Hold On to A Godly Frame of Reference; Don't let America Become Another Jonestown
[To read about Coker's role in exposing Jim Jones, scroll to the bottom of this article.*] GEORGE COKER'S BAD DAY
By Dave Wetherill
"COKER, lie down!"
Napier's voice, coming to me on the interphone, was commanding in its tone. As copilot of B-17 #319 I was at that moment monitoring the crew via the interphone. George Massa, our pilot, was flying the plane and was, therefore, monitoring the outside world, on the radio. George Coker, a nineteen year-old full blooded Seminole Indian was our right waist gunner. Obviously he was in trouble. Ken Napier, our radio operator, would have been able to see Coker through the the open door between the radio room and the waist.
"What is it Ken? What is going on back there?" Seconds passed, then, "Coker's been hit. We have no oxygen here. The line's been hit. I can't stay." He was gone again. I got back on the mike. "Grubbs, get on a bottle immediately. Bring three bottles to the waist and get Cederlind up out of the ball. He may be unconscious. Get him on a bottle right away. And help Napier with Coker."
For an answer from our tailgunner, Omar Grubbs, all I could get was garbled sound. My interphone was giving me trouble. I tried several times to reach Grubbs but all I could get was static and garbled voices. I couldn't very well manage the situation over a bad intercom. I touched Massa's arm to get his attention. He glanced at me and shook his head. He was busy, concentrating on holding our plane in close formation. Flak was bursting all around us. But I needed my pilot to take over flying the crew, assuming his interphone was still working all right. I couldn't communicate with George by way of my mike. I'd have to get on the outside frequency where everybody, including the enemy, would hear me. I resorted to the emergency hand signal that we had worked out. I reached over, holding my left hand where he had to see it, and flexed and unflexed my fingers. He again shook his head. I had to get him tuned in to my problem. I had a man down in the waist, the oxygen supply shot out in the rear of the plane, possibly four men unconscious, and my intercom was not working. Drastic measures were called for.
With my right hand I reached over to George and punched his right arm. I finally had his attention. I doubled my right hand into a fist and mimed a punch and pointed to the rear of the plane. All the while I was yelling the news to him, but with my oxygen mask, George's earphones, and the plane's engine noise I couldn't make myself heard. I tried to make him understand that my interphone was on the fritz. Finally he understood and we switched jobs. For the rest of the missions I was flying and Massa was monitoring the crew. From time to time I signaled my curiosity about the goings on in the back and all I could get from George was a worried look and a slow shaking of his head.
Later, I learned what had transpired in the waist. A piece of flak shrapnel had entered the right waist of our plane and hit the oxygen line that supplies the four men behind the bomb bay. The flak broke in two and left the line severed. Apparently the other piece hit Coker in his thigh. From his position in the radio room, Napier saw Coker go into a crouch and blood coming from his leg and called to him to lie down. He disconnected from his oxygen line and his station and went to the waist, plugged into the outlet there and began to administer aid to the wounded man. Coker, lying on the floor, pointed to the oxygen pressure gauge, which showed zero pressure. Ken quickly spotted the severed oxygen line.
That's when Ken stepped across to the left waist position where there was a mike and called for acknowledgment, because blood was gushing from Coker's leg. Immediate action ws needed there. My call to Omar Grubbs, in the tail, got through all right. Grubbs did bring bottles forward to the injury scene. And he did get Cederlind, who was in fact unconscious, out of the ball and onto an oxygen bottle. In a little while Grubbs and Cederlind were able, by staying on the portable oxygen bottles, to return to their battle stations for the duration of the flight. Ken stayed with Coker keeping compresses on the wound.
As we came in on our approach to the field we sent up a red-red flare, signifying that we had a wounded man on board. Rolling down the runway we could see the ambulance rushing across the field to meet us. Once we were stopped, right at the end of the runway, Major Zelner, flight surgeon, was in the waist examining Coker. With the plane stopped I was able to get back to the waist and actually felt shock at what I saw. The entire waist of the plane was awash in blood. The wounded man was lying perfectly still. He was as white as death itself. Only his eyes confirmed that he was alive. Soon Coker was in the hospital and his crew mates were in attendance nearby, like any close relative would be for someone undergoing surgery.
Finally, Major Zelner came out of surgery and told us that because of the heavy loss of blood it had been a close call for our crew mate, but there was fair hope that he would make it, probably without his leg. The flak had entered his thigh side and severed an artery before exiting out the back. We crew members went through a day or two of fright for him. Then we were told that he was definitely goinig to survive. In a couple more days we learned that even his leg would be all right, but that, of course, he'd never fly again. Meanwhile, Coker was saying to us, "Don't you guys go on any missions until I'm back with you." That is one plucky Indian. After he was recovered enough to do it he was flown home to finish his recuperation and to be honorably discharged from the army. For him the war was over.
*George Coker was a full-blooded Seminole Indian and one of David Conn's closest and dearest friends for more than forty years.
George was instrumental in setting up a meeting that ultimately became the "crisis moment" in Jim Jones's ten year-long invasion of the San Francisco and California political hierarchy.
George had long been aware of Conn's struggle to expose Jones as the monster he was. So, when Conn saw that Dennis Banks, the American Indian leader, was becoming involved with Jim Jones, George arranged and attended a midnight three-hour meeting with Banks.
Banks quickly informed Jones, meaning that Conn had made a serious mistake, possibly the only one in his nine year investigation of Jones. Federal agents did, however, admit that it gave them a chance to see Jones in a frenzy, as he furiously prepared his people for an escape.
A detailed account of this meeting and its full effect on Jim Jones is revealed in "The Downfall of Jim Jones" written by attorney Larry Lee Litke, which can be accessed on this website.
David Conn co-authored THE CULT THAT DIED (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1980) and is the author of LEDNORF'S DILEMMA (Authorhouse, 2008).