AN APPRECIATION by James R. Lankford
National Historian, 14th Armored Division Association

Over the years, many World War II memoirs have found their way into publication. They vary dramatically, ranging from those that are poorly written, presented without proper historical context, or overly self-aggrandizing to the rare, precious few that are well-researched, historically correct, and honestly portray the wartime experiences of men who accomplished great things all the while retaining the foibles which plague all human beings. Two Gold Coins And A Prayer  happily belongs to the latter group.

It is the enlightening and intriguing story of a B-24 Liberator pilot, as told to his son. Through the highly descriptive pen of his son, the reader follows young Jim Keeffe, Jr. from the time he decides to volunteer as a pilot, through the various flight schools he attended, and finally to England, where as a 2 nd Lieutenant he flew as co-pilot on several bombing missions before his plane was badly damaged during an air raid on Berlin.

Forced to bail out of his plane before it crashed, 2nd Lt. Keeffe landed in German occupied Holland, where he was hidden from the German Secret Police by members of the daring and brave Dutch Resistance. He was eventually captured after crossing into Belgium in a heroic effort to make contact with the advancing allied forces. After being held for a time in various prisons run by the German Secret Police he was eventually turned over to the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, and sent to Stalag Luft III, the large Prisoner of War camp made famous in the movie, The Great Escape.

After several months at Stalag Luft III, 2nd Lt. Keeffe joined thousands of other allied POWs in the long, cold, and often dangerous forced march to the infamous Stalag VIIA in southern Bavaria. The badly overcrowded camp was already a hell-hole when 2nd Lt. Keeffe and his comrades arrived, but grew steadily worse as more and more POWs were herded into the camp in advance of the advancing Allied forces. Eventually 2nd Lt. Keeffe and approximately 130,000 other Allied POWs were liberated by the 14th Armored Division. In the chaos that followed, 2nd Lt. Keeffe and a close friend made their way from southern Bavaria to France, and from there to Camp Lucky Strike where they were cleaned up, provided new uniforms, and given medical treatment. After a brief stay they embarked on a troop ship that took them to home.

The book benefits greatly from the author’s attention to detail that brings the reader almost physically along with 2nd Lt. Keeffe. The technical and historical details that help accomplish this are fully explained either in the text itself, or in the extremely helpful chapter notes. These notes also include the citation of sources used in writing the chapter, a practice that is in keeping with a high standard of historiography, as are the accompanying bibliography and appendices. The text is adorned with many previously unpublished photographs, maps, and illustrations from 2nd Lt. Keefe’s private collection, as well as similar materials from the Lt.General Albert P. Clark Collection at the US Air Force Academy Library. They add valuable information and additional context to the narrative.

Inserted at appropriate places in the chronology of the story are comments, updates really, of what happened to people previously mentioned in the narrative. In particular, the reader learns the fates of those members of the Dutch Resistance who assisted 2nd Lt. Keeffe in evading the German Secret Police for over five months. All too often, the reader learns that after 2nd Lt. Keeffe was captured these brave men and women had been arrested by the Secret Police, imprisoned, and in some cases executed. Rather than interruptive, these intrusions add greatly to the flow of the narrative by placing in stark perspective the trials and tribulations of an American POW imprisoned by the Germans, with those of the Dutch citizens who risked their lives on a daily basis to help downed allied airmen. In this there is a symmetry that often escapes authors of similar memoirs.

Two Gold Coins And A Prayer  will appeal to members of the general public who wish to know more about the brave young men who flew American bombers during WWII, the members of the Dutch Resistance who risked their lives to keep those unfortunates who were shot down over Holland out of Nazi hands, and the experiences of those who were imprisoned in German POW camps. Military historians will also benefit from the exquisite attention to detail found in this book, and will undoubtedly discover important bits of information that are new to even the most erudite among them.

James R. Lankford

8th AF News (Volume 10 Number 3), September 2010
Book Review by Mark Copeland – 8th AF News Editor and Historian
The 8th AF News is the quarterly magazine published by the Eighth Air Force Historical Society,

The Mighty Eighth

James H. Keeffe was a B-24 pilot in the 389th Bomb Group in the Second Air Division. On March 8, 1944, he was forced to bail out of his crippled Liberator over Papendrecht, Holland. With the help of the Dutch Resistance, Mr. Keeffe managed to evade capture by the Germans for five months, until he was finally betrayed and sent to Stalag Luft III to spend the remainder of the war as a POW.

Mr. Keeffe’s son, James H. Keeffe III is the author of this first class publication. Two Gold Coins and a Prayer is the amazing story of one airman’s journey with the Dutch Underground and his subsequent survival as a prisoner of the Germans.

Impeccably researched and skillfully written, this superb account of Mr. Keeffe’s experience will leave the reader not only amazed, but emotionally moved.

This is far and away, one of the best 8th Air Force evasion and POW accounts that has ever been written. It was a joy and a pleasure to read and [I] give it my highest recommendation.

A review by Ruth Cook, author of Guests Behind the Barbed Wire, and North Across the River.
Ruth is also the host of the well-known grammar blog.

 There are many good memoirs of World War II, even many specifically about bomber pilots and prisoners of war, but Two Gold Coins and a Prayer is unique for a number of reasons.  It is, at the outset, the very personal story of a well-trained Army Air Forces pilot shot down over Holland in March 1944.  For five months, Lt. Jim Keeffe relies on the kindness of strangers in occupied Holland who risk their security and their lives to keep him safe.  The detailed account of that trust and friendship is a story in itself, including the two precious gold coins referred to in the title.  A wealthy Dutchman offers them to him in exchange for the English pounds that would betray him instantly if the Germans found them.

As the Dutch move him from safe house to safe house, Keeffe is grateful for their protection but also determined to make his way back to his unit in England.  In July 1944, his story takes another unfortunate twist.  Soon after the Dutch underground manages to sneak him into Belgium, he is betrayed and captured in Antwerp.  There a German interrogator he nicknames Big Guy spells out in chilling words what Keeffe has feared most, “So you see, lieutenant, we know all about you and where you’ve been since you came down.  We know the people you’ve stayed with and we know what they do.  But we’re not going to do anything at this time because we want them to keep sending us evading fliers like you.”  Keeffe then spends many months in Stalag Luft III, a POW camp in Germany, and suffers a forced march to another prisoner camp before finally experiencing liberation in late April 1945.

The narrative style of this book holds the reader’s interest from beginning to end.  The details bring the story to brimming life —everything from what this airman carried and thought and felt to how he coped on the run and in a POW camp.  Throughout the experience, Keeffe somehow managed to hang on to those two gold coins—through multiple interrogations, strip searches, and prison camp clothing exchanges.  He has them still, along with his memories of those who went to great lengths to keep him safe.

The reader is struck time and again by the human element of people making impossible wartime decisions.  This book offers a clear and detailed map of Lt. Keeffe’s wartime journeys, along with numerous photographs, diagrams, and documents that further enhance the excellent storytelling.  It is a book the reader will not soon forget.

From Sgt. John M. Rhoads, 389th Bomb Group, 566th Bomb Squadron Operations Clerk at Hethel Air Station, East Anglia, England. July 1943 to June1945.

I finished reading your book. I am at a loss to adequately describe my feelings. As I read of your father’s joys and ordeals, it was as though I were there with him. This has made me wonder what I would have done had I been confronted with these circumstances.

Now to my wife Millie. She just completed the book. Her comments: Your book is by far the best of the three veterans works that I have obtained. The documentation and illustrations are excellent. It is written in a manner that she felt she was with your father every step from his bail out, for the few months he was under the care of the resistance network, his betrayal and capture, interrogation and imprisonment.

It was difficult for her to put this book down to go do chores and she could hardly wait to resume reading. Cheers – John

From Robert (Bob) Tinnell of Salem, OR
(I met Bob at the Arlington Fly-in when he and his wife sat in on a presentation I gave about the book.)

Dear Mr Keeffe,

I first became aware of the wonderful book you authored at the Arlington, WA EAA Northwest Fly-in in July. I attended your presentation and must say it was probably the high point of my four days at the show.

I doubt that you will remember me, but I was the individual who related my experience when visiting Amsterdam on May 5, 1999 at 8:00 PM (Liberation Day). The emotional experience my wife and I shared as all traffic, commerce, conversation, pedestrian movement and other activity stopped for two minutes is one I will remember for the rest of my life. That recollection connected solidly for me during your presentation.

I purchased a copy of your book, which you autographed, that will have a permanent place in my library. I read every word and reread some of it. I congratulate you for your labor of love in producing this wonderful work. Your documentation, letters, photos and notes add greatly to the story. These things gave me a feeling of intimacy with your father’s experiences that I do not ever recall feeling after reading another book.

I am a retired physics teacher and have done a considerable amount of scientific and genealogical research. This background gives me great appreciation for the time and effort you have spent on your documentation. I would like to thank your family and friends for sharing their time with you so you could complete this effort.

I am also very happy that your father requested that you do not exaggerate the events in his story. This made it so much better. It also illustrates beautifully how some people are able to rise up and maintain their humanity while being surrounded by examples of inhumanity in trying circumstances. Your father’s conduct during the war and later represents a model to be emulated by many (including politicians at all extremes).

By Greg Barbrick
(Submitted to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and found here)

By Top Hat Indexer
(Printed in the Penny Farthing Commuter and found here)

By Bob Ballister
(Reviewed for the Military Writers Society of America and found here)

By Dennis D. Bailey
(Reviewed for The US Review of Books and found here)

By Warren Kagarise
(Article in the Issaquah Press and found here)

By Meg Godlewski
(Review in General Aviation News and found here)