July 24, 2008

Ora C. Coffey

I recently took advantage of a Footnote.com offer to browse for free the Investigative Case Files of the Bureau of Investigation from 1908-1922. I was - and still am - unfamiliar with the way "things" work on that website, so it took me awhile to figure out how to get to that particular database. When I finally found my way there, I entered the Coffey surname. One of the first 100+ case files to pop up was one for an Ora C. Coffey, a deserter from the US Army.

Ora was a son of Joseph DeCalb/DeKalb Coffey of Shulls Mills in Watauga Co., NC. I haven't yet discovered the mother of Ora and his brother, Luther Lafayette Coffey.

According to one of the letters in his FBI file, Ora was born Jan. 28, 1894 at Banner Elk in NC, was educated in the public schools at Bluefield, West Virginia and Beaver High School.* When he enlisted in the military he gave his home address as 718 Highland Ave. in Bluefield. He also gave as his emergency contact his brother Luther who lived at Banner Elk.

Ora enlisted on Oct. 11, 1913 and assigned to the Panama Canal Zone. On Jun. 30, 1917 he was made a "Provisional" 2nd Lieutenant of Infantry. The record gets a bit skewed here for it reads that on Jun. 24, 1917 he was made a "temporary" First Lieutenant and promoted to Captain Jun. 5, 1918. On Jun. 19, 1919 he was recommended for a permanent Second Lieutenancy in the regular army.**

On Aug. 1, 1917 he was stationed at Empire, C.Z., and later transferred to Cristobal, C.Z. In December, 1918 he was stationed at Camp Zachary Taylor.   This camp was in Louisville, KY, built in 1917 to train soldiers heading out to fight WW1.

On Oct. 16, 1919 he was a member of the 5th Infantry, and was dropped from the rolls of the US Army as a deserter. The report states that he was last seen on Jun. 1, 1919 at the port of embarkation in Hoboken, New Jersey. Ora had apparently been assigned as "mess officer" while at Camp Zachary Taylor. The report cites "certain irregularities" in his "mess account" while stationed there.***

A search was made in Bluefield and other places for Ora, apparently without success. No one in the Bluefield area knew of Luther, who in 1917 was residing in Knoxville, TN with his wife. His family remained in Knoxville at least though 1968 when Luther died. Jean, Luther's wife, died in 1972.

Unfortunately, there is no conclusion to the search. That is, there is no document in the file that tells us whether or not Capt. Coffey was ever taken into custody!

The photos of Ora were included in the FBI file, and were apparently taken when he first joined the Army.

Please contact me at the above e-mail address to add to or correct any of this information.

*No indication where Beaver High School was [I have now been informed that Beaver HS was the HS in Bluefield for many years]

**In the military, there are temporary and permanent grades. One can be a Major, for example, and hold a permanent rank of Captain. That is, should there be some reason for a military reduction in force (RIF), the Major cannot be reduced in rank below his permanent rank. Non-commissioned officers (e.g., Sgts, etc) can be promoted into the commissioned ranks and hold as their permanent rank their highest non-commissioned grade. In case of a RIF, he would return to his permanent non-commissioned rank.
***A "mess officer" is in charge of feeding the troops.

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