by Gail Marsh
I've heard it said that if you intend to write, write about what you know.
A former West Virginia resident has managed to do just that, and he's produced a book worth reading.
It's called "I Never Intended to Be a Soldier, the Life Story of Warren Coffman, Col. U.S. Army, retired."
Anyone who has ever aspired to write a book, or even to record a family history for future generations, will find value in reading Coffman's 218-page autobiography.
The book starts with Coffman's growing-up years in Lumberport in the 1920s. It describes his life during the Great Depression, and his time at West Virginia University before being called up to serve in World War II.
The book continues through his struggle to find good civilian employment, and his return to Army life, which took him through Korea, Japan, Vietnam and peacetime service at the Pentagon.
His military career spanned 30 years, and he earned a Purple Heart, Silver Star, Legion of Merit and a long list of distinguished service medals.
I talked with Col. Coffman from his home in Winter Park, Fla., this week, and he said the book started out as nothing more than a plan to record his family history and his war-time experiences for his family.
"I lived next to the Orlando newspaper, and a few years ago they decided to do a story on D-Day veterans, so I sent in my name," Coffman said. "They called me, and a reporter and photographer came out and spent half a day with me.
"Later on I met a talk-show host who was going to do a D-Day show, and he invited me and a couple of other guys in the invasion to be on his show."
Reagan Smith, the talk-show host, was the first person to encourage Coffman to record his life story. But it was Coffman's grandson who made up his mind.
"I played the video of that show for my grandson, who was 16 years old at the time, and I was surprised to find he was very interested in it and wanted to hear more. I decided then to record my whole life history for my family."
Coffman bought a tape recorder, but said he had trouble keeping things in chronological order because he kept remembering things to add to the tape. Instead, he turned to what many first-time writers decide to use: the time-honored yellow legal pad.
"In the fall of 1998, my wife had become ill and was in the hospital a number of times. While I spent a lot of time at the hospital, I would take out my legal pad and begin to write from memory."
Finding that it was too expensive to have the hand-written manuscript typed, Coffman bought his first computer and decided to type it himself.
"I set up the computer and took a couple of typing lessons on it and it all came back to me. Without the insert and the delete key on the computer, I would have never gotten it done."
Coffman next learned a little about publishers.
"I thought they would be happy to publish it, but I found out they won't even talk to you unless you're well known or have a well-known agent.
"I found a publisher in North Carolina, a former corporal in Vietnam, and he helped me to get it published."
Coffman originally planned to make a few copies for his family, but the publisher encouraged him to make extra copies to sell.
"I've probably given away more than I've sold, but people have told me they've really enjoyed it."
The book came out in January of this year, and Coffman sent a copy to his grandson, Nicholas Coffman, who lives in Tulsa, Okla. He was delighted with his response.
"It surprised me, but my grandson sent me an e-mail and said he was carrying it with him all the time. One of his teachers read the prologue and wanted a copy."
The book is written with his grandson in mind, so Coffman made it appropriate for children -- "no cussing or bad parts, just a tale of what the war was like."
Coffman hasn't been back to West Virginia for a number of years, but said there are probably still people in the Lumberport area who remember his family.
"I think the people there might enjoy reading a little about my family and my life growing up there."
People who would like to order "I Never Intended to Be a Solder" can get the book by writing to Lifestyles Press, P.O. Box 493, Greensboro, NC, 27402, or calling the company at 1-888-742-2155.
Staff writer Gail Marsh can be reached at 626-1447.