The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Obituaries

November 29, 2013

John B. Coffey

FLORIDA — COFFEY – Lt. Col. John B. (retired), a beloved father, grandfather and great-grandfather, with a distinguished career of public service, died Nov. 26, 2013. Born May 8, 1921, in Missionary Ridge, Ga. His father, Robert L. Coffey Sr., had been a successful brick manufacturer, and his mother, Curry Brindley Coffey, once worked as a milliner and would live to be 100 years old. After his family lost their businesses as a result of the Great Depression, they moved to Johnstown, where he attended Franklin High School. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940, hoping to join a cavalry unit, but was instead assigned to the Army Air Corp. His World War II service, filled with patriotism and heroism, saw the anguish of losing friends during combat, as well as various adventures. For example, during one of his weekends on leave, he met and danced with the legendary Shirley Temple. He also learned assorted Irish songs including “The Night That Paddy Murphy Died,” which he sang as recently as this past year. He flew 35 B-17 missions over Europe at a time when the attrition rate was 5 percent, meaning one in 20 planes would not return from each mission. Midway through his missions, he became lead navigator, so that he led the  the formation of as many as 40 bombers to its target and back. The lead plane was inevitably the most exposed. During and after the war, he received various commendations and awards for his service to his country. Tragically, his beloved brothers died in airplane crashes, younger brother, William, during the war, and older brother, Robert, an ace fighter pilot and then a Member of Congress, in 1949. After the war, John Coffey attended the University of Miami, where he met Valerie Kendall, his future wife. Following graduation, he married Valerie but was soon recalled to military duty due to the Korean War. Joining what had by then become the U.S. Air Force, he served in various  posts, ranging from B-52 crews and the Inspector General’s staff to liaison assignments with the Colombian military in the 1960s. In his final assignment, he served as the director of operations for the U.S. Air Force in Europe based  in what was then West Germany. A position of great importance given Europe’s vital importance during the Cold War, Lt. Col. Coffey was recognized for his outstanding work: “Lieutenant Colonel John B. Coffey distinguished himself by meritorious service in the performance of outstanding service to the United States while serving in the Deputate of Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe from July 27, 1966, through July 1, 1969. During this period, Lt. Col. Coffey’s superior initiative, leadership, and devotion to duty resulted in highly unusual and new approaches to long-standing problems. His diplomacy and tact in dealing with other foreign nationals significantly enhance the development of NATO war planning capabilities and their integration and coordination with those of the United States. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Lt. Col. Coffey culminate a distinguished career in the service of his country and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.” During the three years he served as director of the Air Force’s European Operations, he also became close to many in the local community in Mainz, Germany, and was an active member of the St. George Horse Riding and Driving Club. In 1968 and 1969, he was the only American ever to be named an honorary member of the Mainzer Ranzen Garde, a local society that commemorated public events riding horses in 18th Century cavalry attire and formations. In 1969, he retired and moved with Valerie and their sons, Christopher, Kendall and Kevin, to Miami, Fla. Following his retirement, he was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and would, over the next four decades, author numerous columns and op ed pieces concerning U.S. military and foreign policy. A brilliant thinker, who served as president of Miami’s Unitarian Church, he was exceptionally well-informed about national and world events. In 1974, he and Valerie moved to Moore Haven, Fla., where they lived together for more than three decades at Coffey Farm on U.S. Highway 27. John and Valerie had many wonderful friends in Glades County and were active in, among many organizations, the Lions Club which named him “Man of the Year.” During those years, Mr. Coffey continued his dedicated work for the public, serving as a Glades County Commissioner for eight years, including several years as chairman of the County Commission. An advocate for environmental and other causes, his many accomplishments include leading the successful fight to maintain public access to Fisheating Creek. Coffey Road is named in honor of John and Valerie Coffey. Following a long illness, Valerie Coffey died in 2005. The end of their 57-year love story left him devastated. A brief remarriage was followed by a separation. In recent years, he resided in Savannah Court in West Palm Beach, where he enjoyed new friendships and even more adventures.

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