James H. Keeffe III's Two Gold Coins and a Prayer is a well-written memoir about a young bomber pilot and POW from World War II. It details the training and bombing missions of Lt Col James H. Keefe Jr., the author's father, and especially his fateful fourth mission. Flying as a co-pilot in a B-24 Liberator, then 2nd Lt Keefe finds himself in occupied Holland, in perfect health but completely alone. Through quick thinking, luck, and the courage of the Dutch Underground, Keefe escapes capture for over five months. However, just as he is about to be delivered back into Allied hands, he is betrayed, and ends up being a POW for over ten months.
The author does an excellent job of relaying the account in first person, as it was dictated to him and his brother by his father. One can hear Col Keefe talking about his medical screening as he joined the Army, about the less than optimal conditions he lived in during training, and the terror of being on a bomb run. The reader will find himself praying with the Colonel before he leaves his stricken bomber, and hiding with the Colonel behind a rabbit hutch as the Nazis are looking for him. The reader will feel that cold shock when Lt Col Keeffe realizes he has been betrayed, and is now in German hands. Finally, the reader will share in both the misery of being a POW and the joy of being liberated.
What struck me in particular about this book was the easy, back-country way in which it was told. There was no particular hatred of the Germans, nor was there any insincere patriotism or self-pity. There was simply a young man, serving with other young men that he cared about and respected, trying to make the best of a bad situation and just survive. I was also particularly impressed by the narrator's loyalty and love for those in the Dutch underground. He was usually more concerned for their safety than his own, which added a compassionate flavor to the book as well as heightened the emotion.
This book is an excellent addition to any library, but will be especially enjoyed by military aviation buffs and World War II veterans.
Reviewed by: Rob Ballister (2011)
James H. Keeffe Jr., a World War II and Korean War veteran, went on his first airplane ride at the age of 10 and thus was born his life-long love for flying. This book tells the riveting story of a young airman s journey from enlistment, through training, into battle, and beyond. His story is told with fascinating detail that allows the reader to experience all that he encounters as he bails out of his stricken bomber, is hidden in plain sight of the enemy, eventually betrayed, taken prisoner, and sent into the German POW system. In August, 1942, in the midst of World War II, Jim Keeffe joined the U.S. Army Air Forces and arrived at Aviation Cadet Training. On Thanksgiving Day, 1943, after months of rigorous training, he arrived in England with his crew to begin flying B-24 bombing missions. Then, on the 8th of March 1944, Keeffe s airplane is shot down over Holland, catapulting him into a world squeezed colorless by the ever-tightening Nazi fist of occupation. Moving from safe house to safe house in the Dutch Underground, Lt. Keeffe is able to evade the enemy for five months. Then one day, he is betrayed and sent to Stalag Luft III, a German POW camp near Sagan, Germany. There he spends months in captivity and endures the rigors of a forced march to another prison camp. Keeffe takes us into the difficult life in the POW camps which we see in unfaltering detail. When he and his fellow POWs are finally liberated in late April of 1945, we experience their joy firsthand.