ohn Coffel enlisted February 1943 and was trained on M5 Light tanks in the 20th Armored Division. Because of the resemblance in names, John became good friends with Milton Coffee who shared many of John's experiences throughout the next two years. After 23 days of ocean travel, his unit arrived at Oran, North Africa, then onto Tunisia by the well-known  40X8  boxcars.

John and Milton soon found themselves in Anzio, Italy, for 138 days on the beachhead. Leaving Anzio, John survived fire from 50-caliber machine guns and 250-pound bombs, learning they were not fired  from the enemy but were friendly fire. He entered Rome soon after the Germans evacuated and found destruction everywhere, but was now declared an open city with no bombing or shelling. 

Because of an accident with a flare, John spent 21 days in a hospital and earned the rank of T4 Sgt. Unfortunately, John spent another two weeks in the hospital after being hit in a battle in Pistola, which earned him the Purple Heart.

Many battles, much traveling, captured enemy, killed buddies all became well-known to John. The surrender on May 4 brought good news to the world, and John's platoon was to proceed to Bergamo, picking up German deserters along the way. John's rank changed again to Tsgt Head of Maintenance Section. He returned home two weeks after his friend Milton Coffee, in November 1945, then served in the reserves until 1952.

John is still married to his bride, Gladys, and lives in Independence.

John’s  military history can be viewed at the Veterans' Hall in the Independence Parks and Recreation Truman Memorial Building at 416 W. Maple.


This is part of a weekly feature on local veterans submitted by Helen Matson, volunteer program director for the city of Independence. You can reach her at 816-325-7860.