SFC William L. (Bill) Coffey, from Oneida , Tennessee was wounded in action in Vietnam on Feb. 20 and died March 6, 1971 at the 18th Division Surgical Hospital at the age of twenty-seven. He left behind his wife Phyllis, young daughter Michelle and son Mark.
(This is a Gold Star story shared by his daughter Michelle who wasn’t quite four years old when her father was killed.)
Bill was born on the 29th of August 1943 to Ralph and Leona Coffey. He had two siblings, a brother Charles and a sister Ella. Bill was raised in Oneida, Tennessee, where he graduated from Oneida High School in 1961. He played football in high school. He also was an avid hunter often going with his dad hunting rabbits. He enlisted in the Army in April of 1962 completing basic training at Ft Knox, Kentucky. (From the time he was a little boy he had loved the military, according to his mother.)
He would marry Phyllis Shoopman in December of 1964
Coffey served at last two tours of duty in Germany before receiving orders to Vietnam. (His family was able to be there with him from the time Michelle was nine months until she was close to four years old.) SFC Bill Coffey arrived in Vietnam on December 5th, 1970. He was a 11D40, an Armor Recon Specialist assigned to B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 5th Cav, (3/5), 5th Infantry Division.
SFC Coffey was serving as a tank commander on February 20th when their unit was ambushed. The machine gunner was killed, and Coffey moved up into the turret to take over. A mortar landed very close and the ensuing explosion blew Coffey completely out of the tank. His Lieutenant, Terry Johnston stayed with Coffey until he could be airlifted out. Bill was evaced out to the 18th Surgical Hospital located at Quang Tri. He passed away from his wounds on the 6th of March at the age of 27.
Bill left behind his wife Phyllis, a daughter Michelle and son Mark. His body was returned to the States and was laid to rest in the Oneida-Litton cemetery on March 16th, 1971 with full military honors.
SFC Coffey received the following medals and citations, (some posthumously): Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation, Vietnam Gallantry Cross and the Good Conduct Medal.
Michelle clearly remembers the day the men in uniform came to her house to tell her mother. “There were quite a few people in the room. I didn’t fully understand what was going on, but I somehow knew, Daddy wasn’t coming home.”
Life changed forever from that day on for Michelle and her family. They became almost nomadic, moving first to Radcliffe, near Ft. Knox for three years, south to Florida for six years, and finally to North Carolina. Michelle would return to Oneida by herself at the age of seventeen.
Bill’s family knew very little about how he had died in Vietnam until about ten years ago when Bill’s childhood friend, Fred Choate, was able to do some research and connect with members of the 3/5 Cav who had served with her father and were with him when he was wounded. The members of the 3/5 Cav were very kind to Michelle, “and brought me into the fold.” The surviving members come together every two years and have included Michelle each time. She was invited to go with the 3/5 to visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall and was able to climb the ladder to see and touch “my daddy’s name. There are no words to describe the emotions of that moment.”
Michelle has a daughter Ashley, while her brother Mark has three children to add to Bill’s legacy. Michelle continues to live in Oneida even though the house her daddy grew up in has been long ago torn down. She loves her connection with the members of the 3/5 Cav and the love and kindness they have shown to her.
Posts on his memorial located on Faces of the Vietnam Wall include:
05/27/2016 “I was just a child when you were brought home to Oneida, TN. My father and yours were brothers and we attended your services. I am making sure that my children will always remember you.” Ruby Coffey Pierce
“Thinking of you today Daddy, like I always do. But today, Memorial Day is especially hard. I wish so many times that you were still here with us. You have grandkids and great grandkids that you’ve never seen. So many things that have been missed. But mostly I think, I’ve just missed your presence and love more than anything! Love you bunches Daddy! I look forward to the day when we can be reunited again in heaven! (Michelle Coffey, daughter)
(August 30,2019) “Today would’ve been his 76th birthday. He was only 27 when he died. He was my daddy. SFC William L Coffey 3/5 CAV B troop. He was KIA in Mar 1971 after going over there in Nov/Dec 1970. I’ve missed him almost my whole life. I was a very little girl when he died. So it’s been a very long time. Love & miss you Daddy” 💔😢