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Oscar Coen, Eagle Squadron

Oscar Coen was born on this date in 1917 at Walum, just a few miles south of Hannaford, North Dakota.  Oscar graduated from high school, went to college and became a teacher.

Teaching seemed a bit tame, so in 1940 he joined the Army Air Corp to become a pilot.  The Army had other plans however and slotted Coen to be an Aviation Navigator. When Oscar found out, he abruptly resigned his commission, high-tailed it for Canada, and was welcomed into the Royal Canadian Air Force for pilot training.

When Coen got his wings, he was sent to England where he joined the Royal Air Force and was assigned to number 71 Eagle Squadron.  The Eagle Squadrons were made up of American pilots who volunteered to fly for the British before the US entered the war. Coen first flew Hurricanes, then later Spitfires.  On October 20th, 1941, Coen was strafing a German munitions train when it blew up, damaging his Spit, and causing him to crash land in occupied France. Oscar was rescued by the French resistance and was able to get back to England by way of Spain.  He returned to his Squadron on Christmas day, 1941.

In April, 1942, Coen shot down 3 Focke Wulf 190 German fighters, and in August he downed 2 more German planes during the unsuccessful Dieppe landings.  Oscar often flew wing with his close friend Michael McPharlin.

When the US became fully involved in the war, Coen was welcomed back into the fold of the Army Air Force, transferred to the 4th Fighter Group as Squadron leader, and started flying P-47 Thunderbolts.   While flying his P-47 near Alconbury, the engine exploded causing Oscar to execute a high-speed bailout, breaking and dislocating his shoulder in the process. After several months recuperation, Coen returned to duty, and in April of 1944 transferred to the 356th Fighter Group as Deputy Group Commander.

On June 6th, 1944, Oscar’s friend, Mike McPharlin, had engine trouble during a mission and was lost while trying to return to base. After the war, Oscar married McPharlin’s widow, Virginia, and raised Michael’s daughter as his own.

Oscar Coen has the distinction of being one of North Dakota’s combat Aces. He made a career of the Air Force and retired in 1962 with the rank of Colonel.  He passed away in 2004.

Dakota Datebook written by Scott Nelson

Sources:  Oscar Coen obituary, americanairmuseum.com  Books: Eagles of the RAF by Philip Cain, American Spitfire Aces of WW2 by Andrew Thomas


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