May 24, 2010

Capt. Loy Grady Coffey, USAAF WWII

Capt. Loy Grady Coffee
I too had an uncle that perished serving his country during WWII.  My father Frank H. (USAAF) and another of his brothers, Harry D. (USCG) also served but returned safely.

This uncle was the youngest of four sons born to my grandfather, Albert Lilburn Coffey and his wife, Ora Elizabeth Braley.  Loy was born on Jul. 27, 1917 in De Ann, Hempstead Co., AR and died on Dec. 30, 1944 over Ellis Co., KS.

He was a bombardier instructor aboard a B-29 bomber out of the 2d Air Force, 17th Wing stationed at Walker Army Air Force Base in Hays, KS.  On the morning of Dec. 30, the B-29, piloted by 1st Lt. Rufus C. Anderson took off on a training run.  In addition to Capt. Coffey, others on board were 2d Lt. Glenn V. Welander, F/O Thomas H. Joyce; 2nd Lt. Stanley M. Franklin; Sgt. Dale M. Thompson; Pfc. William R. Fierini; Cpl. Robert F. Rich; Cpl. Richard R. Berg; Pfc. Nicholas G. Brando; Pfc. Kenneth L. Bryant; Cpl. Harry Bochichio and 2nd Lt. Verne E. Roycraft.  All but Berg, Brando and Roycraft were killed.  One of the survivors may have ultimately died from injuries.  A news article reported that one of the men was not expected to survive, but did not name him.

According to reports, the bomber climbed to about 25,000 feet and was proceeding on course when at about 10:20 a.m. the number 3 engine [ironic the same engine number as on the B-24 in previous blog] backfired and erupted in flames.  Extinguishers were activated but within a short time the engine caught fire again and burned more fiercely. The extinguishers were again activated but were ineffective.

A subsequent investigation revealed that the fuel line had ruptured and a steady flow of gas to the engine was fueling the fire.  The engine eventually exploded causing the plane to lose the left wing.  It began an uncontrollable spin and cartwheeled to the earth.  The crew lost their oxygen equipment and in the chaos men were bouncing around in the plane, unable to physically jump out.

Lt. Anderson had earlier alerted the crew to prepare for a jump.  Capt. Coffee, the navigator and the radio operator began to move towards the bomb bay with the radio operator attempting to help Coffee strap on his parachute.  The next time a survivor saw Coffee he was lying on the bomb bay door and had a deep gash on the top rear of his head.

Headstone for Capt. Loy Grady Coffey
Some of the men fell to earth while still inside the plane and their bodies were burned.  Capt. Coffee was fortunate in that he somehow fell free of the plane and his body was not burned.  He was returned to his then hometown of Minden, in Webster Parish, LA where he was buried with military honors in the Minden City Cemetery.

Capt. Coffey enlisted when he was six months shy of receiving a law degree from Louisiana State University.  He was also an ROTC cadet and had received some prior National Guard training.  Upon enlistment he was sent to Midland [Texas] Army Flying School where he began the second class of bombardier training.  Graduates were known as "Hell from Heaven Men" and "the most dangerous men in the world."  Following graduation he was commissioned an officer in the US Army.

He married Miss Martha Easley of Harlingen, TX in March, 1943 and she had been with him since their marriage.   I have often searched for Martha with no success.  Undoubtedly, she remarried and had children and, it would be nice to know more about her life after the death of Capt. Coffee.

The grainy photo was retrieved from a newspaper article of the day announcing his death and is the best that I have of him.  He was a handsome man; probably the best looking of all his brothers.

Within the last year, a contact and local historian in Hays discovered the bomb bay door in a barn owned by a local farmer.  He removed a small piece and sent it to me as a keepsake.  I will be forever grateful.

No. 991

Contact Form


Email *

Message *