Monday, March 17, 2008

What it means to trade Guns for Swords

Nina Coffman a graduate of SHS class of 1963 could easily say "What did you do in the War Daddy"? I dare say none of us knew much of what our fathers were involved in during WW II when we graduated in 1963. 45 years after high school graduation we are just now beginning to get an idea of some the things our fathers experienced.

The following is reprinted with permission from Searcy Living. by RJ Taylor

Lawnie Coffman had the kind of day that infantrymen dream of as a sergeant in the 35th Infantry Division in November, 1944. He captured two enemy combatants, then fifteen, and finally eight more before the day was very old. "The element of surprise helped me to capture 25 Germans," he said recently.

The Germans had the high ground near Nancy, France, and the American casualties were expected to be high when they crossed an open field. The night before that battle, Coffman, who was the platoon leader, and 12 to 15 members of his platoon volunteered to get behind the Germans. The Americans would have the Germans in a cross-fire the next morning.

In the dark, most of the men got lost and had to work their way back to the American line. Coffman said he and three recruits found themselves in the middle of the German camp. They stopped in a plum thicket to wait for daylight. Coffman put one of the young soldiers on guard duty, and he and the other two dug in and tried to sleep.

It wasn't long before the guard woke him. He had spotted two German soldiers boiling coffee over a fire, and he wanted Coffman to go with him to kill the Germans. Coffman said they should give the Germans a chance to surrender. He sent a bullet through their coffeepot and ordered them to surrender. They were glad to do that and even swapped some of their cigarettes for American ones.

While the young soldier guarded the Germans, Coffman heard other men moving at about 4 a.m. He couldn't tell in the dim light whether they were Americans or Germans. He laid down in the grass, and when the men got close he could see that a German officer was leading a group of soldiers in a single file. When the officer got about eight feet from him, Coffman screamed the German words for "hands up," his gun raised.

He said the officer's helmet fell to the ground, and Coffman heard the 14 other Germans' helmets hitting the ground. Eight other Germans saw their comrades surrendering, and they waved a white flag to indicate they were ready to surrender, too.

Coffman was recommended for a battlefield commission and a Silver Star. The papers for the Silver Star were lost in a fire. Before his promotion to second lieutenant could take place, he would have to defy death: he was hit through the left shoulder blade by the kind of shell used against tanks and other large targets - a 20 millimeter shell.

It happened about five days after his spectacular heroics. Tank carrying soldiers to a German-held town got mired down, and Coffman and other infantrymen had to get off before they reached their destination. The first medic to get to Coffman thought that he was dying, but another one saw some sign of life.

When Coffman regained consciousness, he was on an operating table in Paris. When he later asked for his belongings, the only item left in his bag was a tiny New Testament. It had belonged to a 17 - year-old replacement who was killed minutes after reporting to Coffman.

The scriptures reminded Coffman of a vow he had made before losing consciousness on the battlefield: He promised God that if he survived, he would work for Him the rest of his life. The first verse that he saw in the New Testament, which he still has, was Hebrews 4:12. It begins, "God's word is alive and working. His word is sharper than the sharpest sword..."

I felt that God was telling me that it was time to change "weapons," he said, referring to the Second World War being over for him. Instead, he would use the Bible in the was against Satan for the rest of his life.

Coffman spent months in hospitals, mostly in Longview, Texas. When he left the Army in August, 1945, he studied the Bible and became a Christian. In 1949, he began preaching for Free Will Baptist churches. He attended a Free Will Baptist college for a year and later studied for another year at Harding University.

He first moved to Searcy in 1952 and established two churches here. He would preach in several other cities over a long career.

Coffman never did receive the Silver Star that he deserved, but he lift the Army with two Bronze Stars. One was for his hey role in liberating Fossieus, a town of about 2,000 in eastern France. In the Fall of 2004, the mayor and town invited him to come back on the 60th anniversary of its liberation from the Germans. He took his wife, Alene, their two daughters, and two granddaughters.

The town lavished him with a hero's welcome, bestowing upon him many gifts and medals. He said that he never had received so many hugs. The mayor led a tour of battle sites that Coffman had been involved in. At one site, he had crawled behind a concrete curb to get close enough to fire a bazooka - usually an anti-tank weapon - at a machine gun nest that was holding us his platoon, killing and capturing several Germans.

Coffman has written and published his memoirs, a book called "My Leg of the Race." In it he wrote, "I have dedicated my life and service in keeping my promise to do the Lord's Work." Having survived for more than six decades an injury that appeared to be unsurvivable, he considers his favorite scripture to be Luke 1:49: "For the Mighty One has done a great things for me."


Many of us our fathers are no longer with us. If you have a story about your father during the War please get in touch with us. The men of this generation were very special, they did what was necessary, and didn't talk about it openly, so consequently many of the stories are lost.

This seems to be the way it is with veterans, we usually have no idea of the sacrifices they make or what they have endured.


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