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Former minister, who helped assemble atomic bomb, remembers his role in WWII — and a call to be disfellowshiped

Paul Coffman, who enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II, helped assemble the atomic bombs that would be used to end the war with Japan in August 1945. (Photo via lubbockonline.com)

The Lubbock Avalanch-Journal in Texas interviews Paul Coffman, a World War II veteran, who helped assemble “Fat Man,” the atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945.
After the war, Coffman served as a minister for the University Park Church of Christ in Hyattsville, Md.:
The newspaper reports:

Paul Coffman of Lubbock primarily helped assemble the Fat Man bomb that struck Nagasaki. But he also worked for a brief time on Little Boy, which eradicated much of Hiroshima as the first target of an atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945.
Coffman was a machinist before he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, but inexplicably, the Army assigned him to kitchen duty as a cook.
He was there long enough to meet his future wife, Ruth, through an introduction by a fellow cook.
“I finally got out of the mess hall and was transferred to the engineering department,” he remembers.”
A short time later he received a letter from his sister asking what kind of trouble he was in. She told him an FBI agent was there checking his background.
“Then I received orders to report to Wendover, Utah, population 103. That was where the 509th Composite Group was based.”
He remembers it was December 1944, three years after Pearl Harbor.

Read the full story.
One of the more fascinating details of the story is Coffman’s claim that the U.S. produced a third bomb in addition to “Fat Man” and “Little Boy,” which destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, three days before the attack on Nagasaki. Historians, including documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, claim that these two bombs were the only ones possessed by the U.S. military, and that construction of a third would have taken weeks or months.
Coffman also details the reaction of his fellow church members to his role in the war, the newspaper reports.

Coffman thinks the effort was worthwhile.
“The people who were in a position to know, said we saved a million American lives.”
But he didn’t escape criticism:
“After I returned, one man wanted to bring charges to have me disfellowshiped from the church. I have been called a mass murderer.”
But the shock of nuclear weapons produced an unconditional surrender by Japan, making an invasion unnecessary.
Following the war, Coffman was a preacher for 48 years. “I spent 21 years of that within the beltway around Washington, D.C., preaching at the University Park Church of Christ.”
When he looks back at the war years, he is thankful for the victory.
“My proudest moment was the day the war ended.”


  • Feedback
    It is surely a heavy burden to bear, but the fact is we’ve all lived free because brother Coffman and others took a difficult decision and have shouldered a heavy burden for the rest of us. My father was in the medical corps in the South Pacific and saw far too much savagery for any man. I am glad he was not required to participate in the invasion of Japan. It pleased him to see Japan become a close ally.
    Orion Mitchell
    October, 10 2012

    Greetings to the body of CHRIST around the world. Brother Paul Coffman, if this is true then I should be disfellowshiped also because I was a Nuclear Weapons Specialist during the Cold War in Germany from 1964 to 1970. I was to assemble Nuclear Weapons if needed. So, therefore, I am a mass murderer also. I have other brothers that served in the military, all branches � Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, USMC, so what is the problem? Are we all mass murderers? Look at our past, present and future presidents. Were they mass murderers? Was GOD a mass murderer? Read your Bible, how GOD is our supreme Commander � ruled against nation from Genesis to Revelation. Yours truly, WBS John 3:16
    William B Sharar Jr
    October, 10 2012

    Paul played an important role in the lives of my family. He was dear friends with my mother’s parents while serving as a minister in Cortez, Colorado, for a few years. He performed the wedding ceremony for my parents. My brother is named after him, and he performed my brother’s wedding ceremony. I had the privilege of serving with him during his time at the Edmond congregation on several ministries. He was always patient, kind, encouraging and comforting, a true Christ-like role-model.
    Brent Keck
    October, 10 2012

    Part of our heritage in the Restoration Movement is a strong pacifist conviction which has been shared by many for far more than a century. At the same time, there are those who have served in the Armed Forces and in the military industries with the conviction that it was the will of the Lord, and that peace must be not only pursued but defended as well. There is a certain moral equivalence between an atomic weapon and 22 caliber shells or bows and arrows – all can kill. The more important question that should be raised has to do with our response to evil, particularly what we do to interfere with those elements within societies and governments who know no bounds on the extent to which they will go to accomplish their ends. Some may choose to resist passively, laying down their lives without armed resistance, while others may choose to resist actively, taking up arms in active opposition (warfare). I choose to respect and embrace both as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
    John Free
    October, 11 2012

    My husband and I know Paul Coffman to be a very fine Christian man. We lost our daughter in a car accident in 1995. Mr. Coffman was kind enough to visit with us and in doing so help us deal with that very great loss. My father was also a very fine Christian man who was a dive bomber off the USS Enterprise. He was also called a murderer by one man yet my father saved many American lives by serving in the capacity that he did. He went on to serve the church as a song leader, teacher, deacon and elder as well as rear a godly family. I am so grateful for Christian men like these who are selfless enough to serve their fellow man.
    Marilynn Olson
    October, 11 2012

    In regards to Mr. Coffman, nothing but love. But in response to John’s comment above, as we move into the broad argument of the Christian’s role in the state, I’m afraid that for too long we (as the church in the US) have been confused about our identity. When you define yourself as an American Christian, you tend to see political conflicts primarily from an American-not a Christian-perspective. When you say “The more important question that should be raised has to do with our response to evil,” most people read ‘our response’ as ‘we Americans’ not ‘we Christians.’ The witness and teachings of Jesus (not to mention the rest of the NT, the message of the prophets, and the application by the churches of the first 3 centuries) binds us with a moral imperative of nonviolence. That is, our churches should clearly delineate Gospel morality from worldly morality. As resident aliens, we have no imperative to defend (although thats a word thrown around loosely these days) the State.
    It seems to me we’ve lost the plot when patriotism trumps discipleship. We are citizens of the kingdom of God and no earthly king (or president or party) trumps that allegiance. Churches that send missionaries to foreign countries to save souls should not also be willing to send soldiers to those same countries who send souls to judgement.
    Terry Craghead
    October, 12 2012

    I trained as a US Navy Electronics Tchnicia. was rated 2nd class petty Officer. I was sent to a Navy training unit on the south side of Long Island; Lido Beach. I was technician in a unit of 39 radio operators. We practiced “hitting the beach” from flat bottomed small craft. We were specifically trained to take Osaka, Japan, Navy base and make it operational for the island-by-island conquering of Japan I recently visited the ENOLA GAY at the Air and Space museum in Virginia {near DC} I am greatful for that planes place in history because I am convinced that plane saved my life. I remained in the Marshall Islands and did not arrive in Japan until 1970.
    Chuck Cromwell
    October, 12 2012

    Yes, I remember Paul and the Big Black “H” on the dorsal fin of that B-29 that took you to the target area. Any person who declares what you participated in as a wrong doing should reflect back on Pearl, Bataan, and the Canal. Your efforts involved most likely saved thousands of lives of both American, Australian, and yes, Japanese.
    Danny Brineman
    October, 12 2012

    Oh, almost forgot. Happy late birthday Paul. Talk to you on the Face.
    Danny Brineman
    October, 12 2012

    I�m sure that Coffman acted in good conscience, but I�m troubled by the reasoning that most use to defend the use of the Bomb. Generally (as above), people make the point that it ultimately saved lives. As someone with little knowledge of WWII, I trust those people are correct.
    However, that line of reasoning reflects an attitude toward ethics that is pervasive in American culture but that Christians should be wary of: philosophers call it utilitarianism, and normal people call it �the ends justify the means.� My understanding is that America discovered with the Atom Bomb that a show of unstoppable power was a great strategy for winning a war.
    But when winning a war starts to depend on dominating and intimidating our enemies, Christians need to remember that our nation�s interests are not necessarily the same as our interests, and they certainly cannot be assumed to be the same as God�s interests. I�m not saying these are easy questions, but Christians should have far more to say about Hiroshima and Nagasaki than a net number of dead bodies.
    Scott Haile
    October, 14 2012

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