMCA gymnasium. His two mile walk took him passed a sugar cane field that
would later be known as Hickum Army Air Corps base. After all of the sights were seen, a quart of Akoolehu Rum was 25 cents.
In an effort to find some more productive past time, Private Coleman began training for the welterweight boxing contest
for the inter-island boxing championship. Collateral benefits included being excused from walking guard duty while in training,
plus the contenders were fed better than the regular troops. Private Coleman boxed his way up to the final elimination bout
with a Corporal Karen. About halfway through the match, the fight was stopped with a Technical Knock Out (TKO) against
Coleman. He had suffered a broken nose, three broken ribs and a broken left wrist. His boxing career ended while he recovered
from his injuries. He fought the good fight; it was the only time Corporal Karen had ever been knocked down. After his
recovery, Private Coleman returned to regular duty with the 74th Ordnance Company.
|Boxer Coleman; age 16.
During his Hawaiian tour, Coleman befriended a sailor from the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca as a drinking buddy. The Itasca
was prominent in the search for Emelia Earhart, the famous woman aviator who disappeared in the Pacific 1937. He also befriended
a Japanese sailor from a visiting Japanese Navy training ship the Nippon Maru, who claimed that his father was
an admiral in the Japanese Navy. They corresponded for a few years. His name was Yamamoto.
|Japanese training ship Nippon Maru
|Letter from N. Yamamoto. Copyright Warriorsaga.
(Text of Yamamoto letter)
F.S. Nippon Maru
Sept 27th, 1931
Dear Sir: Mr. F. Coleman
Your kind note of Aug 31st had arrived on Sept 23rd At smxxll port on the way of No.4 voyage.
Since the "Nippon Maru" departed from Honolulu we had a nice sailing voyage under famous of the Trade Wind with out any
storm at sea, and arrived safely in our home port Tokyo on the 11th of July.
And stayed there about three months. Today we Nippon Maru are on the way of No. 4 voyage around the coast of Japan.
the next voyage will be held for Nanyo Inin Tochi Group Sales at the beggining of December from Tokyo. Weather of late
in Tokyo is very coal (cool).
My good friend Mr. K. Macda left from our ship to get more experience to a steamer as apprentics.
I am sending to you a picture of sailing type of Nippon Maru. I hope you are in good health. I hope
that I have the pleasure of hearing from you next.
Hopping we shall meet again some day and thank you.
I am dear Sir with best wish to you.
very truly yours
Private Coleman left Hawaii on June 27, 1931. He sailed to San Francisco and was temporarily assigned to Angel Island,
in the San Francisco Bay. While there he was on a guard detail on which he escorted the last two military prisoners
off of Alcatraz Island to be sent to other military prisons. Shortly thereafter he sailed on the US Army Transport Ship Chateau
Thiery towards the Panama Canal. Enroute the ship stopped on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua; Coleman was part of a landing
party that went ashore to recover the bodies of US Marines who had been killed fighting the Nicaraguan rebel Sandino. From
there they proceeded through the Canal and north to Brooklyn Army Base in New York.
A few days later, Coleman boarded the Steamship, SS Savannah, and sailed down the East Coast to Savannah, Georgia.
He proceeded overland to Fort Benning, near Columbus, Georgia. He arrived there in August 1931 and was assigned to the 72nd
Ordnance Company. At Fort Benning, Private Coleman was assigned to work in the small arms warehouses, preserving and storing
rifles and pistols from World War I. Later on he was assigned to work in the ammunition storage area uncrating, inspecting
and repackaging artillery rounds left over from World War I. After several months of hard manual labor working with the ammunition,
he volunteered for the demolition detail to get out of the ammunition area for a while.
Faulty ammunition was taken to the demolition area to be exploded with a placed charge of TNT. Private Coleman was eventually
placed in charge of one of the details that were detonating dud 155mm artillery rounds. The standard procedure was to place
a charge of TNT in the fuse hole of the round and then a piece of fuse of sufficient length to allow a safe withdrawal from
the area. In order to check the speed at which the fuse burned a short piece would be cut and lit in order to time it. One
of the other privates on the detail continuously skipped this safety step. Coleman warned him again to check his fuse. He
didn’t and somehow a piece of instantaneous fuse was mixed in with the regular fuse. When he lit it the charge detonated
before he could turn away. The 155mm shell left a ten-foot crater; no sign of the private was ever found. Private Coleman
had to testify at the hearing and was exonerated in that he had followed correct procedures. Thereafter, instantaneous fuse
was specially marked and stored away from other fuse.
In September 1931, Coleman bought his first motorcycle, a 1926 Harley-Davidson, from Corporal Paul Thompson for $60.00.
(Thompson lived to be 97 years old, passing away in 2004.) This began a fascination with motorcycles that would last for ten
years and consume 17 Harley–Davidson and Indian motorcycles. Coleman finished his enlistment at Fort Benning working
in the ammunition area and on the demolition details. He was honorably discharged in December 1932.
|Private Coleman on 1926 Harley-Davidson in 1931. Copyright Warriorsaga.
Coleman wanted to return to northwest Colorado where his grandparents lived. However, this was at the depth
of the Great Depression; Coleman with no saleable civilian skills and with a motorcycle habit to support could not find employment,
so he reenlisted for three years. He had a 90-day leave as a reenlistment bonus, so he rode his motorcycle to Colorado to
visit his grandparents and then returned to Fort Benning, Georgia. He was 18 years old, still a private and still making $21.00
SECOND ENLISTMENT 1933-1935
Coleman wanted to get reassigned to Fort Douglas, Utah, which was closer to where his grandparents lived. At
that time transfers in the Army were very rare; usually someone had to die in order to create a vacancy. One of Coleman’s
sergeants suggested that one trick that worked for getting reassigned was to go AWOL (absent without leave); as long as you
came back before 30 days were up, you wouldn’t be considered a deserter and if you turned yourself in at another Army
post, you usually were allowed to stay there.
So, Private Coleman and another soldier friend hitchhiked from Columbus, Georgia to his friend’s home in Tennessee.
After visiting there for a few days they hitchhiked on towards Louisville, Kentucky. Along the way a man who had a remarkable
resemblance to the gangster called Dutch Schultz picked them up. In any event he was driving a 1932 Chrysler Imperial Model
80. He apparently drove at one of two speeds; stop or wide open. He was well dressed and was accompanied by a very attractive
young blond lady. Later while weighting their car ride, they decided that it might be safer to hitch a ride on a freight train.
While waiting around the freight yards for a west bound train, the train boss or "brakie" found them and warned them not to
get on his train. Of course they ignored him and climbed on the first westbound train that came by. While on a tank car
Coleman became separated from his friend. While hanging on the railing of the tank car with both hands, the train boss came
around the end of the car and proceeded punching Coleman in the face as hard as he could. If he let go he would fall off the
moving train; eventually he was going to be beat into unconsciousness and fall off anyway. So while hanging on for his life
with one hand, he started punching the boss in the face with his other fist. Having had some previous experience with fist
fighting, he began to gain the upper hand and the boss finally stopped and told him to get in a boxcar and stay out of
sight. He stopped in New Castle, Colorado to see his grandparents and then rode the rails on to Salt Lake City, Utah and Fort
Douglas. He didn’t see his friend again. Apparently he did not return to the Army within 30 days and was declared
a deserter for which he served a year in prison and was discharged.
Coleman decided it would be funny to send his commanding officer in Fort Benning a postcard on his way to Fort Douglas;
it read, "Having fun, wish you were here!" Coleman turned himself in at Fort Douglas within the 30 days and expected to be
retained at Fort Douglas. Much to his surprise there was a message from his commander at Fort Benning; which read "Having
fun, want you here!" A more literal translation was something to the effect of "send that SOB back!" Normally the returned
soldier had to pay his own way plus the round trip train fare of his guard. Coleman’s commander told him he would take
his word that he would return himself without a guard, which he did.
Back at Fort Benning, Coleman was sentenced to 72 days in the stockade for being absent with out leave (AWOL). While in
the stockade, another inmate attacked him and both were given 14 days in solitary confinement on bread and water. After he
was released, he returned to the 72nd Ordnance Company at Fort Benning and resumed his duties there.
About this time Coleman began to take stock of his life and realized that he had to do something to improve it. He was
20 years old, had been in the Army for six years and was still a private with a sixth grade education. Rather than going to
town every night and drinking, he remained on post and went to the company library and studied various technical manuals there.
In 1935 he was accepted into the Army Motor Maintenance course at Fort Benning from which he graduated and was awarded a specialist
MOS (Military Occupation Specialty Code).
THIRD ENLISTMENT 1935-1938
Coleman finished his second enlistment at Fort Benning and was discharged in April 1935 after making up for his lost time
in the stockade. He proceeded to Fort Douglas, Utah by motorcycle and re-enlisted there. He was assigned to the 38th
Infantry Regiment and initially assigned duties as a muleskinner. He drove a wagon and mule team around the fort on service
duties and was later assigned as a truck driver and mechanic.
In 1936 Boulder Dam (Now called Hoover Dam) in Nevada was commissioned. The 38th Infantry provided security
and support for the occasion. Coleman rode motorcycle patrol in the area and saw President Franklin Roosevelt and exchanged
salutes when he attended the commissioning of the dam.
After a winter in Utah, Coleman reevaluated his assignment and requested reassignment back to Fort Benning, Georgia. Reassignment
was approved to the 67th Infantry Regiment (Medium Tanks) and he drove a 1928 Durrant Roadster automobile back
to Fort Benning. In route he picked up a woman hitchhiker accompanied by 12 children. They had no transport or money so he
carried them to Fort Worth, Texas where the woman had friends. The Great Depression was still in full force and such situations
were not uncommon.
|1928 Durant Roadster-Private Coleman & Private Clarence Lachney-Fort Benning 1936.
Upon arrival at Fort Benning, Private Coleman had parked in the company parking lot. His Durrant had a loud exhaust
system, which attracted the attention of a man in civilian clothes when he pulled into the parking lot. The man suggested
that his muffler was a little loud, to which Coleman replied that he didn’t see what business it was of his! The man
turned and walked inside the barracks. Coleman got settled in and later reported to the company first sergeant. The first
sergeant was none other than the man in the parking lot. The first sergeant advised Coleman that he was going to find out
"what business it was to him" before he ever saw daylight again! Coleman was assigned to the timber detail. He cut timber
with a hand axe for the next two months. He deforested the area that today is known as Lawson Army Air Field at Fort Benning.
After the timber detail, Coleman was detailed as a crew member to assist in a test program on a new
tank the Army was considering. The Christie Tank had been offered for evaluation to the Army and the trials were conducted
at Fort Benning in late 1936. The test model was the Christie T-1 or T-34 for the design year and was called the Tornado.
A 12-cylinder aircraft engine rated at 340-horse power powered the Christie; the same engine used in Curtiss Hawk pursuit
biplanes. The Christie had a convertible function, which allowed it to travel on tracks or road wheels. It had a speed of
35 mph on tracks and 70 mph on road wheels. The conversion process was time consuming and in that speed was not considered
important in the tactical thinking of that time, weighed against the tank’s evaluation. Ultimately, the Army rejected
the Christie design and went with slower tanks. Christie had been successful in selling the design to the Soviet Union (Russia).
Many Christie T-1 features were incorporated into the famous Russian T-34 tank of World War Two. The Tornado is still
in existence today. It resides in the Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland.
|Christie Tank - Model T-1. (Private Coleman 2nd from left)
|Christie Tank T-1 in Road Wheel Mode.
|Russian T-34 Tank.
Coleman decided that his future lay with the ordnance field and requested transfer to the 17th
Ordinance Heavy Maintenance Company at Fort Benning in November 1936. Here he worked his way around the shops broadening his
experience in machine work, welding, electricity, and radial engine mechanics. The proto-type tanks at this time were powered
by seven or nine cylinder radial aircraft engines, which were air-cooled. His new beginning in ordnance almost ended before
it started. One day in the shop the civilian foreman ordered Coleman to repair the fuel tank on a tank recovery wrecker vehicle.
He insisted that he drill a hole in the fuel tank with an electric drill then catch the fuel in a bucket as it drained out.
Coleman protested that the procedure was unsafe. The foreman ordered him to proceed. When the drill bit penetrated the tank
the drill sped up and the motor arced and ignited the fuel draining on to it. Coleman had anticipated a fire and had a shovel
and sand near by. As he was shoveling sand on the fire, another soldier ran up behind him with a water hose and sprayed the
fire with water. The entire vehicle was rapidly engulfed in fire and was virtually destroyed. The fire was so hot that
the frame of the truck bent and sagged to the ground. When the fire detail arrived, their fire extinguisher failed to work
and the vehicle was totally engulfed in flames.
|Ordnance Shops at Fort Benning. M2A2 Light Tanks in view. 1937.
At the ensuing board of inquiry, the shop foreman tried to blame Coleman for the fire and it appeared that
he would succeed. As fate would have it, the board officer was a colonel that Coleman had once been a driver for and he was
thus able to tell his side of the story. He was exonerated of any blame but the shop foreman and other personnel were not.
Coleman’s insight into safety and procedure began to bring him to the attention of ordnance management officers. He
was promoted to corporal in 1938 and participated in a testing program for the new M-1 Garand rifle that was being tested
by the Army. He contributed several recommendations, some of which were later incorporated into the production M-1s. It was
about this time that Coleman met and began courting his future bride, Eunice D. Lynn.
FOURTH ENLISTMENT 1938-1941
Coleman re-enlisted for the fourth time and applied for the ordnance NCO (non-commissioned officer) school
at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland. If he were successful he would be promoted to staff sergeant. While he was waiting
for orders to Aberdeen, the Army issued a request for volunteers to form the first parachute company (airborne) as a test
unit to determine organization and tactics. Coleman volunteered and was placed on the waiting list for orders to attend parachute
training. In the meantime, his orders for Ordnance NCO came through and he proceeded to Aberdeen. His class date was delayed
and he was assigned temporarily to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for three months before starting the NCO class at Aberdeen.
He had reenlisted again and was able to plan on getting married in that Army pay had finally started to increase from the
days of the Great Depression and with the threat of war in Europe. He was now making $43.20 per month as a corporal and married
Eunice in February 1940.
Shortly after he was married, Coleman departed for the 1940 Army Maneuvers in Louisiana. He operated a mobile
maintenance unit for ordnance. In the process of doing his duty, he managed to collect surplus Indian motorcycle parts and
eventually was able to assemble a 1939 model Indian Chief. His total investment was $1.10 for a can of paint. This was his
last motorcycle, which he rode to various assignments around the country. When he went overseas in 1941, he left it in the
garage of the home where his bride was living. In order to make room in the garage she sold it for $75.00. (It was a $300.00
value in 1940 dollars). There must have been some hidden message there for him!
Coleman arrived in Aberdeen in July 1940 and completed the NCO course in October 1940. He had performed so
well that he was retained at Aberdeen as a course instructor in tank electrical systems. He was promoted from corporal to
staff sergeant (skipping rank of sergeant) and then to technical sergeant as an instructor at Aberdeen. It was here that Coleman
came to the attention of Captain Joseph Colby who had been the maintenance officer back at Fort Benning. Colby had been selected
to participate in a secret mission to North Africa to assist the British Army, who was fighting the Germans under Field Marshall
Rommel, in using American made tanks and related equipment. He remembered Coleman and asked him if he wanted to volunteer
for the job. He did. He departed for Africa on May 29, 1941.
Enroute to Africa, Technical Sergeant Coleman was joined by other personnel and proceeded to the Pentagon
in Washington, D.C. for intelligence briefings and administrative out-processing. The mission was a classified project at
the time because the United States was ostensibly a "neutral" country even though it was an open secret that the United States
was aiding the British Empire by way of the Lent-Lease Program. This program authorized the sale of war materials to Great
Britain in return for basing concessions from Britain to the United States. The groups proceeded from Washington D. C. to
San Francisco, California. Due to the German U-boat threat in the Atlantic, it was considered less risky to cross the "peaceful"
areas of the Pacific Ocean enroute to Africa.
In San Francisco, the group was consolidated with others and the detachment boarded the ship Matsona
and sailed to Hawaii. They stayed there for a few days and then boarded a Pan-American Clipper seaplane and proceeded on across
the Pacific with stops at Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines. Between Midway Island and Wake Island, Sergeant
Coleman’s enlistment was up. Captain Colby had arranged the paper work in advance and Coleman was reenlisted in flight
over the Pacific on board the Pan American Clipper.
|Pan American Clipper at Wake Island.
FIFTH ENLISTMENT 1941-1942
From the Philippines the flight continued to Singapore where the detachment remained for two weeks awaiting
additional orders to proceed. They transferred to a British Overseas Airways Short-Sunderland flying boat and continued on
by way of Rangoon, Burma and Calcutta, India. The flight continued from India over barren mountains and deserts to a lake
in Persia (modern Iran). Coleman was wondering where they were going to land a seaplane in the middle of the desert? Suddenly,
a crystal clear blue lake appeared and the seaplane touched down. From there they flew on by way of Baghdad, Iraq; the Dead
Sea in Palestine (modern Israel) and on to Egypt, landing in the Nile River near Cairo. The detachment collected its equipment
and was transported overland to Cairo, Egypt, arriving there on July 5, 1941.
|Copy of cablegram confirming TSG Coleman's arrival in Egypt.
The North African Campaign or the War in the Desert began in 1940 with the Italians and British attacking
each other’s colonial possessions in Africa. The Italians occupied Tunisia, Libya, Eritrea, and parts of Abyssinia (Ethiopia).
The British occupied Egypt, Sudan, and Palistine. (As well as several other areas.) The combatants launched air raids and
small unit raids on each other with no definitive gains on either side.
Finally in August 1940, the Italian leader Benito Mussolini orders Italian forces to invade Egypt. By September
1940, the Italians had advanced about 60 miles into Egypt and then stopped and dug into fortified positions. Now the British
under General Wavell counter attacked and drove the Italians back into Libya. By January 1941, the British had pushed the
Italians westward 200 miles and were laying siege to the port fortress of Tobruk, Libya. In December 1940, Mussolini had requested
aid from Hitler in order to save the Italian Empire in Africa. In January 1941, Hitler authorized the deployment of the Afrika
Korps to Africa.
In the East Coast area of Africa, the British invaded Italian Eritrea and seized control of it. In the north
the Italians surrendered Tobruk and fell back in late January 1941. By February 1941, the British pushed westward and captured
Benghazi, Libya. Hitler appointed General Edwin Rommel to command German forces in Africa. After building up his supplies,
Rommel began a limited counter offense against the British in March 1941. He met with unexpected success and pushed his initiative
forcing the British eastward and recapturing Benghazi and laying siege to Tobruk in April 1941. In June 1941, the British
counter attacked again but were unsuccessful and fell back to Egypt.
Sergeant Coleman’s group was quartered at Abasseya Barracks, a British base near Cairo. The detachment
was split up and deployed among various British units along the eastern desert front. The British Eight Army was preparing
for another counter-offense against the German Afrika Korps and had begun to receive American tanks in the form of M-3 light
|American M-3 Light Tanks being checked for combat. Pyramids in background. Coleman by tank.
Sergeant Coleman was detached to the 8th Hussars (cavalry who had traded their horses for tanks)
of the Seventh Division. Upon his arrival there, the British received him and his crew with open arms and got them settled
in quickly. Sergeant Coleman was provided with personal transportation in the form of a Rolls Royce pickup truck. Actually,
it had previously been a Rolls Royce armored car equipped with a Maxim machine gun. The armored body had been removed and
replaced with a flat bed for utility work after it’s former owner, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) had gone home
|Members of 8th Hussars. TSG Coleman sitting front left.
After about a month, the detachment was relocated to the British base at Tel Al Kabir where an operating
and maintenance school was established for the British tank crews. Here Coleman traded in his Rolls Royce pickup truck for
a German VW Kubelwagen, which was better suited to his transportation needs.
|Captured Afrika Korps VW Kubelwagen used by TSG Coleman.
While at Tel Al Kabir, Coleman was visiting a British tank company and was conversing with one of the officers
when he noticed a British private cleaning a machine gun, which was pointed directly at himself and the officer. The soldier
finished cleaning the machine gun and loaded a belt of ammunition into it. Coleman stepped back behind a nearby tank and was
calling the officer to follow him when the machine gun opened fire. Once the bullets stopped flying, the officer counted 20
some odd bullet holes in the inseams of his baggie pants, but he was not wounded. Had Coleman not moved when he did, the machine
gun fire would have taken off both of his legs. (Rumor has it that the British private will be eligible for parole in 2005.)
Coleman went to a new base near the Great Pyramids where the M-3 light tanks were given a final tune up before
going into battle. For whatever the reason, there was a critical shortage of tools for the American tanks. In especially short
supply was a wrench to adjust the tracks before battle. The British had tried to have several cast from local metals, but
they proved worthless. Coleman went into Cairo and scrounged the back street shops until he found an American wrench that
would work on the tracks. He was in high demand and went from unit to unit adjusting the tank tracks before battle. Eventually,
the tool supplies caught up to the British and the problem passed on.
|A Great Pyramid and the Sphinx.
Next Coleman returned to Tel Al Kabir to help setup a training school for the M-3 Medium tanks that were
arriving now. After the school was operating, Coleman returned to the 8th Hussars and accompanied a British battlefield
maintenance and recovery unit forward for the next offensive. During this forward movement, the column came under frequent
air attacks by German and Italian aircraft. It was the standard operating procedure (SOP) to stop the vehicles when under
air attack and for all personnel to evacuate the vehicle and lie prone on the ground in order to avoid being trapped in the
vehicle if it exploded. There was an unspoken gentlemen’s agreement to strafe the vehicles and leave the personnel to
fend for themselves. Enroute a German Messerschmitt ME-109 came out of the sun and attacked the column. The vehicles stopped
and the personnel jumped out on the ground. For some reason the Germans were not playing by the rules that day. The fighter
made a run down the column of vehicles with machine guns blazing. Several trucks caught on fire. Then the plane made a turn
about and made a strafing run down the column of men lying on the ground.
The bullet struck Sergeant Coleman in the right fore arm. It lifted him two feet off of the ground and covered
him in dust and sand. Apparently it was a tracer bullet and cauterized the wound as it went through his arm. The bullet missed
the bone in his arm by a fraction of an inch. He put chewing gum over the entry and exit wounds to keep the dust and sand
out. There was little bleeding. When he had a chance he checked in with a British aid station and had the wound bandaged.
By American standards Coleman was due a Purple Heart Medal, but no administrative mechanism existed to cover an American soldier
wounded while serving with the British Army prior to December 1941 and America's entry into the war. The sensitive nature
of his assignment also precluded any acknowledgement.
While on the march in the desert, the detachment men were issued foldout cots to sleep on. They needed to
be off of the ground in order to avoid scorpions and snakes. The technique was to dig a slip trench big enough to put the
cot in and sleep below ground level. At night the Italian Air Force would mount nuisance air raids using their three engine
Carproni bombers. The engines were intentionally left out of synchronization in order to produce the most annoying sound possible.
To add to the irritation, they would drop small general-purpose bombs that did little damage unless they scored a direct hit.
Late in the day while moving forward, a German Panzer III tank was seen skirting the column's movements.
It was probably trying to lure tanks to come out into an artillery trap. The Germans used the lethal 88mm anti-aircraft gun
in a flat trajectory as a tank killer. They would nearly always set up a pre-ranged killing zone and then try to lure British
vehicles into the range of the 88s. Not knowing this, the Americans sent Sergeant Coleman after the Panzer in an M-3 light
tank. The M-3 was armed with a 37mm gun and the Panzer III was armed with a 50mm gun. Coleman took the position as the tank
gunner and started firing on the move as they closed on the Panzer. After several rounds were exchanged between the tanks,
Coleman’s M-3 scored a direct hit on the Panzer’s track and disabled it. The Germans escaped before the M-3 could
reach the abandoned Panzer.
|Panzer III knocked out by TSG Coleman.
Early in the morning just as the sun was rising, a German Me-109 aircraft would fly out of the sun and bomb
and strafe the column. It got to be so regular that it appeared to be the same aircraft and became know as the "Sunrise Special."
Sergeant Coleman decided to try a new technique against the fighter plane; simply aim the tank’s main guns at the rising
sun; and fire when you heard the motor of the ME-109. Another tank crew tried it and sure enough, scored a direct hit on the
Sunrise Special. The German crashed nearby and was killed.
Sergeant Coleman’s maintenance crew was ordered forward to recover a disabled M-3 tank. It was repaired
and the maintenance crew drove it back to the rear area. Just as they turned off a paved road, the tank struck a German anti-tank
mine. The blast blew off the tank’s treads and disabled the tank. Coleman was standing inside the turret when the mine
went off. The concussion compressed his knee joints and inflicted an injury that would pain him for the next 60 years until
he had an artificial knee joint installed. The tank crew escaped with minor injures; they had been remarkably lucky. They
returned to the rear area to rest and recover from their close call.
One of the diversions back at the base area was donkey racing. It became a serious business with large sums
of money being bet on the most promising donkeys. The troops were paid in Egyptian Piastres; the exchange rate was such that
thousands of piastres were traded for a British pound note. Hundreds of thousands of piastres changed hands on the whim of
a donkey. The British sense of fair play prevailed and all riders were required to be totally intoxicated before entering
|Donkey races at Tel Al Kabir. Coleman 3rd human from left.
In November 1941, the British counter-offensive, Operation Crusader, began. Despite initial reverses, the
British forced the Germans and Italians back to Benghazi and relieved Tobruk. On the way to the front area, Sergeant Coleman
encountered an Italian Colonel who had surrendered to the British and was being searched. Coleman relieved him of his Beretta
pistol and a German Voighlander camera. The Italian spoke English and told Coleman that he had picked up the camera from the
wreckage of a shot down German JU-52 transport plane carrying German soldiers. Coleman later had the film in the camera developed.
The pictures in the camera indicated that the previous owner had probably seen combat in Greece and Crete before arriving
in North Africa.
|Previous owner of Voighlander camera boarding a JU-52 transport.
|German paratroopers in front of JU-52 transport.
|German troops in camp 1941.
|Italian soldiers 1941.
At about this time, substantial numbers of American M-3 Medium tanks, armed with 75-mm guns, were arriving
in North Africa. As usual, they arrived with no spare parts and no instruction manuals. Also, the initial issue of ammunition
was semi-armor piercing practice rounds! When they hit the German tanks, they left a colored paint splatter so the gunner
could see where his practice round hit! Unless the round splattered paint on the Panzer's periscopes, it did nothing
to disable the tank. The early M-3s models also suffered from steering problems with the hydraulically boosted steering
system. TSG Coleman was assigned to work this problem. The problem seemed to come from not having the correct mixture of hydraulic
fluid and high-pressure nitrogen gas in the steering system. Due to a lack of technical publications, the crews had been guessing
at the correct quantities of fluid and nitrogen. The results were frequent jamming of the steering system. TSG Coleman and
a British tank crew were experimenting with the correct mixtures one day when they were test driving an M-3 Medium tank at
high speed and the tank commander (British sergeant) called for a left turn. The tank driver pulled the steering stick hard
left; nothing happened! He pulled again and harder, suddenly the tank made a 90-degree left turn and ran off the road. Before
the driver could get the tank under control it ran into a nearby building at full speed and proceeded to gut the entire building
from one end to the other. The tank was just coming through the far wall of the building when it stopped. Unfortunately, the
building was a British "Naafi" or the equivalent of an American PX (Post Exchange). The tank flattened several tables and
chairs as it went through the building. Amazingly, no one was run over! Major Colby, Coleman’s commanding officer, suggested
that Coleman and he needed to get out of Africa for awhile and let the Naafi incident blow over. They went to Ahmadnagh, India
to train the Indians on the M-3 Medium tanks they were receiving; Colby especially wanted Coleman since he was familiar with
the steering peculiarities! They departed for India in November 1941.
They flew from Cairo, Egypt to Bombay, India in a DeHavaland Rapide bi-plane. They covered the 3000-mile
flight in four days. From Bombay they went by railroad to the British base at Ahmadnagh. The British garrison had been assigned
there since well before the war and was well established with the usual British creature comforts; including their wives and
families. This was a welcome interlude for Coleman who had been in the desert for months. The mission to India concluded without
incident and TSG Coleman and Major Colby returned to Egypt by rail and aircraft at the end of November.
|"Gate to India", British Monument in Bombay.
|Indian troops at British base at Ahmadnagh, India. November 1941.
TSG Coleman returned to the desert and was moving towards the front lines with the British in December 1941.
He didn’t hear about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor until a week after the fact. The British were hard pressed
to contain their glee about the United States finally being officially in the war. They had come to depend on the American
advisors so much that they were openly concerned that they may lose them to American units. The United States was so unprepared
to fight a world war at the time that it would be several months before American units would be operating on their own in
|TSG Coleman on desert patrol armed with British Enfield rifle.
Despite maneuvering by Rommel, the British continued to push the Germans and Italians westward. In January
1942, the British re-took Benghazi. Then suddenly and without higher authorization, Rommel counter-attacked and pushed the
British back again. The Italian High Command, which Rommel was theoretically under, refused to allow Italian troops to participate
in the new counter-offensive. Rommel pushed on without the Italians and re-took Benghazi in late January. Rommel continued
for a short distance before his tanks ran out of fuel and then dug into defensive positions in front of the Gazala Line. Here
the forces remained for several weeks refitting and restocking fuel and supplies.
In January 1942, Coleman was promoted to Master Sergeant and continued with the British operations in the
desert. The routine remained generally unchanged; accompanying the British armored forces as they went into battle against
the Germans and Italians; instructing them on American equipment and helping them to recover and repair damaged tanks. One
British ritual that impressed Coleman was "Tea Time." Any time a British convoy stopped for any reason, except air attacks,
the troops would have tea. They had a system that would shame an Indianapolis 500 Race pit crew. The moment they stopped one
man would lay down a piece of sheet metal; the next would shovel sand on it; the next would pour gasoline on it; the next
would light it and the next would have the tea pot ready to brew. They always had hot tea within five minutes.
During one expedition to the front, Coleman came across a German ammunition dump that had been abandoned
but not destroyed for some reason. There were thousands of rounds of German 75mm ammunition. To Coleman it looked
like British Five-Pounder cannon ammunition, but it was definitely German. Coleman found that by machining .040 of an
inch off of the rotator band on the German ammunition, it would fire in the British Five-Pounders. He reported this
to Colonel Gruver (later of Gruver amphibious tank fame) who reported it to the British who immediately collected and modified
the ammunition. The British were especially short on Five-Pounder ammunition at this time. No doubt the Germans
never appreciated the irony of being shot up with their own ammunition!
|British five-pounder anti-tank gun in action.
In spite of constant aerial attacks while in convoy, Coleman’s contingent had not lost anyone until
about this time. A Sergeant Delmer Parks was killed when his truck came around a bend in the road and encountered a German
armored scout car, which opened up with machine gun fire. In this same engagement, the British noticed that they were seeing
American tanks with German markings on them and they were shooting at the British! Finally a disabled American M-3 was captured
from the Germans. They were so short of armor that they were pressing anything that could be made to run into service. The
M-3s were powered by radial aircraft engines and the British managed to get about 300 hours of operating time between overhauls.
The captured American/German M-3 had 1300 hours since overhaul and was still in running condition. The Germans had no choice
but to get the most out of their borrowed equipment.
|Casualty from strafing attack by German fighter plane.
The American M-3 light tanks with a 37mm gun were out-gunned by the German Panzer III with a 50mm gun. Typically
tank to tank battles took place at 1000 to 1500 yards. When the American M-3 Medium tanks with the 75mm guns came into action
they could generally defeat the Panzer if they could get a straight shot at them. It was discovered that a hit on the Panzer
in the proper location with high explosive (HE) rounds rather than armor-priecing rounds, would sometime blow the Panzer's
turret off, but these hits were not common. The M-3 Medium did not have a turret for the gun, but rather it was pointed
out the front of the tank in Sponson mount which only allow it to fire at 15 degree angles to left or right. Otherwise the
tank itself had to maneuver in order to bring its gun to bear on the target. It didn’t take long for the Germans to
recognize the short comings of the M-3 Medium. These problems were reported back to the home front and a new and improved
design finally appeared in the form of the M-4 Medium tank. The M-4 had a fully traversing turret with the 75mm gun and thicker
three-inch armor and a lower profile.
|M-3 Light Tank with hits from Panzer III into driver's area.
|M-3 Medium Tank with 75mm & 37mm guns.
The early M-4s had their problems as well. The first nasty surprise was that the armor plate was riveted
together. If the tank received a hit, even if it didn’t penetrate the armor, the force sheered off all of the rivet
heads inside of the tank and sent them ricocheting around the inside of the tank, usually slaughtering the crew. There were
cases of M-4s continuing to run and move with the crews dead. Coleman’s group set about correcting this by spot welding
each and every rivet head inside of the M-4s. The Germans were quick to recognize the next problem as well. The turret was
traversed by a hydraulic motor turning a small gear inside of a large ring gear at the base of the turret. The large ring
gear was exposed on the outside. A hit by even a small caliber round on this exposed gear could jam the turret and prevent
the gun from being brought to bear on the target without moving the tank (like the M-3 Mediums). The Germans started aiming
specifically for this point on the M-4s. Once the turret was jammed it was easy to get behind the tank where the armor was
thin and make short work of it. The M-4s also had a tendency to erupt in flames anytime they took a hit from behind into the
engine compartment. These shortcomings were reported back to the US and corrections were incorporated into the newer models
in the form of a fully cast armor hull and an armored shield around the turret ring. The tendency to catch on fire was never
over come and gave rise to such nicknames as "Ronsons" (For the cigarette lighter of the time that was guaranteed to light
every time) and "Canook Cookers" by their Canadian crews. The M-4s served as the main US tank for the duration of World War
Two and beyond. Approximately 49,000 were manufactured.
|M-4 Medium Tank with 75mm gun.
Before going overseas, Coleman had taken and passed the examination for warrant officer. In March 1942, Master
Sergeant Coleman received an appointment as a warrant officer; temporary then permanent Regular Army in part as recognition
of his contributions to field modifications of the M-4 tank. He was now reassigned to the US Army maintenance base at Heliopolis
(Sun City) near Cairo. He bade farewell to his British friends and reported in. At Heliopolis, Warrant Officer (WO) Coleman
was assigned as the chief inspector on tanks being prepared to go into combat. There was still a spare parts shortage for
the American equipment. One example was the failure of some ball bearing assembly. The old ones were thrown away and new ones
requisitioned from supply; only problem was supply didn’t have any or know when they would get any! All available personnel
were detailed to dig through the trash dump to recover the discarded bearings in hopes that some of them could be salvaged.
|8th Hussars. MSG Coleman sitting left of officers. 1942.
One great advantage in being at Heliopolis was not being shot at constantly; keeping more or less normal
working hours and last but not least being able to go to town after work. Town in this case was Cairo. There were the British
clubs and the indigenous establishments. Americans seemed to favor the local flavor more than the British system of entertainment.
One day Coleman was exploring the streets of Cairo when he realized three Egyptians had followed him, one with a large knife.
Just as the Egyptians surrounded him, nine Australians, who looked like they were seven feet tall, came out of an alley and
soundly thrashed the Egyptians. They gave the knife to Coleman as a souvenir as they hollered "Hands across the sea yank!"
and disappeared back into their alley. Coleman made it a point not to go alone after that.
While making an inspection trip with another soldier one-day, they were on a narrow road in the edge of Cairo.
Coleman was driving an American Jeep with a top speed of about 60 miles per hour. Suddenly he noticed a column of Mercedes
touring cars coming up behind him at a high rate of speed. They weren’t slowing down so he sped up, soon his Jeep was
wide open and the Mercedes were gaining fast. The lead Mercedes was full of guards with machine guns and they were shaking
their fists at Coleman and waving him over. With his Jeep wide open and starting to smoke he finally came to a road where
he could turn off. The Egyptian King Farouk and his entourage roared by with the guards still shaking their fists at Coleman.
Beginning in May 1942, Rommel launched a series of attacks against the British on the Gazala Line and eventually
broke through. He laid siege to Tobruk again, which surrendered in late June. As the German and Italian offensive continued,
the British fell back to the Egyptian frontier. Rommel captured stocks of food and fuel from Torburk and was able to sustain
his offensive. The British continued to fall back and sat up a defensive line at El Alamein in Egypt. By the end of June 1942,
Rommel was before El Alamein, and Mussolini arrived in Libya to prepare for his triumphal entry into Cairo. The British prepared
to stand at El Alamein at all costs. If they failed Egypt would be lost and the next defensive line would be the East Side
of the Suez Canal. The first Battle of El Alamein continued through July with heavy losses on both sides; especially in tanks.
The rumor mill was working overtime in Cairo. Word on the street was that Cairo would fall and Rommel would
take the Suez Canal within weeks. The British prepared to evacuate to Palestine if necessary. The American units were ordered
to evacuate to Eritrea in the south. Warrant Officer Coleman and his group packed all of the special tools and technical manuals
they could carry and flew south to Asmara, Eritrea, arriving there at the end of June 1942.
Eritrea had been an Italian colony, but the British had invaded and occupied it after defeating the Italians
in a series of battles. The Eritrean people were a fearlessly proud and independent people. They had resisted Italian colonization,
as had their neighbors the Ethiopians under Emperor Hallie Salassie. The Emperor’s famous mobilization decree was indicative
of their determination. "All men will bring their spears; all women will bring their cooking utensils; everyone else will
be hanged;" or words to that effect. However, both peoples learned the hard way that the spear was no match for the machine
gun and eventually the mechanized Italians overwhelmed them. When Coleman arrived the Italian colonists were still in effect
controlling the country under British supervision. Coleman’s group sat up shop in a former Italian Army depot. When
the Italians surrendered to the British they disabled thousands of their vehicles by removing essential parts and hiding them,
thus rendering the vehicle fleets useless to the British.
|Eritrean family near Asmara, July 1942.
One day while setting up the shop area, Coleman was approached by an Italian named Alberto Finni who asked
him for a job in the shop. Coleman advised him that he was the enemy and there wasn’t anything he could do for the Americans.
Finni advised that he was the one who hid the essential parts from the Italian vehicles. After reconsidering the situation
for about two seconds Finni was hired. He said that he also needed jobs for his family and friends; they were hired too. Finni
and the other Italians took over running the vehicle shop under Coleman’s supervision. Suddenly the Americans were vehicle
rich. They had everything from Italian light tanks, Moto-Guzzi motorcycles to Fiat automobiles. There was even a 1935 Isotta
Fraschini touring car.
|Finni front left with friends. Coleman's Italian teacher, 2nd from right. Eritrea 1942.
Another consequence of the British misfortunes in Egypt was that the Egyptian Piastres were now considered to be worthless.
The troops had been paid in the Egyptian script. Now it was used to light cigars, supplement the toilet paper supply and for
outrageous gambling bets. In some cases it was simply thrown away. Coleman collected it whenever possible and was lucky at
cards also. By the time he left Eritrea, he had amassed the equivalent of one million dollars in Egyptian Piastres! Once it
was realized that Rommel was not going to over run Egypt the money was suddenly good again. There were many long faces around
the campfire that night; no one knew where to find all of the Egyptian money. Coleman knew; but he wasn't talking! The US
Army limited the amount of cash you could send home to $2,000.00 worth, so Coleman prepared for a spending spree of heroic
With the Italians running the day-to-day operations of the shops, Coleman and the other Americans looked for diversions.
These included gambling, learning Italian from the young Italian women who worked there and hunting. Everyone had amassed
collections of Luger, Berretta and Mauser pistols and rifles. The countryside abounded with troupes of baboons, sometimes
40 to 50 in each group. Coleman and a couple of other Americans loaded into his Fiat car and drove to country to hunt baboons.
On a hillside they spied a troupe and stopped and got out of the Fiat. One of them took aim and fired hitting a bull baboon.
The baboons reacted in shockingly human fashion at the killing of one of their own. Someone took another shot at a large bull
and missed. The bull stood up and roared at the shooters and charged down the hill towards them followed by 40 some odd enraged
baboons. Mature baboons can weigh 200 pounds and have two-inch fangs, plus they have at least twice the strength of a man.
Everyone ran for the Fiat and got inside just as the bull crashed against the side of car. Suddenly the Fiat was surrounded
by raging baboons, jumping up and down on the car, roaring, urinating on it and shaking it as violently as they could. Naturally,
the Fiat wouldn’t start now! It became an "Eritrean Standoff", the men were in the car and the baboons were all over
it and there they sat in the 120-degree African temperatures. Finally, as siesta time approached, the baboons seemed to lose
interest and the Fiat decided to start; everyone went home and baboon hunting was never mentioned again.
|Baboon hunters. Eritrea 1942. L>R: unknown; Sergeants Sherman Clay & Houston Looney.
One other shooting legend was born in Eritrea. Again while driving in the countryside, Coleman and some other Americans
saw a bunch of large vultures on the ground at great distance. Coleman bet a hundred thousand Egyptian Piastres that he could
hit one of the vultures with a single shot from his Luger with a four-inch barrel! Seemed like sure money, the bet was on.
Coleman aimed the Luger at about a 30-degree incline and fired. The flock of vultures took flight, except for one! The single
shot had struck the vulture in the head at 730 yards. In what had to be one of the luckiest shots of World War Two, Coleman
collected his winnings (to add to his treasure trove) and advised everyone that "You just have to know your gun!" Thereafter
he was known as "Know your gun Coleman."
In August 1942, Rommel began another offensive in an attempt to break through the British defenses at El Alamein. He failed
and the British counter attacked in what became the Second Battle of El Alamein. Rommel was slowly pushed back with great
losses in armor and men. By September it was clear that Rommel would not overrun Egypt after all. The American contingent
in Eritrea was ordered back to Egypt. Coleman said good-bye to his Italian language instructor and flew north to Egypt. He
was assigned to the American Tank Shop at Darb El Hagg, Egypt as chief inspector. The emphasis had shifted from processing
new tanks for the British to recycling tanks that had been damaged or knocked out in battle.
With his sizable bankroll of cash, Coleman rented a villa in Cairo where he and some of the other Americans lived. While
walking down the street to the villa one day, he heard a female voice from behind him say, in perfect King’s English,
"Excuse me sir; I’m looking for a job and I speak English and French, can you help me?" Coleman grasp his Luger as he
turned around and there stood a six-foot tall Sudanese woman, immaculately dressed and kept. The Sudanese were distinguishable
by their unusually dark pigment. They are so dark that they have an eggplant tone to their skins. Her name was Dagga and she
was the daughter of a Sudanese governor and had been educated in Egypt. Her father had fallen out of political favor so she
had decided to remain in Egypt and needed a job. They conversed for awhile and settled on her managing the villa for the Americans.
She had two sisters who she hired and they took over the operation of the villa to include meals, cleaning, laundry and so
on. Coleman and the Americans didn’t have to read Arabian Nights, they were living them!
|The American Villa. Cairo, Egypt September 1942.
In December 1942, Coleman was given a direct commission (battlefield commission) as a First Lieutenant, skipping over second
lieutenant in the Regular Army. He had gone from a corporal in 1940 to a commissioned officer in 1942. First Lieutenant (1LT)
Coleman continued as chief inspector at Darb El Hagg until January 1943 when he was ordered to return to the United States.
Coleman bade Dagga farewell and gave her the remainder of his million dollars worth of Egyptian Piastres, about $200,000.00
dollars worth that he could not bring home with him. 1LT Coleman flew from Cairo to Khartoum, Sudan and on across Central
Africa to Accra in Ghana in a C-47 airplane (DC-3). The flight across the South Atlantic was to be in a B-24 bomber. Everyone
was anxious to get home after all that they had been through. The C-47 was running behind schedule and it did not appear that
they would make their connection with the B-24 before it took off for South America. Everyone was urging the pilot to speed
up so they could catch the B-24. He calmly told them to relax; it wasn’t going anywhere without them. Finally, they
reached the airport and the C-47 pilot circled so they could get a good look at the still burning wreckage of their B-24 that
had crashed on take off!
The group was delayed in Ghana for about a week until another westbound B-24 came through. When they finally loaded up
and took off, Coleman was at one of the few windows in the B-24 and watched sheets of raw gasoline from the over- filled fuel
tanks pouring off of the tops of the wings about six inches above the ten foot exhaust flames coming out of the supercharged
engines! He prayed that they weren’t going to end up as another flaming wreck at the end of the runway. Other than the
takeoff, the flight to Natal, Brazil was uneventful. From Natal, they boarded C-47s again and proceeded up the South American
coast to the island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. In Puerto Rico, Coleman came down with a raging fever and was quarantined
in the hospital for two weeks before he could proceed. He finally arrived in Miami and went through customs. He was carrying
a German Mauser K-98 rifle slung over his shoulder when he went through customs. They wanted to know if he felt well
armed enough? He did, he had not shown them his Luger and Berretta pistols under his coat. From Miami he proceeded up the
East Coast and returned to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland again. He had been overseas for 19 months, most of it in combat
Lieutenant Coleman returned to Aberdeen and became an armor instructor for Officer Candidate School (OCS) students in late
January 1943. When he had gone overseas in 1941, his wife, Eunice, had remained in Havre de Grace, Maryland while he
was gone. She had gone to work in an ammunition factory in nearby Delaware as an inspector for munitions for the British government.
They caught up on married life until March 1943 when Coleman received orders to go to Camp Santa Anita, California near Arcadia.
They packed up their belongings, said their farewells and proceeded to California by way of Columbus, Georgia to visit Eunice’s
family and Colorado to visit Floyd’s family enroute.
In order to conserve gasoline and tires for the war effort, the national speed limit was set at 35 mph. Everyone, including
the military personnel, were issued gasoline ration coupons based on the necessary mileage they had to travel each month versus
the gas mileage for their vehicle. The Colemans owned a 1938 Packard sedan, which was rated at 18 miles per gallon. The trip
would take about three to four weeks, allowing for visits in Georgia and Colorado. It was time they needed together after
such a long separation. While visiting in Columbus, Georgia, Eunice noticed an article on the front page of the local newspaper.
"Delaware Munitions Plant Leveled by Explosion; Dozens Killed!" She and Floyd seemed to be under lucky stars, if there are
|Gasoline ration card & stamps.
Upon arrival in California, they rented a house in Monrovia, which was a small country town near Los Angeles at that time.
Lieutenant Coleman was assigned as the Assistant Chief of the Field Branch at Camp Santa Anita. He was further detailed to
setup a desert recovery school for tank crews. He scouted the area and found a suitable location near Palmdale, California
at the small town of Pear Blossom. His unit consisted of about twenty older model tanks, several recovery vehicles, and about
fifty enlisted men. They moved to Pear Blossom and established an operating base in the California desert. Eunice remained
in Monrovia after discovering that she was expecting their first child. Floyd traded the 1938 Packard in on a 1941 Graham
Hollywood, which was a plainer version of the famous Cord automobile. The Graham was super-charged and was one of the premiere
sports cars of the day. Coleman also came to the realization that he would have to rein in his lavish spending habits he had
acquired in Africa with his million-dollar cash fund. He had sent back $2,000.00 from Africa and was now making $150.00 per
month as a first lieutenant; a far cry from his earlier status!
|Lieutenant Coleman with 1941 Hollywood Graham in California 1943.
The routine at the Pear Blossom site was to take tanks out into the desert and hide them. The troops being trained in recovery
techniques would be given compass coordinates to the tank's location. Usually they would go out at night, along the way they
were subject to being attacked by the enemy! In this case the enemy was Lieutenant Coleman’s crew acting as "Rommel
Rats." In addition to recovery problems, the troops were trained in field maintenance on the tanks. Coleman usually was able
to go home on weekends to be with Eunice in Monrovia, about a 60-mile trip each way. This wasn’t calculated into his
gasoline ration, but he found a creative solution to the problem. The unit bought gasoline for the tanks and recovery equipment
from the local gas station in Pear Blossom. One day there was a new tank to be fueled; it was a 1941 model Graham light armored
assault vehicle. When buying 2,000 gallons of gasoline at a time, another 15 gallons wasn’t going to wreck the war effort.
The Pear Blossom routine continued through most of the year, as did Eunice’s pregnancy. The desert operation went
smoother than her pregnancy. She developed various complications and was suffering from morning sickness all day for months
on end. Finally, after a difficult delivery, their son was born on December 12, 1943; they named him Douglas Earl Coleman.
Mother and son recovered.
During December 1943, one of the crew named Corporal "Ace" Minnie was sent out in the desert to hide a tank for recovery
training. "Ace" headed out with the tank and was never seen again! A search party was mounted but found nothing. The next
day Coleman received a telephone call from the train station in Palmdale, California. The stationmaster said that one of Coleman’s
Jeeps was parked there, would someone come and get it? Coleman went to the station and found the Jeep; it was sitting by the
station house with the engine still running! The stationmaster said that he thought he had seen someone fitting Corporal Minnie’s
description get on the train. Corporal Minnie followed his orders but he neglected to tell anyone that he also had received
orders to leave immediately for deployment to England. So Corporal Minnie was accounted for but there was still the matter
of the tank! Coleman and a couple of his men went to nearby George Army Air Corp Base and requisitioned a C-45 Beechcraft
(Twin Beech) to fly them back and forth across the desert looking for the tank, they saw nothing; the tank was never found.
Today there is a tank buried somewhere in the suburbs of Palmdale, California.
|Coleman's "Rommel Rats," Pear Blossom, California, 1943. Coleman second from left front.
The operation at Pear Blossom was terminated in January 1944. It was rated as highly successful and Lieutenant Coleman
was commendated for his efforts. After dismantling the site at Pear Blossom, Coleman received orders to report to the Office
of the Chief of Ordnance at Fort Story, Virginia. He had been requested by his old commanding officer in Africa, Major, and
now Colonel Colby. He had a special assignment for Coleman! Lieutenant Coleman took the Graham and left for Virginia. Eunice
remained in Monrovia, California in that Douglas was only a month old and not able to travel yet. There were neighbors and
friends to help her with shopping and getting to the nearby doctors if necessary.
A couple of months later she caught a train from Los Angeles to Columbus, Georgia where her family was. Most of the trains
running from the West Coast eastward were "Troop Trains," carrying soldiers on their way to England. When she boarded the
train in Los Angeles, the agent at the station told her there should be a separate car for civilians traveling on the troop
train. She boarded and the train pulled out; there was no separate car and in fact the train was over filled, there were no
vacant seats anywhere. She sat on her suitcase in the restroom on one of the train cars for the next three days, nursing her
baby when necessary until she reached Columbus. In Columbus she went to stay with her mother, Minnie Lynn, her younger brother,
Allen Lynn and her grandfather, Berrien Lynn.
As the plans for the Allied invasion of Europe were being finalized in early 1944, a major problem appeared. If the beach
landings were to succeed, armored support would be necessary in the first or second landing waves. The problem was that the
beaches would not be secure enough to bring landing ships large enough to carry tanks (LSTs) on to the beach at that stage,
they would be prime targets for shore batteries and aerial attack. The idea was hit upon to float the tanks ashore individually,
thus making them smaller targets and keeping the landing ships at a relatively safe distance from the shore. Initial calculations
indicated that it was feasible to attach flotation devices to the tanks and let them motor themselves ashore. Two different
flotation systems were devised. The first was the Gruver Device, which was a rubber flotation screen that was pulled up around
the tank. The tank was fitted with dual engine driven propellers. The second device was the Blankenship or T-6 device, which
consisted of large metal flotation tanks attached to the tank and was propelled by the tank’s tracks running in the
water. Lieutenant Coleman was assigned to test and debug the Blankenship device.
|M-4 Sherman Tank equipped with Gruver device in storage mode.
|M-4 Sherman Tank with Gruver device extended.
In February 1944 the first Blankenship device was ready for testing. Two large metal flotation tanks were attached one
in front and one behind the tank. The flotation tanks were filled with plastic foam to prevent them from sinking if punctured
by bullets. The technique was for the tank to motor ashore and pull up on the beach. Once there it would fire explosive bolts
that would release the flotation tanks and free the tank to maneuver and fire its 75mm gun. The discarded flotation tanks
would also provide cover for the advancing infantry troops. An M-4 Medium tank was fitted with the Blankenship device and
loaded on board an LST and motored out into the Chesapeake Bay for the test. The project was critical and many high ranking
officers turned out for the demonstration, including Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest King.
Coleman prepared his tank for the test. The crew was on board and everything checked out. Just as a safety precaution,
Coleman aligned the tank's turret to the forward position. This would allow the tank driver to exit the tank by way of the
turret hatch if necessary. Otherwise he would have to exit by way of his individual hatch on the front of the tank. All was
ready; the tank sped up and moved out of the LST and into the water. The field engineers had failed to consider the additional
stress on the flotation tanks attach fitting generated by the tank accelerating out of the LST. As soon as the tank hit the
water, both sets of attach fitting broke and the flotation tanks buckled up over the tank which immediately went to the bottom
of the Chesapeake Bay in 80 feet of water!
|T-6 Equipped M-4 leaving LST. Flotation device breaking off. Coleman in turret hatch.
Inside the tank, Coleman and his crew were trying to climb out of the turret hatch but the water pouring in washed them
back inside. The water was cold and it was black dark. Coleman shouted for everyone to stay put until the tank was completely
flooded, then they could get out. Just as the water was filling the inside of the tank, Coleman heard the driver screaming
that he was stuck and couldn’t get out. Just then the turret filled up and everyone took their last breath; Coleman
pushed the gunner and loader out of the top hatch. Then he grabbed the driver and pulled him towards the turret hatch. In
the process the driver’s hand became wedged between the gun breech and the top of the turret. Starting to run out of
air, Coleman braced himself against the side of the turret and pulled the driver free, leaving flesh and blood behind. The
driver grabbed Coleman in a bear hug around his legs and hung on as Coleman swam for the surface. On the surface Coleman got
the injured driver to a rescue barge and then he noticed that he was being pulled back under the water again. They had placed
an empty gasoline can (Jerry can) attached to the tank with a hundred feet of rope in case it did sink, they would be able
to locate it. The rope from the float can had wrapped around Coleman’s leg and the current was pulling the float and
him back under water. He took a deep breath just as he was pulled under and swam down far enough to take the load off of the
line and untangle his leg from it and reach the surface again. He had barely done it in the nick of time before the current
tightened the rope around his leg and held him under the water!
|1LT Coleman reaches surface from 80 feet below.
In spite of their narrow escape from drowning, Coleman ordered up a second tank with the Blankenship device attached and
re-embarked on another LST immediately. He reasoned that if he didn’t get his crew back on the water before they had
time to think about it, they would never go back. They went back out in the bay but did not launch the tank until the attachment
fittings could be redesigned. The driver did have time to think about it and absolutely refused to ever get in another tank
of any kind! He went to the infantry. Coleman made it a point to always carry a straight blade knife thereafter. The attach
fittings were redesigned and the system was successfully tested on several occasions without any further incidents.
|T-6 Equipped M-4 Tank underway with new attach fittings. Coleman standing.
In March 1944, Coleman and Colonel Blankenship with a fifteen-man crew sailed for England to demonstrate the T-6 device
to the Allied Supreme Command. The overseas team was assembled and there was one lieutenant too many, he could not go; so
he was promoted to captain as compensation. The new captain made himself scarce amidst death threats from Coleman and the
other lieutenants. The transport ship was the Thurston and was loaded with military cargo in the holds and had tanks
loaded on the decks, making it top heavy. In addition to the Blankenship team and equipment, there were ten thousand troops
headed for England. The ship had accommodations for 10,000 men; Coleman was number 10,001! He became known as the "Phantom"
as he lurked in dark corners and wandered about the ship all hours of the day and night looking for a berth. Finally the medical
officer allowed him to sleep in sick bay for a few hours from time to time. The spring of 1944 was one of the worst storm
seasons in the North Atlantic Ocean in history. Spring storms brought 50 to 70 foot waves as the ships struggled to maintain
convoy formation as protection against lurking U-boats. Coleman had fewer regrets about not having a berth as he stood inside
the hatchway and watched the ship roll 45 degrees one way then the other. It was related that if the ship had rolled two more
degrees it would have capsized. The ship next to his would ride up on the waves with the propellers completely out of the
water then disappear completely out of site below the tops of the 70-foot waves. Not being berthed in the bottom of the ship
was OK after all! After landing in Cartiff, Wales they went to Cheltenham in Gloucestershire to set up shop and to train the
British on the use of the Blankenship device.
Cheltenham turned out to be old home week for Lieutenant Coleman; he met several former associates while there: the sergeant
(now major) who had suggested that he go AWOL in order to get stationed at Fort Douglas, Utah back in 1933; Corporal Paul
Thompson (now major) from whom he had bought his first motorcycle in 1931; and even Corporal "Ace" Minnie from Palmdale
turned up! Turns out that he had opened the tank up to full speed and jumped out and it ran into a dirt embankment which then
collapsed over it and buried it completely. So there probably still is a tank buried in Palmdale, California! The other diversion
at Cheltenham was a local club that required everyone to remove their rank ensigna before entering. As the evenings bore on
the establishment usually turned into a "fight club," with general free for all’s ensuing. Lieutenants were attacking
colonels and vice versa! Coleman got ejected so many times that he was on a first name basis with the bouncer!
Later on the unit moved to Frittens Lake, where the T-6s were assembled and tested. Coleman’s crew attended a British
training school on underwater escape equipment. It was to be included in the amphibious tanks. One of the great fish stories
of World War Two took place at this time. Frittens Lake abounded with large Pike fish some of them four and five feet in length.
One day Coleman went fishing at the end of a long but rickety dock on the lake. There didn’t seem to be much biting,
so he sat down and relaxed. Suddenly and with a mighty jerk his pole bent double and he was pulled into the lake. Whatever
it was towed him across the lake with no strain. After filtering half the lake through his system, it occurred to Coleman
to let go of the pole! He had to endure the indignities of having been caught by a fish; he countered with his story about
the one that got away.
Coleman’s group was housed in Quonset huts, which had been set up on the grounds of an English manor house at Frittens
Lake. Somewhere near by was an American air base from which B-17 bombers flew from. Coleman was visiting there one day on
business and had stopped to have coffee in the mess building. While standing at a window looking out at the runways, a German
Messerschmitt ME-109 fighter plane roared by at tree top level and the pilot waved to Coleman. Coleman turned to a British
colonel who was standing nearby and casually commented, "You know that plane that just went by had an iron cross on it and
the pilot had blue eyes!" "I say, not to worry, they do that all the time," replied the colonel. Coleman finished his coffee
Back at Frittens Lake it was common to hear the B-17s going overhead on their way to bomb Germany. One morning while everyone
was still in bed the sound of a B-17 was heard but it was much louder than usual. Suddenly there was an enormous explosion
close by! The concussion from the blast knocked Coleman off of the upper level bunk beds he was sleeping on and on to the
floor. The blast knocked out the windows and collapsed the building. The double decker bed protected Coleman from the roof
as the Quonset hut fell in on him. He escaped without serious injury. Everyone ran outside thinking that they were under aerial
attack by Germans. One hundred yards away was a roaring fire and the mangled remains of a B-17. In the court yard in front
of where the Quonset hut had stood lay an engine, a landing gear, one unexploded 500-pound bomb and a man’s forearm!
Everyone evacuated the area and in the process someone noticed an aircrew man sitting under a tree holding his parachute.
When approached all he could say was, "I want my chute, I want my chute!" He was an American and was shaking like a leaf,
had urinated all over himself and was obviously in shock. An ambulance was called from the air base and they covered the flyer
with a blanket to control his state of shock. Before the ambulance arrived he had regained some of his composure and told
Coleman that somehow the B-17 had caught on fire inside. He and another crewman could not reach the escape hatch because of
the fire so they chopped a hole in the side of the airplane with a crash axe. This man jumped at about 100 feet above the
ground. His parachute opened and he swung down and was on the ground. Other than the shock he was apparently not seriously
injured. The other man never got out of the B-17.
The Blankenship team assembled T-6 units and demonstrated them to various commanders. It fell to Lieutenant Coleman to
give a presentation to General George Patton. He met with Patton and gave an oral explanation of the T-6 unit and how it worked.
Patton was impressed with the concept and particularly with the idea of the infrantry being able to use the discarded flotation
tanks as cover on the beach. He thanked Coleman and told him that he would be in touch as matters progressed with the invasion
plans. Unbeknownst to the general public, Patton was only in command of a phantom army at this time. It was an elaborate deception
against the Germans. It worked well, but Patton did not arrive in France until after the Normandy invasion, so he was not
heard from again concerning the T-6 project.
By May 1944, the Supreme Allied Command authority decided against using the Blankenship T-6 system in favor of the Gruver
system with the flotation skirt. Reason being that the Blankenship was 45 feet in length and reduced the number of M-4 tanks
that could be transported by half. Coleman and his team were detailed to accompany the Gruver units as they made their landings
on the Normandy beaches and report on their performance. Everyone drew their combat equipment and loaded on the LSTs along
with the Gruver equipped M-4 Medium tanks and tried not to think about the fact that they would be in the first wave to hit
the beach! As the LSTs approached Normandy on June 6, 1944 (D-Day), the tanks were made ready for launching. A tragic
oversight had been made with the Gruver systems. When they had been tested at various times, it was never with a fully loaded
tank! The initial tests in the Chesapeake Bay had been with no ammunition on board, nor full fuel load, or full crew or crew
equipment. The Chesapeake was smooth compared to the sea around Normandy. Now they were being launched with full ammo load,
full fuel, full crew and crew equipment as well as additional essential spare parts on board. The first four tanks that were
launched immediately foundered and sank taking most of their crews to the bottom with them!
Coleman realized what was happening and sought out the officer in charge of launching the tanks. He was a captain and Coleman
told him he needed to stop launching the Gruver equipped tanks, he was just killing the men in them. He replied that his orders
were to launch them and he would do so. Coleman went to find higher authority when he met a colonel coming his way who had
realized the disaster in the making. He ordered the captain to cease launching the tanks. Other LSTs had similar experiences.
Some tanks did make it to shore but the losses were very high. The remainder of the armor wasn’t unloaded until the
LSTs could come close to the shore later in the landings. After the armor was ashore Coleman and his crew returned to England.
Some 50 years later in the 1990's, several of the sunken M-4s were discovered off the Normandy beach.
Back in England, Coleman’s crew continued to train the British on the use of the Blankenship T-6 systems, which were
back in favor after the disaster with the Gruver system. There was some slack time during this period and Coleman and his
crew spent several days in London. While there the British provided him with a chauffeur and a car. The chauffeur was a female
British sergeant who had previously been Bob Hope’s chauffeur while he was on his USO Tours in England. She knew all
the right places to go!
In September 1944, Coleman flew back to the United States on a C-54 aircraft by way of Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and
Labrador, Canada and back to Aberdeen Proving Grounds again. After thinking it over for a while he complained to Colonel
Blankenship that he felt that he needed to transfer to another branch. After all he had risked his neck repeatedly, had gone
to England and Normandy and those who stayed in the States were promoted for not going! Blankenship agreed and Coleman was
promoted to captain in November 1944. With his promotion came a new mission, he was being attached to the US Marine Corps
and sent to the South Pacific to sell them on the T-6 device for amphibious invasions of various islands leading up to the
invasion of Japan. Rank has its privileges but then everything has a price!
In December 1944,
Captain Coleman left Aberdeen again and proceeded to Washington DC for intelligence briefings.
From there he flew to San Francisco and reported in at the US Marine Corps Headquarters. Within a couple of weeks he had assembled a team consisting of one first-lieutenant and 35 enlisted men
for the mission to the South Pacific. He received his orders and proceeded to
charter the Pan American Clipper to transport his team to Hawaii for the sum of $10,000.00.
Several T-6 devices were sent by ship to the Pacific at the same time. After
a few days in Hawaii, the team boarded Air Corps C-54 transports and flew to Guadalcanal by way of Johnston Island and Kwajalein
Atoll. Once in Guadalcanal the team was split between the First and Sixth Marine
Divisions, which were the components of the Third Amphibious Corps. Captain Coleman
and 20 enlisted men remained at Guadalcanal and Lieutenant Geddes and 15 enlisted men were sent to another island to the west
to demonstrate the Blankenship device to the Marines. It was about 150 miles
between the islands and Captain Coleman flew back and forth between them to monitor the progress of his two teams. The flight was usually made in a small single engine J-3 Piper Cub, flown by a Marine Sergeant.
After a few days
at Guadalcanal, the T-6 kits began to arrive by ship. They were unloaded and
stored and Coleman was given a large tent as a workshop, the same tent the Marines used to store drums of gasoline! Captain Coleman inquired if that was a good idea in that his men would be using welding equipment inside
of the tent and the ground was saturated with gasoline from rusted drums? The
Marines replied that this was the Marine Corps and they made use of whatever they had.
Sure enough, the first welding spark ignited the gasoline and burned the tent to ground in record time. Fortunately, there were no causalities and the Marines anted up another tent, this time one that was empty!
The Marine that
Coleman had to sell the T-6 idea to was six foot eight inch tall General Emmuel Shepard, a future commandant of the Marine
Corps. It was a hard sell, General Shepard had heard about the D-Day disasters
with the Gruver equipped tanks and was skeptical of any tank that floated. Additionally,
the Marine crews were skeptical of the flotation device breaking off when the tanks hit the water. Coleman had first hand knowledge on that subject and assured them that the problem had been corrected. Nevertheless he decided to put on a demonstration for General Shepard and his Marine
crews. A couple of M-4 Medium tanks were equipped with T-6 devices and prepared
for demonstration. There was a ten-foot high cliff above the water, Coleman had
his driver run the tank at full speed off of this cliff and into the water. The
tank went out of sight below the water then blobbed back to the surface with no damage!
Then a tank was launched from an LST and motored ashore. Coleman instructed
his driver to motor the tank over the coral reefs that surrounded the island. He
did, and then he turned the tank around on the beach and motored back to the LST over the coral reefs again! The flotation tanks were totally shredded but the foam inside held the tank up. General Shepard and his Marines were sold on the T-6 plan. He
ordered Coleman to commence conversions of as many tanks as possible with the T-6s for the invasion of Okinawa.
The Marines raised
the question of the practicality of firing the tank’s 75mm gun while motoring the T-6 equipped tanks to shore? This had never come up before so no one knew for sure.
A test was conducted and it was found that the concussion from the cannon ruptured the flotation tanks and vaporized
the foam plastic inside of them making the tank liable to sink if the flotation tanks were penetrated by hostile fire! Coleman suggested reinforcing the part of the flotation tank that was beneath the
muzzle area of the 75mm gun. This solved the problem. In subsequent tests, the Marines were able to hit a 55-gallon drum in the water from a range of 500 yards
while motoring towards shore! A further request from the Marines was to adapt
the T-6s for use on tanks equipped with dozer blades in front. The forward flotation
tank had to be modified but it worked fine.
a rear area in the Pacific war by January 1945; boredom was the biggest enemy around.
Thievery, drinking and fighting (each other) were the major off duty diversions.
Coleman’s team required cylinders of welding gas, which were requisitioned but never seemed to arrive. Finally, Coleman went in person to the Army supply depot to inquire about his welding gas. The Army supply officer wanted to know why he was with a bunch of Marines?
Coleman explained his mission and asked why he hadn’t received the welding gas?
The Army man told him that they never gave anything to the Marines, they had stolen them blind when the Army first
arrived on Guadalcanal! The Marines were always at the tail end of the supply
line and had become accomplished thieves as a result; their reputation preceded them.
Coleman got his gas on the condition that he never bring any Marines to the supply depot again.
One evening Captain
Coleman and some of his Army men were attending an out door movie on the Marine base.
Two other Marines were apparently drunk and staggering down the dirt street by the theater when they stopped and hollered
out to the Marines in the theater; “What outfit is that? The 3rd
Marines? I’ve heard of them. They eat crap and howl at the moon!” A Marine captain who was with Coleman stood up and shouted; “Get those bastards!” With that command, about a hundred Marines poured out of the theater in the form of
a howling mob and went after the two drunks in the street. Apparently they weren’t
that drunk, they out ran the mob and escaped into the jungle.
A few days later
a crisis of catastrophic proportions befell the Marines when their mascot dog, a boxer, fell terminally ill with cirrhosis
of the liver; seems the dog was an alcoholic as a result of drinking the Marine’s home brew with them. He was buried with full military honors. Guadalcanal was not
without it’s moments of terror and danger however! Captain Coleman was
asked to advise on a problem the Marines were having with the 75mm ammunition for the M-4 tanks. Seems that the tropical climate caused fungus to grow on the outside of the brass shell casings. This made them difficult to insert into the cannon breech. A technique had been devised to drive the tight rounds into the breech with a hammer! A block of wood with a hole in the center was used to protect the detonator cap from being struck by the
hammer. Once the round was driven into the breech and then ejected, the fungus
growth was shaved down to the point that the round would go in easily the next time it was loaded. Coleman was standing on top of an M-4 tank telling a Marine inside of the turret how to execute the cleaning
procedure on the ammunition. He drove a few rounds into the cannon breech without
any problem. Coleman figured that the Marine had the technique down and was starting
to back off the tank when apparently the Marine got a round that was more difficult that the others. Coleman saw him pick up the hammer but not the block of wood! Coleman
flipped himself backwards off the M-4 just as the Marine struck the round with the hammer and set it off! Coleman hit the ground just as the ensuing explosion blew over him at the upper level of the tank. The blast had detonated the other rounds of ammunition that the Marine was sizing
in the tank. The turret was opened up like a sunflower! The only trace of the Marine was a few shreds of his uniform that came floating down in the air. Coleman escaped uninjured except for being deaf for a couple of days.
He was very lucky once again.
The Marine Corps
had always been a tough outfit and especially by this stage of the war with all of the island amphibious campaigns behind
them. They maintained high discipline and espirt de corps. Coleman was walking with a Marine Captain one evening and as they passed a row of tents the voices of several
Marines inside were heard complaining that they would probably get killed before they could get home. The Marine Captain was furious, he ordered the Marines out of the tent and stood them at attention and
then ordered them to apologize to this Army Captain! They did and Coleman felt
that they were really sincere and ashamed of their conduct.
By March 1945 the
T-6 project was winding up in Guadalcanal and there was some time to enjoy the tropical delights of the island. Coleman was walking along the beach one night when suddenly the sky was lit up almost like daytime. He looked out into the harbor and saw a sheet of flame and debris going up about two
thousand feet into the air. Then the explosion reached him! It was so loud that he was almost made deaf again. Apparently,
a Japanese miniature submarine had penetrated the harbor defenses and torpedoed an ammunition ship that had not unloaded at
the dock yet. The only traces of the ship ever found was a three foot triangular
piece of steel and the ship’s captain who had gone ashore just before the explosion.
and his team prepared to return to the United States as the Marines were preparing for the invasion of Okinawa. Thirty T-6 equipped M-4 tanks were prepared for the invasion. Coleman
learned later that 24 were launched during the invasion. Unfortunately, a “Deep
Water Charlie,” a ship captain who did not want to come in close to the beach, dropped the tanks out so far from shore
that they ran out of fuel before they got in and had to be towed ashore. It was
an inauspicious end for the amphibious tanks but not by any fault of their own.
Coleman flew back
to Hawaii and then on to San Francisco on a C-54 airplane. It was a night flight
and one minute they were cruising along and then suddenly all four engines quit! The
plane glided down and down to the point Coleman could see the wave tops in the dark.
Everyone was putting on life jackets and bracing for impact when one engine started then another and finally all four
were running again. The flight engineer finally remembered to switch fuel tanks
in the nick of time. On the brighter side, Coleman had three class A uniforms;
he had left one in the dry cleaners in San Francisco three months before and one in the cleaners in Hawaii; he got all of
them back. Coleman and his team flew back to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland. The amphibious team was disbanded and everyone was assigned out to various other duties.
By this stage of
the war there were actually too many troops in some skills and consequently they were assigned wherever a vacancy could be
found for them. With the war in Europe winding down and the build up for the
invasion of Japan starting, people were shuffled continuously. Captain Coleman
was reassigned to Sierra Army Depot in California. He went to Columbus, Georgia
and picked up the Graham automobile that his wife Eunice had kept during his absence and drove back to California. He was at Sierra Ordnance Depot about a week when he was reassigned to Camp Beale, California. After a month he was reassigned to Oakland Army Depot, California and further detailed to the Cow Palace
in San Francisco to process vehicles for the invasion of Japan. His skills were
required there and he remained there until September 1945 when the war ended. Being
a Regular Army Officer, Coleman was not discharged and continued to move from assignment to assignment in the chaotic demobilization
days of late 1945. Next he was assigned to Camp San Luis Obispo, California. His wife Eunice met him there with their son Douglas and they rented a farmhouse near
the base and settled in.
Even though the war was over there were still large numbers of German POWs at the base. They typically worked in the motor shops or on local farms. Captain
Coleman had a group of POWs working for him in the vehicle shop. They were U-Boat
men who had been lucky enough to survive and be captured when their U-Boat was sunk.
Possibly because the war was over or just out of Nazi arrogance, the group of POWs had become extremely slow and inefficient
in their work. One of the German Petty Officers decided to challenge Coleman. He probably assumed that Coleman was just another “90 Day Wonder,” with
no real experience. The German brought Coleman a radiator that was rusted out
and asked him to show him how to weld it. Coleman took the challenge and laid
a perfect weld on the radiator. The German realized he had barked up the wrong
tree and suddenly everyone started working and appearing military again.
other officers in the shop wanted to know how Coleman had energized his Germans. He
told them that he had threatened them with being repatriated to Germany if they didn’t shape up! Coleman got to know the Petty Officer somewhat and he related that when their U-Boat was damaged
and forced to the surface the German officers on board stood at the escape hatches with their Lugers and refused to let the
men attempt to escape from the sinking boat! The Petty Officer advised that after
the officers were disposed of, most of the crew got out.
It was common to
see groups of the POWs wandering around the countryside in that many of them worked on local farms. One day Coleman went home to the farmhouse for lunch and was greeted by the Petty Officer and several German
POWs. They were digging up the yard and planting a garden for Mrs. Captain Coleman. Others were playing with Douglas while Eunice made tea for them. Coleman wasn’t quite ready for this so he told them to return to the POW compound. They snapped to attention, fell in to formation and marched back to the compound; or at least over the
Shortly after that,
Coleman was reassigned to Camp Stonman near San Francisco. From there he was
assigned to Fort Lewis in Washington State as an infantry basic training company commander.
Seems the Army was still drafting men in late 1945. From there he was
assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas where he spent most of 1946. From there he
was assigned to Monterrey, California as a training officer. One of his less
enviable collateral duties was processing dishonorable discharges for men who were willing to do anything to get out of the
Army. The Cold War had not been defined as of 1946 and there was an extreme morale
problem with men who had been drafted when they considered the war to have been over for a year. One group hit on the idea of defecating in their clothing for seven days straight as a way of getting discharged. They were referred to as the “Seven Day Shitters,” and they got their
wish. Coleman had about enough of the rotary assignments and requested a specific
assignment back into the ordnance field; otherwise he would have his 20 years in 1948 and would retire. He was assigned to Western Chemical Center near Tooele, Utah in May 1947.
Now, Western Chemical
Center was different! It was located on Deseret Chemical Depot, which was about
50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. It had the reputation of being so
isolated from the main stream Army, that it was referred to as the “Foreign Legion” outpost in the desert. The primary mission at Deseret was the storage and control of stockpiles of
chemical weapons. It also became a stockpile for captured German chemical weapons. Captain Coleman was assigned as the Motor Officer, Maintenance Officer, Summary Court
Marshall Officer, Safety Officer and Supply Officer among other things. His wife’s
brothers, Kestler and Allen also settled in the area with their families. Kestler
had been discharged from the Army after the war and Allen from the Marine Corps.
Life at Deseret
was pleasant and laid back even though the winters were usually severe. It was
about a day’s drive to Colorado where Coleman’s family lived and hunting abounded in the mountains and desert
surrounding Deseret. The main social outlet on the depot was the social
circle at the officer’s club and related activities. Coleman pursued hunting
and fishing with his brothers-in-law and fellow officers. The big excitement
was the occasional escape of poison gas that had eaten through the old German containers.
On a couple of occasions the gas killed hundreds of grazing sheep or cattle; didn’t make for good publicity for
the Army. The depot commander, Colonel Powers, decided to broaden the social
activities by creating a golf course in the desert. Captain Coleman unwittingly
contributed to this project one day at the rifle range. He had drawn surplus
ammunition and went to the range to practice shooting before hunting season. On
this occasion all he could get for his rifle was tracer ammunition. While firing
away, a tracer round ricocheted off a rock and careened over into an area covered with saga brush, which immediately burst
into flames and spread with the wind! By the time the depot fire department arrived,
several hundreds of acres of saga brush had been burned off. Alas, the location
for the new golf course was settled on!
Time passed at
Deseret in this fashion until April 1949, when Captain Coleman received orders to go to Oakland Army Depot in California. He and Eunice packed up, said their good byes and drove to California with Douglas. At Oakland, Captain Coleman was assigned as the post transportation officer. The duty was routine and life was pleasant in the San Francisco Bay area. In November 1949, Coleman received new orders assigning him to the occupation forces in Japan. He sailed on November 11, 1949 on board the Army Transport Ship General Gaffey. His wife and son remained in the Bay area until the following June and proceeded to Japan on the
Army Transport Ship General Sullivan arriving there in June 1950. While
they were at sea, the North Koreans invaded South Korea and started the Korean War or “Police Action” as it was
referred to. Everyone feared it was the beginning of World War III between the
Soviet Union and the West.
In Japan, Captain
Coleman was assigned to the Tokyo Ordnance Depot as an ammunition company commander.
After a few weeks, he got quarters for his family in the military dependents housing area known as Grant Heights near
Tokyo. In 1950, United States Forces in Japan were still an occupying military
force and Americans were the victors of the war against Japan and were accorded appropriate courtesies by the Japanese. The quarters in Grant Heights were comfortable and domestic servants were also provided. The Colemans had the services of two house servants, young Japanese women named Musiko
and Masako. The latter spent her spare time studying everything she could get
concerning the United States and desperately wanted someone to sponsor her as a student so she could come to the US and study. For various reasons the Colemans were not able to do so and Masako remained in Japan
when the Colemans returned to the US in 1953. Some years later, in the early
1960s, Douglas attempted to correspond with her and eventually heard from her; she had made it to the US and was now a professor
of economics at the University of Oklahoma! She did well!
The Japanese had
occupied Korea for many years before World War II. As the fortunes of war turned
against Japan, their resistance stiffened and it appeared that Japan itself would have to be invaded and occupied in the same
manner as Nazi Germany had been. It was estimated that the war could go on for
another three years and cost a million Allied casualties if invasion was required. With
these grim statistics in mind, President Truman asked the Soviet Union to joint the war against Japan on July 24, 1945 at
the Potsdam Conference in Germany. Up to that time the Soviet Union under Joseph
Stalin had maintained an uneasy peace with Japan so as to avoid fighting on two fronts while battling Nazi Germany in Europe. After the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 the Soviet
Union entered the war against Japan on August 8, 1945. The Soviets invaded Manchuria
and Korea and after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, accepted the surrender of Japanese forces north of the 38th
latitude (or parallel) and the Allies accepted the Japanese surrender south of the 38th Parallel in Korea.
This left the Soviets
in control of Korea north of the 38th Parallel (North Korea) for over two years until the United Nations Resolution
in November 1947; which required all foreign troops to leave Korea. Two years
was plenty of time to establish a communist government; and they did! The north
became the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the south became the Republic of Korea. In September 1948, North Korea claimed jurisdiction over all of Korea.
The North Koreans were egged on by the Soviets and the Communist Chinese to conquer all of Korea by military force. The Soviets developed their own atomic bomb in 1949 and Stalin was willing to risk
a general war over Korea because he did not think the West would think Korea was worth a war.
The North Koreans continued to build up their strength until June 25, 1950 when they invaded South Korea without warning. The North had about 135,000 troops and 150 Soviet T-34 tanks. It was not known at that time but the Soviets also provided air support with their Mig-15 jet fighters. The Communist Chinese were waiting in the wings with hundreds of thousands of “People’s
Volunteer Troops” if needed.
The United Nations
(UN) passed a resolution demanding that North Korea (NK) cease its aggression and withdraw to its pre-invasion positions. The NKs ignored it and continued their invasion.
By the end of June 1950 the NKs had over run Seoul, the capital of South Korea (SK) and were continuing to drive south
towards the end of the Korean peninsular. President Truman committed US troops
to Korea. Unfortunately, the only troops available were occupation troops from
Japan! Five years of occupation duty had not sharpened their combat skills. The US units that were committed in a piece meal fashion were easily defeated and
forced to retreat. Some fresh troops from the US began to arrive; many of these
were new in the Army and had not even received basic combat training! In early
July, an UN Command was created under General MacArthur and UN forces began to deploy to Korea. The overall ground operations were placed under the control of the US 8th Army on behalf of
the UN. The UN forces continued to be pushed back by the NKs. Finally, the UN was holding about a fifty-mile radius of land from the port of Pusan in South Korea. The situation did not look good for the UN by August of 1950 when Captain Coleman
received orders to deploy to Korea!
Captain Coleman’s unit, the 8046th Ordnance
Field Service Group, embarked on LSTs at Yokohama, Japan for the ten-day voyage to Pusan, Korea. In that Coleman was the company commander he had to oversee the embarkation of his troops and materials. The unit off loaded from the LSTs on the beach near Pusan and moved inland by convoy
to Taegu, which was near the “front lines” of the Pusan Perimeter. The
unit was co-located with a MASH unit (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital). The purpose
of the 8046th was to coordinate all ordnance activities within the UN command.
Coleman and the 8046th settled into their responsibilities while the NK forces continued to assault the
perimeter. Some of the “young warriors” were impatient to see combat
for the first time and complained regularly about it. Coleman had to send a small
detachment back to Pusan for re-supply duties and by chance some of the complaining young warriors were included in the convoy. They arrived in Pusan and collected their supplies without incident and were on the
return trip when they encountered part of a Marine Corps regiment that was under heavy attack by the NKs. The whole detachment was commandeered by the Marines, supplies and all, and sent straight to the front
lines to help repel the attack. It was one of those hotly contested battles,
right down to hand-to-hand combat with rifles, clubs and bayonets! The Marines
held and the Army detachment survived with no causalities. They were released
and returned to the 8046th, less their supplies of course (It was the Marine Corps). Coleman didn’t hear anymore complaining about getting into combat after that.
|NK T-34 Tank. Words on turret: "Knocked Out 20 July 1950 Under Supervison MGen WF Dean."
There were several
more intense battles in the area. While the 8th Army was holding on
at Pusan, more and more UN forces arrived until by mid-September 1950, the UN and SK forces equaled or outnumbered the NK
forces. While this was going on, General MacArthur executed his brilliant
end run with the amphibious landing behind the enemy lines at Inchon on September 15th. This had the effect of cutting the NKs supply and communications lines and they realized that it was just
a matter of time before they would be overwhelmed. The UN forces within the Pusan
Perimeter also launched a breakout attack against the NKs in concert with the Inchon landing.
Coleman’s unit loaded up in their trucks and moved out on the offensive to the north. By the end of September, UN Forces had pushed the main NK units back towards NK or destroyed them! SK troops had also crossed the 38th Parallel in pursuit of the fleeing
NKs. By the first week in October 1950, the UN had sanctioned an UN invasion
of NK to reunify the country. By the middle of October the lead elements of the
Chinese Communist People’s Liberation Army began crossing into NK to assist the NKs.
By the 20th of October, Pyongyang, the capital of NK, fell to UN forces.
MacArthur expected the war to be over by Christmas.
unit continued north and sat up a base of operations near Pyongyang in NK. From
there they fanned out across the front to support various UN units. The
8046th was spread so thin that even the officers were doing field duty. Captain
Coleman was the liaison officer to several SK Divisions on the front. He specialized
in supply problems and in that capacity traveled between units on his own by Jeep. As
a precaution, Coleman carried a M-3 “Grease Gun” plus his pistol. He
had a pipe welded to the floor of his Jeep and stuck the Grease Gun’s barrel into the pipe, making it easy to grab when
needed. The M-3 was an American version of the German MP-40 sub-machine gun from
World War II. As the war continued, the distinction between enemy guerillas and
common bandits became burred, some were probably employed in both vocations depending on the immediate circumstances. Of course, it was equally difficult to distinguish between Koreans, north or south. Consequently, one never felt safe when traveling cross-country, especially alone. Coleman was enroute to his appointed rounds one day when he rounded a bend in the
road to be confronted by a NK squad with machine gun pointed at him and his Jeep. Quick
action was called for; he pushed the Jeep’s accelerator pedal to the floor, opened the door, threw out the Grease gun
and jumped! He landed, rolled a couple of times, found the Grease gun and charged
out through the under brush like a rogue elephant! After a few yards he stopped
to get his bearings and heard the NKs laughing hilariously; they only wanted his Jeep.
In fact the NKs had a lot of American equipment, which the Chinese Communists had captured from the Chinese Nationalists
when they took over China in 1949.
|Captain Coleman's Jeep. August 1950.
|German MP-40 Sub-Machine Gun.
|American M-3 Sub-Machine Gun.
Apart from the
increasing guerilla/bandit activities in the area, supply problems were monumental!
One SK unit had 100 trucks dead lined for lack of distributor points, a fifty-cent item! None could be had in the supply channels, so Coleman bought them on the black market for a few cartoons
of Lucky Strike cigarettes. The ones he bought were probably the same ones that
had been ordered but never delivered. Additionally, Coleman was assigned as the
labor liaison officer with the Koreans. He was responsible for letting labor
contracts with indigenous personnel to provide workers for the UN forces. This
responsibility brought Coleman into close contact with the civilian population; thus he required the service of an interpreter. The SKs produced a young Korean woman who spoke fluent English to serve as his interpreter. Her name was Kim. They traveled
together as he made his appointed rounds amongst the SK forces.
|Kim the Interpreter. 1950.
unit continued north until they reached the Yalu River that divided Korea from Manchuria.
Standing on a bluff over looking the river, Coleman could see the Chinese forces massing on the far side! With an occasional bullet whizzing by, he saw no point in advancing any further! About the same time, Coleman met a colonel whom he had known back at Aberdeen when they were both sergeants. The colonel was in charge of the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) and wanted
Coleman to transfer over to help him out. Coleman and a couple of sergeants transferred
and became advisors to the SK forces. Kim continued to work as his interpreter. KMAG was based in Seoul, SK so Coleman moved south to Seoul. Everything in Seoul had been burned by the invading NKs or bombed by American B-29 bombers! Housing was hard to find. One of Kim’s relatives was
a carpenter and had done some work in the area. Coleman obtained an American
made hammer and saw for the man and he told Coleman that he would find a place for him to live. Sometime went by and the carpenter returned and advised that Captain Coleman’s quarters were ready! It was a Russian truck trailer, comparable to an American 18-wheeler trailer. It didn’t look like much on the outside, but inside! Everything was there, bed, kitchen, generator and working area complete with carved wood and art murals
of Korean vistas! The only thing that was missing was an indoor toilet,
an alien concept to the Koreans at that time! War is hell!
|Bridge over Yalu River, North Korea 1950.
|L>R: SGT Bowers, CPT Coleman, & SGT Starke, KMAG, Seoul, Oct 1950.
new duties included KMAG liaison with three SK divisions concerning ordnance and transportation matters. He made his rounds between the three units with Kim and traveled from Seoul back and forth to near the
Yalu River carrying out his duties. Korea abounded with wild deer, ducks and
pheasants. While traveling between SK units Coleman had time to indulge in a
bit of poaching. Kim arranged to hire a Korean cook who had previously cooked
for Americans and knew how to prepare American style meals. The KMAG was co-located
with the United Nations Assistance Command for Rations (Food). Various horse-trading
arrangements allowed Coleman to always be supplied with the necessary condiments to keep a good table set! Many a fine meal was had and many pounds were gained by all. The
only disappointment was Korean pigeons; they were as tough as old rubber tires.
|Handy work of B-29 Bombers, North Korean Factory 1950.
|KMAG HQ in abandoned school. Coleman's trailer to right. Seoul, Korea 1950.
|Pheasant Poachers, Coleman on right.
On November 1,
1950, the Chinese Communists began their offensive in Korea in earnest. Approximately
30,000 Chinese Communists (CC) troops began the offensive against UN forces in
North Korea. UN forces were pushed back in several areas. MacArthur intensified aerial bombardment of routes from the Yalu River into Korea. The UN fell back to a defensive line at the Chongchon River and prepared for a counter offensive with the
intension of defeating the NK and CC forces by Christmas as MacArthur had promised.
The UN counter offensive was met by over whelming CC forces and was defeated.
A general UN retreat began by the end of November. CC forces surrounded
the US Marines and Army units at the Chosen Reservoir as general withdrawal commenced from the NK port of Hungnam. By the
end of December 1950, the UN had been pushed back into South Korea again. Seoul
was abandoned and Russian Mig-15 jets began attacking American B-29s over Korea.
|Wreckage of F-80 jet. Grave of Pilot 2LT. Theon O. Eason in distance under right tail fin. OCT 1950.
As the situation
deteriorated, Coleman returned to Pyongyang in North Korea to help with the evacuation of the SK unit he was advising. With the aid of Kim and whatever bribery was required, he was able to secure the last
train out of Pyongyang and got the unit loaded on it and headed south just ahead of the Communists! He and Kim proceeded south in his Jeep with all of the gasoline, food and ammunition they could carry. Kim had relatives in a village they came to near Seoul. The area was teaming with guerillas and bandits again and the temperature was dropping below freezing,
so they diverted to the village. As Coleman rounded a bend in the road gunfire
opened up and a bullet shattered the Jeeps right side window, missing Kim by a fraction of an inch. They were near the village and were able to make it there with no lights on. Kim found her relatives and they settled in for the night. After
dinner Kim was visiting with her relatives when one of her cousins asked Coleman to give him his Grease Gun so that he could
go and fight the Communists. Coleman declined and the cousin didn’t press
the issue any further. The next morning when they left Coleman remarked to Kim
that he felt like he was in a guerilla camp. Kim replied, “No,” he
was safe from the guerillas; her family was all bandits!
|Interpreter Kim's Bandit Family.
Coleman and Kim continued south to Pusan; Kim had more relatives there. She went to stay with them and
Coleman was reunited with his SK unit, which had arrived safety on its train. The
CC and NK forces pushed south again. The UN forces sat up a defensive line along
the 37th Parallel south of Seoul and were able to hold the Communists forces there.
Coleman helped get the SK unit operational again and resumed duty with it. One
evening he and several other American and SK officers had gone to a nightclub for entertainment. After the festivities, Coleman was leaving and asked the doorman/bouncer for his overcoat. The man refused to give Coleman his coat for unknown reasons. With
his judgment blurred by the evening's festivities and recalling his earlier short career as a boxer, Coleman decided to settle
the issue with an left upper cut to the bouncer’s jaw! He did! The bouncer was counting spots on the ceiling. Coleman retrieved his coat and left. When he woke up the next morning, he couldn’t move his left arm.
His left wrist was bent out at a 90 degree angle and his arm was swollen the size of a basketball all the way up to
his chest. Armed with some vague story about falling down a flight of stairs,
Coleman went to the medical department and found that his left wrist was broken again.
He was evacuated back to Japan to recuperate
|Knocked out North Korean T-34 Tank.
flew back to Japan on a C-47 (DC-3) airplane and was placed on recuperative leave for three months. In Korea, General Ridgway assumed command of the US 8th Army and stopped the Communists advance
along the 37th Parallel south of Seoul. In January 1951 the Communists
renew their offensive against UN forces but are unable to break through Ridgway’s lines.
In February 1951, the UN forces began a counter-offensive and started to slowly push the Communists back towards NK. In March, UN forces retook Seoul again and continued to push north. Captain Coleman’s left wrist healed and he was returned to duty and sent back to Korea again. He was made the troop commander of a replacement infantry company enroute to Pusan
on an Army Transport ship.
The morale of the
replacement troops was less than high. In fact, there seemed to have been many
malcontents in Korea from the beginning. When the transport ship landed at Pusan,
Coleman inspected the replacement troops and found that 36 of the 50 had left their M-1 rifles on the ship, hoping they wouldn’t
be sent into combat without their rifles. Weapons were found and off they went. In
another incident, Coleman and a sergeant were making a liaison call on an American unit when they were met by the commanding
colonel. The colonel immediately took the sergeant to task with a severe verbal
dressing down! He screamed at the sergeant that he was sick and tied of him screwing
off and that he had better shape up or ship out! The sergeant had never laid
eyes on the colonel before that moment. The colonel went wandering off muttering
to himself. The sergeant turned to Coleman who had been overlooked in the colonel’s
tirade and asked what he should do? Coleman advised him to follow orders and
ship out! To the colonel’s later credit, no matter what his mental state
may have been, when NKs overran his position he personally stood out in the open and rallied his men to fight and they drove
the NKs back.
During Coleman’s earlier tour in Korea, while he was in the Pusan Perimeter, he was liaison to a SK
unit and was checking their perimeter one night because of guerrilla infiltrators. He
found a Korean sentry sound asleep at his post leaving the line open to infiltrators.
Coleman called a Korean officer and told him he wanted a good man for sentry duty, not one that would fall asleep. The Korean officer agreed and called another guard to replace the sleeper. Then he started kicking the sleeping man and stood him up to a brick wall and executed him on the spot
with his pistol! Coleman did not expect such extreme punishment and felt bad
about getting the man shot, but infiltrators had slit many throats in the night.
On another occasion, Coleman and some others were swimming in a pond near their camp when a truckload of GIs pulled
up and jumped out to go swimming. One of them was completely naked except for
his combat boots, steel helmet and ammunition belt. He came running towards the
pond screaming, “Me Tarzan,” at the top of his lungs and jumped into the water.
He immediately went straight to the bottom and drowned. His body was never
recovered despite several dives by Coleman in an attempt to save him. Coleman
later received an official commendation for his rescue attempts.
returned to Seoul and his job with KMAG. Incredibly, his Russian House Trailer
was still there and apparently undisturbed since he had left Seoul months before! He
was now an advisor to a Korean ordnance unit, which happened to be the depository for all captured small arms. Coleman built up the necessary relationships and told the SK officers that he would like to have first
pick of the captured weapons. They obliged him and presented him with a Browning
Automatic Shotgun recovered from the battlefield. Co-located at KMAG were several
British officers. It seems that the British had a shipload of shotgun shells
but no shotguns. Coleman had the shotgun but no shells. A deal was struck and the pheasant hunts were on!
The NKs utilized
some small single place aircraft for purposes of aerial reconnaissance and harassment raids at night. These aircraft were referred to as “Washing Machine Charlie” due to the sound the small engines
made. (Many washing machines in the 1930s & 1940s were powered by small gasoline
engines in that many people did not have electricity.) There was a Washing Machine Charlie that made a regular run over Coleman’s
area every evening just after dusk. He would come in at tree top level and dispense
a few hand grenades or mortar shells for harassment. Coleman was beginning to
be concerned about his living accommodations being hit so he and another American considered shooting Charlie down. Coleman and his accomplice stood on a nearby hill and waited for Charlie one evening. Sure enough, here he came right on schedule. Coleman listened
to the sound of the airplane’s motor and led it a bit and emptied the magazine of this Grease Gun in the general direction
of the noise! Suddenly Charlie’s motor started missing and backfiring and
finally quit! Down he came and crashed on the far side of hill in a fireball. Everyone ran for cover amidst the exploding hand grenades and mortar shells Charlie
had on board. So much for Charlie! The
next day Army Intelligence agents arrived in the area asking who had shot Charlie down?
Coleman had a bad feeling about this; when questioned, he asked, “What’s a Washing Machine Charlie?” It seems that the Intelligence unit was timing Charlie so as to pin point where they
were coming from and order a B-29 raid on their base. Sorry bout that!
|Washing Machine Charlie.
One afternoon while
taking a siesta, Coleman heard a hissing sound followed by a loud explosion. He
rushed out of his trailer thinking that they were under artillery attack! Instead
he found a bunch of Koreans cutting one end out of empty 55-gallon gasoline drums, so they could be used as trashcans. The Koreans were using an acetylene-cutting torch to do the job. They had it down to a science. They knew just how long they
could cut before the gasoline fumes exploded! Just at the right moment the cutter
would step back as the drum blew a hundred feet into the air. Occasionally one
of them would misjudge and blow himself up with the drum. The others would laugh
hilariously. Apparently the Korean character had a sadistic sense of humor.
along this plane at KMAG for Captain Coleman until February 1952 when he was ordered to return to Japan. He said his farewells to Kim and his Korean, British and American friends and flew back to Japan.
|Coleman meditating behind a closed door. Seoul, Korea.
In Japan Coleman
reported to Tokyo Ordnance Depot and was further assigned as the depot commander for Omea Sub-Depot near Tokyo. The main activity at Omea was the reconditioning of left over US equipment from World War II for use by
the new Japanese Army (Self-Defense Force). Naval cargo ships would go around
to the various island bases in the South Pacific and collect all of the serviceable equipment that had been abandoned at the
end of the war and transport it to Omea. The ships made several trips due to
the large amount of materiel left behind on the islands.
lost in the translation of a language was demonstrated at Omea when the supply clerk placed an order with a Japanese vendor
to supply 10,000 light bulbs. In order to be helpful, the clerk gave the vendor
a sample bulb. Unfortunately it had a broken filament and didn’t work,
but he told the vendor he wanted the bulbs just like the one he gave him! Sure
enough, when the 10,000 light bulbs arrived, they all had broken filaments! It
was never figured out how the vendor did that. Be careful what you wish for,
you may get it!
While at Omea,
a friend invited Coleman to participate in a pistol shooting match. He had been
around firearms most of his life but had never realized that he was a considerable marksman!
He did very well in the inter-departmental target matches and won several trophies.
He was hooked on target shooting now! Coleman continued at Omea and spent
as much time as he could making the target shooting circuit for the Army teams until May 1953 when he was ordered back to
the US. He and Eunice and Douglas departed Japan and sailed to San Francisco
on an Army Transport ship. They had hoped to sponsor Masako, one of their domestic
servants, to return with them as a student but were unable to do so for administrative reasons.
Once back in the
United States, Coleman and family took some leave time and visited everyone’s families in Utah, Colorado and Georgia. Afterwards, Coleman received orders to report to Umatilla Ordnance Depot near the
small town of Hermiston, Oregon. Umatilla was an ammunition storage depot
with a military cadre and a civilian work force. At Umatilla, Captain Coleman
was assigned as the post provost marshal, rodent control officer, ammunition safety officer, and transportation officer among
other duties. The winters were severe but the local hunting was great as was
the fishing in the nearby Columbia River. These off duty activities made life
bearable at Umatilla.
As provost marshal,
Coleman was responsible for inspecting the civilian guards before they went on duty for the day. The guards were required to furnish their own pistols and there were no particular guidelines so the guards
used a variety of weapons. One day while inspecting the guards, one of them dropped
his pistol on the ground and it fired! The bullet went between Coleman’s
legs and out across the guard compound. No one was injured but Coleman relieved
the guard of his antique Colt Peacemaker, which had a defective trigger. Coleman
traded him a Mauser rifle he had brought back from Korea so that the guard could sell it and buy a safe pistol. Coleman kept the antique Colt and didn’t think too much about it at the time. Later he noticed the serial number! It was Colt number 1274,
which was manufactured in 1874 and was one of the first 300 manufactured for civilian use.
Annually, the Chief
of Ordnance would pay an inspection visit to Umatilla, this time his visit fell near Halloween, so a masquerade party was
given in his honor at the depot officer’s club. Coleman pressed his imagination
into operation for the occasion. He had a pair of rubber slip on feet, size 20’s
with six toes and exposed bones and fungus growths on them. So he wore his rubber
feet and to go with them, he put on a skirt, super sized bra with a basketball on each side for boobs, a black wig and horrendous
make up! Off to the party he went. After
a few drinks things got going as the party went into full swing. Coleman sidled
up to the Ordnance General and said, “Hey honey, wanta dance?” The
general almost choked on his martini when he started laughing as hard as he could. Coleman
had to slap him on his back to keep him from choking, but he recovered. Apparently
the general’s wife didn’t see the humor in his advance; she was drunk enough that she thought Coleman was for
real! “Who’s that hag?” she wailed as she spun around spraying
her martini all over everyone! The poor general was doubled over on his hands
and knees on the floor wrenching between chocking and laughing as his wife spun on one foot screaming “Get that Son-of-a-Bitch!”
as she threatened Coleman with her martini glass. He had a bad feeling about
this, so he made a break for the door as fast as his rubber feet would carry him. The
whole place was in a drunken uproar by now as Coleman disappeared into the night with Mrs. General waving her martini glass
after him and his rubber feet and boobs flapping as he ran! He escaped and went
home. There he changed into his uniform and returned to the party, apologizing
for being late in that he had been inspecting the guards. The Halloween party
of 1953 was talked about for years after.
of or in spite of the Halloween party, Coleman received orders reassigning him a few months later. He was assigned to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, near Fort Smith, Arkansas as an ammunition officer. In the Old Army (prior to World War II) you stayed at your rank until you were promoted, retired
or died. In the New Army (After World War II) if you were not promoted after
three considerations to the next highest rank, you had to get out of the Army or you could revert back to your last previous
permanent rank. Coleman had known of one man who was a first lieutenant for 17
years! However, the New Army finally caught up with Captain Coleman and he had
to revert back to his last permanent rank of Chief Warrant Officer. While he
was highly efficient in his job, he lacked the formal education to compete with younger and better-educated officers.
While at Camp Chaffee,
Chief Coleman became involved with pistol marksmanship again. He competed in
the post matches and in the Forth Army Matches at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. While
returning from Texas, he entered and won first place in the Oklahoma State Matches, but was denied the trophy because he was
an out-of- stater. Next he competed in the All Army Matches at Fort Benning,
Georgia where he qualified for the All Army Team. The All Army Team competed
in the National Competition at Camp Perry, Ohio. Coleman won first in the 45
Caliber rapid-fire competitions in 1954! One complication with being in the Army
marksmanship program was that while you were assigned to a parent unit, you were never there, in that the marksmanship team
traveled constantly. Your performance in your job was rated by someone
who probably didn’t know anything about the marksmanship program or anything about you because you were never there! This situation became a career killer for most participants.
After a year or so on the Army pistol team, Chief Coleman was reassigned again. This time to Fort Carson, Colorado, near Colorado Springs. Chief
Coleman was assigned to an ordnance service company. By this time his reputation
as a pistol marksman had grown to the point that he was specifically ordered to participate on the post pistol team by higher
command. Coleman won the post competition and went to the Fifth Army Competition
at Fort Riley, Kansas. There he qualified for the All Army competition at Fort
Benning, Georgia again. On the All Army Team again he went to the National Matches
at Camp Perry, Ohio and placed fifth place nation wide! So once again,
while Coleman was assigned to Fort Carson, he spent very little time there. After
a year he was again reassigned; this time to Ladd Air Force Base, Alaska, near Fairbanks (50 miles from the Arctic Circle).
Chief Coleman arrived
at Ladd AFB in February 1956, amidst a minus 60-degree winter! It was so cold
that personnel couldn’t stay outside more than an hour. He was assigned
to an ordnance service company with the Army contingent at Ladd AFB. Apart from
the severe weather, boredom was a major problem with the troops. On one occasion,
Coleman had to write up the various reports on a soldier who had decided to commit suicide.
He took off all of his clothes and walked out of the barracks door. He
got about 50 yards before he froze to death
The ordnance company
commander was preparing to retire and was trying to clear the post. He was having
difficulties in that most of the property he was responsible for had been misappropriated to somewhere! He owed the Government thousands of dollars. The commander
turned to Chief Coleman, who he thought could help him in that he was “Old
Army.” Coleman made a deal; he would straighten out the commander’s
property problems if he would authorize him to participate in the local marksmanship competition; he agreed. Coleman performed some spy work around the company area and noticed that trucks from other companies were
always parked in his company’s area. Further investigation revealed that
the unit supply sergeant was trading everything that would come loose and moving it out in the trucks, which could come and
go without being inspected. Coleman got a list of required property and confronted
the sergeant with it. He had no excuses; Coleman told him that he had 48 hours
to get everything back or he would have him busted (reduced in rank)! In spite
of much recrimination, things began to flow back into the company supply room. That
took care of that material, but there were many other items missing. Coleman
took a lesson from his prior experiences with the Marine Corps and took everything that wasn’t nailed down! His reputation got so bad that he was not allowed in other company areas without a guard to watch him! Eventually he recovered everything except a set of sheets, which the commander had
to pay for. Before he retired the commander made good on his promise to let Coleman
join the marksmanship team. When Coleman wasn’t traveling with the team,
he would entertain himself with mind games in a humorous way. There was a quality
assurance inspector who had the reputation of being extraordinarily precise! One
day Coleman took a can of government oil and added the letter “Q” to the end of the part number. He sat the can out where the inspector would be certain to see it.
Each day the inspector came by and looked at the can. He would shake his
head from one side to the other and walk off muttering to himself. Finally, after
about a week of staring at the can everyday, he grabbed it and shouted out, “What the hell is that “Q” doing’
on this can?”
Chief Coleman was
made the Captain of the post pistol team. In that capacity he was responsible
for training, coaching and going to competitions with the team. He competed in
the Yukon Command matches and placed first. He was on his way to being
on the All Army Team again when the “New Army” finally caught up with him!
He did not make the promotion list to Chief Warrant Officer IV, probably because of the time he had spent on the pistol
team. In January 1957, Coleman retired.
He had served over 29 years of continuous service; fought in two wars and been wounded once and otherwise injured several
times. At this time the Army had joined the Social Security program and any soldier
who served 30 days in 1957 would be eligible to participate. So Chief Coleman
re-enlisted for the sixth time as a master sergeant for 30 days. He was the most
senior master sergeant in the Yukon Theatre. He served out his enlistment and
was honorably retired as a captain on January 31, 1957. He returned to the states
and stayed in Utah with his brothers-in-law until Douglas finished the school year.
to pursue one of his life long ambitions to be an aircraft mechanic and pilot. When
the school year ended, he relocated to Florida in order to attend a Veterans Administration approved aircraft mechanics’
school at Lively Technical School in Tallahassee, Florida. He completed the two-year
course and earned his Airframe & Power Plant Mechanics License (A&P). He
also learned to fly at the same time and earned his Private Pilot’s License. He
had performed so well as a student that he was offered the job as the power plant instructor at the school. Coleman had taken a Graduate Equivalency examination some years before and earned his Graduate Equivalency
Diploma (GED) for high school. Now that he was a teacher in the state of Florida
he attended teacher certification classes while teaching at Lively. When he took
the National Teacher Certification Examination, he scored in the 97 percentile. He
also took college equivalency examinations and was credited with two years of college credit.
Teacher Coleman taught at Lively from 1959 to 1962.
After Coleman earned
his pilot’s license he bought an Aeronca Chief airplane. The Aeronca was
a light, two-place conventional gear airplane, which cruised at about 85 miles per hour.
It was relatively cheap to operate and allowed Coleman to keep up his flying for several years. He based it at a small airport near Tallahassee. Also based
at this airport was a friend who had a Curtis Falcon, an ex-military trainer; it was the forerunner of the Curtis P-40 Warhawk
of World War Two fame. His friend had replaced the obsolete Wright radial engine
with a more available Pratt & Whitney radial engine on the Falcon. While
ground testing the Falcon with the new engine, he had constant problems with fuel starvation, which caused the engine to shut
off after running a few minutes. The friend replaced several fuel pumps but to
no avail. Coleman warned him that the probability of several new fuel pumps all
being defective was highly suspect and he should check for other problems.
The friend changed
a couple more fuel pumps and the Falcon seemed to run OK finally. He fueled it
up with all the fuel it would carry and took off on a test flight! Coleman and
some other fliers watched as the Falcon took off. It seemed to run OK and climbed
up to about 800 feet above the field and flew around the traffic pattern. Suddenly
the engine quit without warning. The Falcon had a glide ratio akin to a lead
brick! It dived from 800 feet out of sight behind some trees then the engine
caught and it climbed straight up to about 500 feet when the engine quit again. This
time the Falcon rolled over and dove into the ground. The impact shook the windows
at the airport office, which was half a mile from the crash site. Everyone assumed
that the Falcon pilot was dead; no one could have survived a crash like that. Coleman
and several others drove towards the crash site to see what, if anything, could be done.
On the way a black cloud of smoke went up indicating the nightmare of all fliers, fire!
The crash site
was back in some woods so Coleman and his son stopped their car and ran into the woods to get to the Falcon. As they did, they could hear his friend crying out for help; he was still alive! When they got to the plane it was engulfed in a wall of flames 30 feet high. The pilot had managed to crawl out of the wreckage but was being held half in the flames by his parachute
shrouds, which had spilled out when he crashed. In order to reach his friend,
Coleman had to almost get into the flames himself. He was able to pull the pilot
out of the fire and extinguished his burning clothing. It was amazing that he
was still alive and conscious. Both legs were broken, and his face was split
open. He had 3rd degree burns over 90% of his body. He talked to Coleman for a moment and wanted to know if he was going to die? Coleman told him he didn’t know but he though he would have a hell of a headache for a couple of
days. The pilot’s chest was burned to the point he could not breath so
mouth to mouth respiration was given until the ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital where he died shortly afterwards.
Coleman and his
son were treated for minor burns and released. Coleman had burned his head while
pulling his friend out of the fire, but it didn’t seem that serious at the time.
Three days later when Coleman was getting up in the morning, he noticed that he couldn’t see anything! In fact his whole head had swollen up to twice its normal size and forced his eyes closed. It was a delayed reaction to the intense heat he had exposed his head to.
He was immediately hospitalized where he remained for the next 13 days in potentially serious condition. His head eventually returned to normal and his vision was not damaged.
He did lose most of the hair on the top of his head. During this event,
someone noticed that Coleman bore a strong resemblance to the Chinese Communist leader, Mao-Tesung, the Chairman! Thereafter Coleman was referred to as “The Chairman,” by his friends for a while. During his blind period, Coleman’s wife, Eunice, assumed the role of “Seeing-Eye Wife”
and led him around as required. She seemed to relish the job.
|Chairman Coleman, 1966.
He eventually left
Lively Technical School and went into the private sector as a precision mechanist for a research and development company located
in Tallahassee. He worked there from 1962 to 1966 when he went to work for the
Florida State University Chemistry Department as the Machine Shop Supervisor. This
shop designed and machined highly technical research instruments for the Chemistry Department.
Eventually, Coleman rose to the level of Machine Engineer. He remained
at the Chemistry Department from 1966 to 1986 and retired from the University when he was 72 years old!
His wife Eunice
passed away in 1985 at the age of 69 from cancer. He met one of Eunice’s
friends she had known in Japan while on a trip to San Francisco in 1986. Her
name was Barbry Portry and as it turned out, Coleman had known her husband (now deceased) when they were in Japan, but had
never met Barbry until then. They hit it off immediately and were married in
1989. They had 13 wonderful years together until Barbry passed away in 2002 at
the age of 79.
Retired, still resides in Tallahassee, Florida. He was 97 years old in July of
2011 and is in excellent heath. He only wears glasses for reading and machine
work, still drives and takes no medications. He has one son, Douglas, age
68, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. As he is a living witness
to most of the 20th Century and America’s role in it, he may not be considered a “War Hero,”
but he was certainly a warrior in every sense of the word! He did his duty as
he saw it and never flinched from it both in the military and out. With the wisdom of his years he has offered that honor,
duty and education are the most important things to have, more than gold, more than glory, they are the keys that open the
doors of opportunity.
|FLOYD E. COLEMAN, CAPTAIN, RETIRED, ARMY of the UNITED STATES. July 2004, Age 90.