Ken Coffman  Yank Photographer

Interview by Peter Flahavin

Yank Photographer
I have been a photographer since I was 12. Took many for Yank in the South Pacific. Still have my old 4 by 5 Speed graphic. My old canon F-1 gets most of the use today. My hobies other than flying have been small boat design and building. My It was intersting about your dad. Who knows, we could have crossed paths. Even on the roads (such as they were) I had a hard time getting used to driving on the left side of the road and usually received not so pleasant comments from the Aussies. You know what a drink or two can do. The officers club was not always that careful how you left and though I had a driver,his condition was not always that good either.Then , that's another story.

I now have copies of all the Henderson photos. Even the bunker looks more inviting. Ours had a sign in front of it. "Through these portals go the worlds fastest mortals" Nothing else even resembles the way it looked then but it is now a commercial field with an asphalt run way.

Baptism Under Fire
Mine was at Pearl Harbor. I was sitting drinking coffee when they hit. On Ford Island where I was, the battle Wagons were as usual. all lined up at there respective moorage positions. It happened so fast and so unexpectedly. They knew what they were looking for to bomb and torpedo and so all the battlewagons that were out where were sunk . Only the Maryland and the West Virginia , which were moored between Ford island and the others, survived. They were hit by the bombers. By then most of us were on .50 caliber water cooled machine guns, vintage WW-1. That's where we remained until relieved. We didn't know if they were coming back or what.

After Pearl, I became part of a replacement unit for the old Enterprise and from there to the Canal, and from there to too damned much of the Pacific. At least when we arrived at Guadalcanal, we knew they were there and Knew that they were expecting us. No surprises. Yes, it's hard to believe that it has been so many years, but even more wonderful that at least some of us came home. By the time we reached the Marianas, few of us expected to come home. We now have one Grandson who is an Nuclear Engineer and soon to be promoted to Lt. Commander. He is in submarines. No way I would ever have wanted to go to sea. You can parachute from an aircraft. Try that from a sub!

Australia & New Zealand
Australia is a wonderful place to spend the winter months. I have a lot of fond memories of Australia. Between the Aussies and the New Zealanders treated us like Royalty during the war. I spent some time in Melbourne after being knocked down by Malaria before going back to New Guinea. If I missed any islands as we worked North. I can't say I was disapointed. Even places like Funa Futti and Tonga taboo. I even spent a couple of weeks in Tasmania. If I were wanting to live anywhere but here, it would be in Melbourne or Sydney. No farther north. I was in Perth and that's too close to the equator for any one to live. I think that manys Yanks found what we learned long ago, You folks are the greatest. While in Milne bay, we had an Aussie outfit camped next to ours and at port Moresby another. We enjoyed being with them, It was like being home.

Well, except for the difference in word terminology and expressions. My favorite song they sang a lot of the time was Waltzing Matilda though we didn't have any Billabongs in New Guinea. Millions of mosquitos and Japs. They had a game most of us entered at night called "Toss a tuppence" . Never won one much but what was there to buy there.? Coconuts and Bananas were there for the taking.

Thin Red Line Movie
Regarding the movie "Thin Red Lline". Yes, as with most films made of WWII. few would even recognize the real facts from the pictures. We generally looked as though we really had command of everything. They don't want to portray that the Japs kicked the crap out of us for quite a while before we began to begin getting the edge on them. Their aircraft were armed with 20 MM arms and ammo while our first efforts were older .30 caliber ammo with some .50 caliber machine guns. I have maintained that we won because of knowing it was win or die and eventually we were able to put more aircraft up against them and by then knew more of what we were doing. For quite sometime even our torpedoes had defective detonators and our early radar was not well undestood nor were the operators well trained. The Aussie coast watchers were our best warning system. Knowing Boynton and remembering what realiy happened made the TV series " Baa Baa Black Sheep" the same as TRL . Oh well, those who didn't know the difference loved it and so did the advertisers. Everything is glammorized.

Airfield Conditions on Henderson
Most of our aircraft on Guadalcanal in 1942 never saw a hanger. The wings were folded and they were pulled back under the Palm trees. Our runways then were steel landing mats which howled like hell when you landed on them. They would sink in the mud and more landing mats went down on top of them.

Henderson Field

Our quarters were tents under the palms alongside the field. Our dugout was very near our area due to the need to get there fast. The pictures we took were property of the U.S. Government and most of what I had were lost in a fire. Those that are left are stored and I am not sure at this time were.

Our air force "Cactus 1" was kept busy and repairing ships. Well, when there was enough to repair. Salvage was extreemly important. There were times that keeping even 4 ships in the air was a challenge. Some were just bull dozed off the runway and apron. Our trully smart weapons were those wonderful men who constantly risked there necks repairing and maintaining them. Like I said, Henderson does not even remotely resemble what it looked like during the campaign. It appears so peaceful now that few who served there would even recognize it as such.No shell or bomb craters nor landing mats nor wrecked aircraft along the side of the apron and runway. Green and nice now.

Landing
Repair

Port Moresby
I remember one occasion at Port Moresby when I offered a cigarette to one of the natives and said, "Do you savy coconuts?" He said "yes I do! Would you like to have me get some for you..?" in far better English than I used. I was non plussed until he said that he had been educated in England and was assistant to the Missionary there.! Needless to say, we become friends and we kept them supplied with anything we had and they kept us well stocked with Bananas and Coconuts.

Being one who loved sailing and seemingly there was very little wind there and across the bay there was a tribe of locals. Their old skiff with patches come a mile all over them could find wind and sail out to sea and fish annd back in over the reef as though there was lots of wind. We had a squadron of PBY 3s which were based there and the water was so calm most of the time that LCVP were run back and forth to roughen the water so they could take off. There was and old German hull on the reef from WW1 which we used for testing our guns before we got out in combat areas. It is still visible yet after almost 70 years.

The Fuzzy Wuzzies
The Fuzzy Wuzzies were a new experience for us. The women ran around with only their bellies covered , so the chaplain issued each a Skivy shirt. By the next day all had holes , allowing their breast to extend out.The chaplain got the message and allowed they were not too much of a threat to military morals. So many memories. The more pleasant ones. I remembered once in Sydney, I went to enter a Pub that was for officers but was stopped at the door. The person said that I was not properly attired ???? I was in sun tans with my little folding cap on??? He said that I would need a tie??? He said there was a habberdashery store a few doors down. I went in and got a lesson in foreign exchange. I picked out a black tie and said "How much?" He said, "two six and a haypenny" I asked him how much that was in English? He said "Sir, that is English". In time, I realized that he meant 2 bob; a six pence and a half a penny. I just handed him some change and he smiled and returned the difference.

 

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