Mary Lee disclosed she had never known her father, Commander James Coe, who honorably served in the United States Navy Submarine Service during World War II. He was one of the multitudes of U.S. servicemen who had their lives taken from them during that war, including those lost at sea like her father, Commander Coe and his crew.
She never knew Jim Coe as he had returned to duty before she was born. Her brother's and sister's memories were limited as they were quite young, too, when their father left to fulfill his military assignment, ultimately in the Pacific. Mary Lee's ability to learn about her father from the time he was lost at sea was complicated by her mother and others not speaking of him, especially with the children, from the time he was declared lost. Only after her mother's death, and as a mid-life adult reading Shakespeare's "The Tempest," did the author receive the impetus to actively undertake discovering who her father was.
The author's youthful perceptions of this military man who was also her father were influenced by other factors. She was maturing as a young person of Quaker background whose peace-seeking values during the turbulent sixties, in the midst of an increasingly unpopular Viet Nam war, contributed to her formulation of a questioning attitude toward any and all military personnel, motives, actions then, and of other times.
Finally, in her mid-years, determined and curious to know this man, this unknown person to her, she sought information from those who knew her father and mother. She contacted men and women family friends, military men with whom he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, those with whom he served and those he commanded during WWII. She gradually began to piece together a view of various aspects of her father's personality from personal accounts described to her, based on events others shared with him, harvested from their memories.
His professional persona also emerged as fellow Annapolis graduates and other naval personnel related stories from their experiences with and about him. Official records and other naval documents contribute to the authenticity of facts discussed in the book. A striking picture of this naval officer, her father, reveals one of which she and the family are rightfully proud.
Whatever the personal and professional composite perspectives reveal, they are, at best, a tantalizing portrait of Jim Coe, her father, with which she must be satisfied. And yet, I wonder if there might be times when she wishes, "Oh, if only I could have known him." Or, "I wish he could have known me...my family....." Reflections on earlier years must invite memories of past instances when crossing her mind are thoughts like, "I wish I could have turned to him for counsel and comfort, or given him solace....."
I think based on conclusions drawn from some of his own reported and documented actions, he would be pleased with the manner in which his life, beliefs, values are presented here. His dedication to the United States Navy, and especially the Submarine Service, is above reproach. He more than fulfilled his duty, but he did not just blindly serve. He worked behind the scenes in a constructive manner toward correcting inequities that needed changing.
Like her father, the author, too, has examined issues research revealed affected daily life and survival for him and his crew(s.) This was especially so of those matters known to be of concern to her father, some of his crew and other officers, in her effort to present a true picture of certain known facts. She shares an appreciative humor for her father's own introduction of subtle levity into a serious issue which attracted unexpected attention from fellow Submariners and Naval Brass.
Analysis and reasoning enable her to make some logical inferences, drawing conclusions and describing conjectures that are worthy of consideration. She refers to known information that has provided distressing facts about some military decision making processes, possible deficient military equipment, imprudent choices based on political issues that may have resulted in the death of submariners.
I was impressed with the fact our country had such valiant warriors as her father, his crew and the other Submariners. Valiant warriors is what they were, those who persisted in performing their duties to the utmost of their abilities in a dedicated, just and honorable manner despite obstacles not of their making.
I find it deeply regrettable any of them had to function under less than optimum conditions. Regret, however, is insufficient for any of those whose lives were forever altered, or who did not survive at all, just as it is for their loved ones.
Thank you for conducting this search for your father, Mary Lee Coe Fowler.
Thanks to all those who shared their impressions, stories, memories, facts, documents.
Thank you for sharing Jim Coe and yourself in Full Fathom Five -- A Daughter's Search.
I'm sharing this early in a tribute before Memorial Day, especially to Submarine Service veterans, those lost at sea and all these orphan families. Those who are interested and intrigued by both the personal search of the author and the well-written laypersons descriptions of the U.S. Navy's Submarine Service will have an opportunity to order, possibly even receive this book to begin reading Memorial Day.
(Yes, this is a blatant book promotion from which I have nothing to gain, nor is the author even aware I'm doing so. I am clearly impacted by the nature of this story for more reasons than I've described here that I may write about later. I've also requested my local chain bookstore(s) feature a few copies in their brick and mortar stores (you might wish to do the same) though the book can be ordered online including at Amazon.com.)