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More than Simply Gold Coins and a Prayer

November 29, 2011

Stories of heroism and lessons from history by James H. Keeffe III at the 2011 PNW-ASI fall meeting

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In October of 2011, the Water Resources Center in Vancouver, Washington—adjacent to the majestic Columbia River—hosted the ASI Pacific Northwest chapter’s fall meeting for the second consecutive year. Kicking off the weekend’s program was an author, James Keeffe, who took the time to drive down from his home in Falls City, Washington that morning to speak to the group.

Keeffe’s nonfiction book, Two Gold Coins and a Prayer: The Epic Journey of a World War II Bomber Pilot and POW, represents the author’s efforts to capture the wartime memoirs of his father Lt. Col. James H. Keefe Jr., USAF (Ret.). A lifelong fan of flying since the age of 10, Keefe Jr. eventually became the veteran of both World War II and the Korean War….the book and presentation focused on his experiences with the former.

An excerpt from the back of the book states: “In August, 1942, Keeffe joined the U.S. Army Air Forces and arrived at Aviation Cadet Training. On Thanksgiving Day, 1943, after months of rigorous training, he arrived in England with his crew to begin flying B-24 bombing missions. Then, on the 8th of March 1944, Keeffe’s airplane is shot down over Holland, catapulting him into a world squeezed colorless by the ever-tightening Nazi fist of occupation.”

As Keefe described his father’s ordeal of having to travel from safe house to safe house, and then as a prisoner in a German POW camp, his description of the conditions, adaptability, and survival skills employed by the soldiers was as fascinating as it was horrific. One of the most intriguing portions of Keefe’s discussion centered on the camaraderie of the soldiers, the tests of character amongst the group, and reasoning skills that shone brightly in the face of adversity; such as his father determining who he could trust—and couldn’t trust—to keep himself alive.

The indexers present that day were riveted and moved by the story and the discussion that followed with questions. At times during the Q & A session, it was hard to find a dry eye in the house as James chronicled the accounts of bravery and heroism summoned by both soldiers and ordinary everyday civilians living under Nazi occupation, especially during the time his father was in hiding through the Dutch Underground.

The most compelling part of this epic story, however, took place barely a month before Keeffe’s presentation in Vancouver. He described how his father had been able to reconnect recently with Helen Berman-Cohen, a Jewish lady (or girl at the time) he had been in hiding within a safe house—and her visit to Seattle to meet with the Keeffe family in person. In my opinion, the story is in truth completed with that recent reunion—standing as testament to the perseverance of humanity under the direst of circumstances, in addition to demonstrating what it is to love and remember those who made a difference in our lives, even if they were merely strangers.

Two Gold Coins and a Prayer represents one of many countless threads of individual heroism from World War II; a perspective that, sadly, too often goes untold and fails to be recorded as it dies with our veterans. Keeffe’s framing of yet another historical account of the high drama of humanity’s “unfinished supernovel” is one for the ages—anytime, anywhere.

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More on the Keeffe’s and Two Gold Coins and a Prayer

James Keeffe III (left) and his father, Lt. Col. James H. Keeffe Jr., USAF (Ret.)

James H. Keeffe III , (left) eldest son of James H. Keeffe Jr., spent his early years traveling the world with his military family. He has been working in IT data networking for the last eighteen years for Group Health Cooperative. He resides in Fall City, Washington, with his wife Paula and his daughter Reilly.

James H. Keeffe Jr., a WWII and Korean War veteran, received his degree in Meteorology at UCLA. During his twenty-two years in the Air Force, he was a pilot, weatherman, and instructor. He lives in Bellevue, Washington, with his wife Sandy. They have six children and many grandchildren.

To buy Two Gold Coins and a Prayer, go to Amazon.com. More information about the Keeffe’s and their publishing works may be found at Appell Publishing.

Special note: A thank you goes out to Book Publishers Northwest for getting the word out on PNW-ASI’s desire to have an author speak at one of their meetings, as they posted my request to their website. A thank you also to Diane Duthweiler of Book It Northwest, Keeffe’s agent….we would not have made contact with Mr. Keeffe without the passion and assistance from these efforts!

The content from this post will also appear in the Fall 2011/Winter 2012 edition of ‘Indexers Ink,’ the e-newsletter for the Pacific Northwest chapter of the American Society for Indexing.

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