Every now and then you come across a veteran's story that makes you say wow. This Marines battle epotimizes the ultimate human struggle - to survive. His devotion, relentlesness and never-say-quit attitude illustrates why the Americans of the WWII generation could not be defeated.
Born in Chicago in 1920, William I. Coffeen jr. enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1939 and found himself in VMF-2 aboard the Yorktown the next year as a young Private. Earning the Sharpshooters Medal in March of 1940, he quickly received promotions to PFC, Corporal and Sergeant while stationed at Ewa, T.H. By the Fall of '41 he was training to be an Enlisted Aviator in the NAP program and was with the famous "Wake Island Avengers" VMF-211. Coffeen was in the rear echelon at Ewa under Maj. Luther Moore on December 7th when it lost 11 of its 12 F4F's. From here Coffeen whet to Flordia for NAP training and was designated a Enlisted Naval Avaitor in October, 1942 before being assigned to VMF-213 as a Staff Sergeant at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal.
We have all read stories of the famous battles of the air in the South Pacific and VMF-213 had their fair share. Unfortunately, Coffeen would not see many of these battles, as he would be fighting to survive on the deserted islands north of the 'Canal. On April 7th, 1943 Coffeen was with Flight IV and participated in his first aerial combat, flying alongside LT's Hilton and Votaw. The squadron flew patrol missions each day between then and the 13th. On takeoff that morning, the squadron's CO, Major Wade Britt crashed on takeoff and was killed, Coffeen had already made it into the air and had joined 15 other F4U-1 Corsairs on an escort mission for Avenger Torpedo Bombers when an oil line caught fire as he reached 12 thousand feet. Not able to turn back, his only choice was to bail out into the silvery waters of the South Pacific.
On landing he lost his ration bag, his flotation vest had a hole and his flare pistol was water logged. He did manage to make it to his life raft but soon after it was capsized and he lost the oar! He managed to right the raft as two sharks made way for him and for two days he drifted; battling severe dehydration, sun burn and a much weakend state, he managed to hand paddle to a small island near Choiseul. For the next 32 days he wandered between small uninhabited islands and, living only off cocounts and some rotten chicken eggs, was near death with he was finaly found by a native and delivered to a coast watcher. It took another 40 days of being nursed to health by coast watchers just to be fit to travel when he was picked up by a PBY and returned to Guadalcanal.
Coffeen was sent back to the states where he received a direct commission to 2nd Lieutenant, Spending the remainder of the war aviation training units and HQ squadrons. His final Flight assignment was with VMF-225 on the USS Mindoro in January, 1946 and a piece of mail post marked USS Mindoro was found in the pocket of this uniform! After the war was over, Coffeen, like many other wartime commissioned Officers had his commission revoked and he was reduced to Master Sergeant.