Floyd Wilmer Coffman's Full Biography

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Floyd Wilmer Coffman's Full Biography


Floyd Wilmer Coffman's life was changed by and he found new purpose in his wartime experience between 1917 and 1919. Wilmer, as he was known, hailed from the hamlet of East Point in Rockingham County, Virginia, where he was born on September 14, 1889. The only surviving child of Edwin and Columbia Coffman, he was a devoted son who lived with his mother after Edwin died in 1919.

As a young man, Coffman worked as a photographer and chemist for William Dean in Harrisonburg. Though his wartime service began as a clerk in the Quartermaster's Corps in August 1917, his photographic skills led him to the Signal Corps where he was an early recruit to aerial photo reconnaissance. Coffman trained at Langley Airfield near Hampton, Virginia and was transferred to Love Field, Texas as a photographic instructor in March 1918. His hard work, discipline, and success as an instructor led to his promotion to Sergeant before he shipped out for Europe in September 1918 as part of the 16th Aerial Photo Section.

Though anxious to join the action, his two-month trip brought him to the front just three days after the Armistice. His eight months of service after the Armistice, however, was transformative. He joined the Assistant Secretary of War for Aviation as a special photographic aide to document the Allied airfields, battlefields, German military installations, and areas around the new international frontiers. It was on this brief tour that he collected many of the photographs that are now part of Floyd Wilmer Coffman Collection available at Massanutten Regional Library.

He returned to Harrisonburg after his discharge in Norfolk in August 1919 and began a successful life in business, civil service, and veterans' affairs. Correspondence courses in business through La Salle University opened the door to management at Sisler Brothers where he was treasurer 1926-1939 and general manager 1939-1944. From 1944 to 1953 he was president of the Harrisonburg Block Co, after 1953 he was director of Riteway Manufacturing until its merger with Virginia Metalcrafters in 1957.

Financial success allowed him to expand his civic work, which included serving on city council 1938-1944, as director of the 1940 Turkey Festival, president of the Chamber of Commerce, a founding member of the Harrisonburg Redevelopment Commission, and the head of the United Fund in 1957 and 1958. In 1941 he married Mona Lyon, who came to the State Normal and Industrial School for Women (JMU) in 1936 to create a business program. It was in his service to local veterans, however, that Coffman made his greatest contributions. He was active in the American Legion Rockingham Post No. 27 where he served as commander, adjutant commander, historian, and for twenty-four years, as service officer. In 1933 he was named the first representative from the Valley on the Veteran's Review Board in Richmond, and was elected to be a vice commander of the Virginia American Legion in 1934. He led the opening of the Veterans Service and Red Cross offices in Harrisonburg. In May 1961, the American Legion honored his lifetime of service by dedicating a flagpole at Harrisonburg's World War I memorial in his name.

His health having been in decline since an appendectomy in September 1958, the ceremony was his last major public event. On July 1, 1961, after working in the yard of his home at 241 Paul St., F. Wilmer Coffman died of a heart attack.

C R Versen, 2020