Meet the author of gripping war memoir Jan. 29 | Kitsap Week
January 20, 2012 · Updated 9:01 AM
Barely four months after his first mission in World War II, U.S. Army Air Force pilot Lt. James Keeffe Jr. was shot down over Nazi-occupied Europe.
“There I was standing on the ground in enemy occupied Holland,” Keeffe remembers. “I had just bailed out of my crippled heavy bomber and had no idea what had happened to my crew. I was hungry. I’d had only two hours of sleep in the past 36 hours. My face was smeared with mud and blood. And I was just four days away from my 21st birthday.”
Keeffe was clever enough to evade capture. In “Two Gold Coins and A Prayer,” written by his son, James H. Keeffe III, he still vividly remembers seeing the boots of a German policeman who was part of the contingent going door to door searching for him near the small town of Papendrecht. Hours later, an almost comical encounter with a Dutchman in whose tool shed the downed American was hiding, leads to five months of friendship and help from members of the Dutch Resistance.
The now 88-year-old veteran, living in Bellevue, was visited in September by a Jewish woman with whom he was in hiding 67 years ago. It came about because Keeffe’s oldest son, James Keeffe III, wrote and published his father’s astounding war adventure — a story that now has a new ending.
Lt. Keeffe’s life enters an odd, almost peaceful limbo as he evades capture as a secret guest in a series of brave citizens’ homes. The Underground creates false identity papers for Lt. Keeffe, labeling him a “deaf and dumb” basket maker. So, unlike many he encounters in hiding, Lt. Keeffe is able to go out and about in wartime Rotterdam — as long as he doesn’t speak.
The airman’s determination to return to England and rejoin the Allied air battle leads to a double-cross that lands him in the infamous German POW camp, Stalag Luft III. One twist of fate after another unfolds in this war story which follows the resourceful pilot back to his family in Seattle and to post war reunions with his surviving Dutch “families” and friends.
For “Two Gold Coins and A Prayer,” Keeffe III recently won the 2011 Military Writers Society of America Award, the 2011 Next Generation INDIE Book Award for Historical/Legacy/Career Memoir, the 2011 Independent Book Publishers Benjamin Franklin Award for Autobiography/Memoir, and the 2011 Military Writers Society of America Air Force category.
Keeffe III will be at the Silverdale Costco on Jan. 29, 1-3 p.m., for a book signing. He is a Sammamish High School graduate who spent four years in the U.S. Air Force and has worked as a commercial diver in the Gulf of Mexico and a crab fisher in Alaska. He is currently a network engineer at Seattle’s Group Health and lives in Fall City with his wife.
He continues to research his father’s war years and the people who helped him survive.
“Two Gold Coins and A Prayer” is published by Appell Publishing.