James E. Coffman

US Navy WWII Veteran

During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy Signal Corps never decrypted U.S. Navy "FOX" codes, thanks to Radiomen Heroes such as JAMES E. COFFMAN, Petty Officer Third Class, U.S. Navy

 Upon graduating from Nebraska City, NE high school in the Spring of 1944 (Class Motto: "Not at the Top, but Climbing"), Jim Coffman enlisted in the Navy at Fort Crook, NE. After basic training and radioman advanced education at Farragut (Idaho) Naval Training Station (Company 644-44, Regiment 4, Battalion 16).

Radiomen of the U.S. Navy were responsible for transmitting and receiving radio signals, and processing all forms of telecommunications through various transmission media aboard ships, aircraft and at shore facilities.

The type of radio related circuits utilized included voice and data circuits between the ships of a battle group and allied units. Message systems for generalized broadcasts and unit specific messages were processed based on priority and handling procedures.

Morse code messages often came in 5-character groups of number and letter. Transcriptions would be passed to a secure room for decoding and distribution.

A radioman in WWII

A radioman in WWII with communications equipment, including Morse code key

A message originator would send an encrypted message to one of the main radio stations, which in turn placed the message "on the Fox" with powerful long-range, low-frequency broadcasts to reach ships. Each ship's radio room personnel would continuously monitor the Fox, copying messages which contained a header indicating orders for their ship.

The usually continuous Morse code signals on the Fox were 18 words per minute. As ships generally operated under radio silence, no acknowledgement was expected when a ship received a message addressed to her.

Operators sat at their typewriters or "mills" and typed out the messages that came over their headsets in encrypted Morse code. Messages addressed to the ship were provided to the communications officer, who deciphered them in the code room on the "crypto" machine and then passed them on to the captain.

It is generally reported the Axis powers did decrypt several of the Allied code systems, including that of the U.S. Navy, especially during early stages of the conflict. In April 1942, the U.S. Navy changed their coding system, with no reports of subsequent Axis decryption.

Inter-ship communication was performed by loud-hailer, semaphore, colored lights by night, code flags, steam whistles, blinker signals (still used by modern-day navies) and in certain circumstances, voice radio.

WWII Radio Room

World War II on-ship radio room

Jim was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the Marshall Islands (the Gilbert and Marshall Islands Campaign was NOV 1943 thru FEB 1944), and Okinawa (battle fought APR thru JUN 1945).

Petty Officer Badge
Petty Officer Third Class,
Radioman, U.S. Navy, World War II

Upon returning to civilian life in Nebraska City, in 1946, Jim was active in the VFW, holding position of Post 2634 Commander among others.

VFW

Jim was employed in the dry cleaning business; subsequently moving to Red Oak, Iowa, owning Finest Cleaners for many years, serving customers throughout Southwest Iowa.

Jim married Doris Lucille Parmenter of Nebraska City. Among various tributes to Jim include Volunteer of the Year at the Red Oak Good Samaritan Society, and The Red Oak Express & Rotary Club Honored Citizen. Jim is also a thirty year+ volunteer with the Montgomery County Veterans Memorial Court of Honor.

Flags

James Coffman
Overleaf: James Everett Coffman with his 1944 Farragut Naval Training Station graduating class photo -he is in the top row, third from right

Honorable Discharge Paper

The primary code system for Imperial Japanese Naval (IJN) communications was JN-25.

To crack JN-25, the U.S. Naval Intelligence project 11Magic11 team included 800 highly trained naval staff headquartered at Pearl Harbor. The project team leader was Commander John Rochefort, a cryptanalyst uniquely qualified with perfect fluency in Japanese and an unstoppable stubbornness that he would stop at nothing to break the Japanese code.

The team used a rudimentary computer, IBM ECM Mark Ill, to, analyze and decipher the 33,000 Japanese word code. They also exploited weaknesses in the way the Japanese communicated that would eventually prove to be their undoing. For instance, the Japanese used flag phrases such as "I have the honor to inform your Excellency", and nicknames for key military personnel, all of tremendous help in deciphering the JN-25 code.

Another flaw in the Japanese security plan came from their arrogance in thinking the code could not be cracked so they rarely altered the code itself, thereby providing U.S. codebreakers a consistent code, facilitating notation of repeated patterns.

Once broken, our Navy accessed the most secure communications of the IJN, leading to victory after victory against this impressive military force including the battle of Midway, after which the U.S. Navy took the strategic initiative. The breaking of JN-25 stands as one of the most important espionage efforts in World War II, saving thousands of American and Allied lives. <<<>>>

After Victory over Japan, James Everett Coffman, Petty Officer RM3c(T), earned the Victory Medal - American Area Asiatic Pacific

Victory Medal