JAMES W. COE, CDR, USN

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

James Coe '30

Date of birth: June 13, 1909

Date of death: September 28, 1943

Age: 34

Lucky Bag

From the 1930 Lucky Bag:

Loss

1930 Coe 1.jpg

James was lost when USS Cisco (SS 290) was sunk, likely on September 28, 1943 by Japanese ships and aircraft. He was the boat's commanding officer.

His wife was listed as next of kin. He has a memory marker in California.

Career

James began his career aboard USS Nevada (BB 36) before transferring to USS Chicago (CA 29) for service in 1931-1933. He attended submarine school in 1933, then served on USS S-27 (SS 132) in 1934-1935 and USS S-33 (SS 138) in 1936-1937.

From Fleet Organization:

  • Instructor United States Naval Academy 1937 - May 1939
  • Duty Submarine Squadron Five 1 Oct 1939
  • Executive Officer USS S-36 (SS-141) 31 Dec 1939
  • Captain USS S-39 (SS-144) 31 Jan 1940 - 18 Mar 1942
  • Captain USS Skipjack (SS-184) 28 Mar 1942 - 17 Jan 1943
  • Captain USS Cisco (SS-290) 10 May 1943 - Sep 1943
  • Lieutenant 30 Jun 1938
  • Lieutenant Commander (T) 15 Jun 1942
  • Commander (T) 15 Oct 1942

Navy Cross

1930 Coe 2.jpg

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Commander James Wiggins Coe (NSN: 0-63137), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. S-39 (SS-144) during the FIRST through the FOURTH War Patrols in the Southwest Pacific from 8 December 1941 through March 1942, and as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. SKIPJACK (SS-184), on the THIRD War Patrol of that submarine during the period 14 April 1942 to 17 May 1942, in enemy controlled waters at Cam Ranh Bay. While conducting war patrols as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. S-39, Lieutenant Commander Coe boldly and successfully delivered an attack under hazardous and difficult conditions which resulted in the sinking of an armed enemy auxiliary vessel in Philippine waters, and later, a large enemy naval tanker in the Java Sea. Furthermore, while Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. SKIPJACK, he skillfully evaded enemy naval and air patrols to deliver a vigorous and effectively executed attack against enemy vessels, armed or escorted by anti-submarine craft. In these engagements, the SKIPJACK succeeded in destroying two large enemy auxiliaries and an enemy Japanese transport in the South China Sea and seriously damaging and presumably sinking another enemy armed auxiliary. Lieutenant Commander Coe displayed the outstanding characteristics of a leader, and the aggressive and intrepid spirit of a fine seaman which were in keeping with the traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Service: Navy
Division: USS S-39 (SS 144) & USS Skipjack (SS 184)
Rank: Lieutenant Commander

Toilet Paper Letter

From Together We Served:

One of the funniest memorandums to come out of World War II and one that was later featured in the movie Operation Petticoat was the (in)famous Toilet Paper letter. Its' author was none other than Lieutenant Commander Coe, at the time skipper of the Skipjack. Here it is:

USS SKIPJACK June 11, 1942

From: Commanding Officer

To: Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, California
Via: Commander Submarines, Southwest Pacific

Subject: Toilet Paper
Reference: (a) USS HOLLAND (5148) USS SKIPJACK req. 70-42 of 30 July 1941.
(b) SO NYMI Canceled invoice No. 272836

Enclosure: (1) Copy of cancelled Invoice
(2) Sample of material requested.

1. This vessel submitted a requisition for 150 rolls of toilet paper on July 30, 1941, to USS HOLLAND. The material was ordered by HOLLAND from the Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, for delivery to USS SKIPJACK.
2. The Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, on November 26, 1941, cancelled Mare Island Invoice No. 272836 with the stamped notation "Cancelled---cannot identify." This cancelled invoice was received by SKIPJACK on June 10, 1942.
3. During the 11 ¾ months elapsing from the time of ordering the toilet paper and the present date, the SKIPJACK personnel, despite their best efforts to await delivery of subject material, have been unable to wait on numerous occasions, and the situation is now quite acute, especially during depth charge attack by the "back-stabbers."
4. Enclosure (2) is a sample of the desired material provided for the information of the Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island. The Commanding Officer, USS SKIPJACK cannot help but wonder what is being used in Mare Island in place of this unidentifiable material, once well known to this command.
5. SKIPJACK personnel during this period have become accustomed to use of "ersatz," i.e., the vast amount of incoming non-essential paper work, and in so doing feel that the wish of the Bureau of Ships for the reduction of paper work is being complied with, thus effectively killing two birds with one stone.
6. It is believed by this command that the stamped notation "cannot identify" was possible error, and that this is simply a case of shortage of strategic war material, the SKIPJACK probably being low on the priority list.
7. In order to cooperate in our war effort at a small local sacrifice, the SKIPJACK desires no further action be taken until the end of the current war, which has created a situation aptly described as "war is hell."
J.W. Coe

Here is the rest of the story:

The letter was given to the Yeoman, telling him to type it up. Once typed and upon reflection, the Yeoman went looking for help in the form of the XO. The XO shared it with the OD and they proceeded to the CO's cabin and asked if he really wanted it sent. His reply, "I wrote it, didn't I?"

As a side note, twelve days later, on June 22, 1942 J.W. Coe was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on the S-39 and the Skipjack.

The "toilet paper" letter reached Mare Island Supply Depot. A member of that office remembers that all officers in the Supply Department "had to stand at attention for three days because of that letter." By then, the letter had been copied and was spreading throughout the fleet and even to the President's son who was aboard the USS Wasp.

As the boat came in from her next patrol, Jim and crew saw toilet-paper streamers blowing from the lights along the pier and pyramids of toilet paper stacked seven feet high on the dock. Two men were carrying a long dowel with toilet paper rolls on it with yards of paper streaming behind them as a band played coming up after the roll holders. Band members wore toilet paper neckties in place of their Navy neckerchiefs. The wind-section had toilet paper pushed up inside their instruments and when they blew, white streamers unfurled from trumpets and horns. As was the custom for returning boats to be greeted at the pier with cases of fresh fruit/veggies and ice cream, the Skipjack was first greeted thereafter with her own distinctive tribute-cartons and cartons of toilet paper.

This letter became famous in submarine history books and found its way to the movie ("Operation Petticoat"), and eventually coming to rest (copy) at the Navy Supply School at Pensacola, Florida. There, it still hangs on the wall under a banner that reads, "Don't let this happen to you!" Even John Roosevelt insured his father got a copy of the letter.

The original is at Bowfin Museum in Hawaii.

Class Panel Placement

It is unclear why James' name is so late on the Class of 1930 panel in Memorial Hall. Presumably he was officially declared dead in late 1945 or 1946; his loss date would place him many names higher.


Class of 1930

James is one of 41 members of the Class of 1930 in Memorial Hall.