Cornelius Ryan was an Irish journalist and author well known for writing about World War II military history. His most famous books were “The Longest Day” about the June 6th, 1944 D-Day landings in Normandy; “The Last Battle” about the Battle of Berlin, and “A Bridge Too Far” about the ill-fated invasion of the Netherlands called Operation Market Garden. The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far were made into major motion pictures.
Ryan researched his books in large part by interviewing and corresponding with participants in those battles. One of these individuals was Herbert Jeffery Buffalo Boy Jr. of Fort Yates, North Dakota. Herbert served as Staff Sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division and was one of a limited number of elite Airborne members involved in four combat jumps and one of only a few Native Americans earning the Four-Star Airborne Veteran honor.
Another Four-Star Airborne Veteran was Brigadier General James Gavin, the only General in history to make 4 combat jumps. General Gavin commanded the 82nd Airborne and Buffalo Boy and Gavin knew each other personally. Herbert Buffalo Boy made combat jumps at Sicily and Salerno in Italy; Normandy in France during the D-Day landings and in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden. His jumps were made from a C-47, the military version of the DC-3. He carried 125 to 150 pounds of gear and was expected to engage the enemy as soon as he reached the ground. Herbert was well thought of in his unit and known for his bravery and fighting ability, having continued to fight, even after being wounded several times. He at one time was the most decorated Native American from North Dakota.
After also serving in Korea, Herbert came home to North Dakota, farmed and ranched, married, and had 5 children. One of his sons, Robert, continued his dad’s legacy, serving 2 tours in Vietnam and coming home a decorated veteran.
Over the years, Herbert participated in many ceremonies and activities sponsored by the American Legion, including a turn as Commander of the Albert Grass Post in Fort Yates. He passed away in 1984.
Oscar Coen was born on May 11, 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 for Oscar 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 instead. When Oscar found out, he abruptly resigned his commission and high tailed it for Canada, was welcomed into the Royal Canadian Airforce and put into pilot training.
When Coen got his wings, he was sent to England, joined the Royal Air Force and was assigned to 71 Eagle Squadron. The Eagle Squadrons where made up of American pilots who had 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, causing him to crash land in occupied France. Oscar was rescued by the French underground 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 during these missions.
With the US now fully involved in the war, Coen was welcomed back into the fold of the US Army Air Force and 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 was able to return 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 supporting the Normandy D-Day Landings 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.
Coen has the distinction of being one of North Dakota’s aviation combat Aces.
Oscar Coen made a career of the Air Force and retired in 1962 with the rank of Colonel. He passed away in 2004