Jim Coan Bio
Jim Coan grew up only three blocks from the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Frequently observing what he considered “silly” uniforms worn by the Air Force and Army ROTC students walking to and from campus, Jim chose to join the reserves rather than be forced to take the mandatory two years of ROTC.
Several of Jim’s family members were Marines. A great uncle was a machine gunner with the 5th Marines in France during WWI. An older stepbrother fought with the Marines in the Pacific during WWII. Jim decided at an early age that he, too, would someday wear the red and gold of the Marines.
After graduating high school in 1960, Jim completed boot camp and then enrolled at the University of Arizona. He majored in government and law enforcement. He was on the five-year plan and graduated in 1965.
Jim successfully completed his active military reserve commitment, having attained the rank of corporal. He applied for Marine Officer Candidate School and was accepted. In October of 1966, Jim reported to OCS at Quantico, Virginia. Out of 50 candidates in his platoon, Jim was one of 29 still around at graduation. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in December 1966. He then completed an abbreviated Basic School at Quantico in April of 1967 as part of TBS Class 4-67. Then it was off to Tank Officer’s School at Camp Pendleton.
With orders to WESTPAC in his hand, Jim arrived in Vietnam in August 1967. After a harrowing, sleepless night spent in a tent by the runway at Da Nang hearing jets take off and land all night, he and eight other lieutenants reported the next day to 3d Tank Battalion near Phu Bai (Gia Le). All of them were eventually wounded or killed in action. Jim was initially assigned assistant S-3 under Major Bruce McLaren. He would report a month later to Alpha Company in Dong Ha, where he relieved 2/LT Tom Barry, the new 1st Platoon Leader, who had received two Purple Hearts from shrapnel wounds at Con Thien in a week.
For the next 40 days, his baptism under fire, Jim dodged NVA artillery, mortars and rockets during the siege of Con Thien. First 3/9, then 1/9 held the “Hill of Angels” while his tank platoon was there. His remaining tour saw 1st Platoon operating in support of 1/4, 2/4, 3/4, 2/9, and 2/26, covering most of Leatherneck Square from the DMZ to Cam Lo, and up into the DMZ with the 9th Marines during Operation Thor. After ten months in the field, during which time he was wounded during a mortar attack on Con Thien, Jim went back to Dong Ha to be the XO of Alpha Company. From 1969-70, Jim was the CO of Charlie Company, 2d Tanks at Camp Lejeune. He attained the rank of Captain, USMCR, after he left active duty in 1970.
Looking back on his Vietnam combat tour, Jim will never forget those young Marines he served with, many barely out of high school, who faced danger bravely and never failed to come through in a tight spot. And, he recalls how nothing he has experienced since Nam compares to the roar of a five-tank platoon moving out in formation, armed to the teeth and looking for trouble.
Jim subsequently earned master’s degrees from San Diego State and Arizona State Universities, thanks to the G.I. Bill. He first worked as a budget analyst for the City of San Diego, and then went back to Tucson and took a position as Asst. City Manager. Bored with city government politics and feeling stifled in his job, Jim began volunteering at the Arizona Youth Center north of Tucson. He soon quit his city job and hired on as a correctional counselor at the Youth Center. Jim then became a parole agent with the California Youth Authority. During a 30-year career in youth corrections, Jim held several positions including Supervising Parole Agent, Institutional Program Administrator, and Superintendent. He retired from State service in 2000.
Jim’s first project upon retirement was to commence working on a manuscript about Con Thien. His first attempts at getting published went nowhere. Then, Eric Hammel, noted historian and prolific author, hooked up with Jim and mentored him on his book project. In 2004, The University of Alabama Press published Jim’s book, Con Thien: The Hill of Angels. His book is now in its second printing.
When Jim learned he had prostate cancer in 2005, he resigned his position as vice president of the Vietnam Tankers Assn., missing out on the Philly reunion. After a successful surgery and recovery, VTA President John Wear approached him in 2006 about taking over the vacant Treasurer position. Jim accepted and still holds that office.
Jim currently resides in Sierra Vista, Arizona, with his wife of 31 years, Sandra. One of his daughters also resides there with her two children. He and Sandra like their role as grandparents spoiling the grandkids. He also has a son and a second daughter living in California. In addition to the Vietnam Tankers Assn., Jim stays busy as a life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, VFW, and Marine Corps Historical Society. He is also an artisan of sorts, dabbling in stained glass, woodcarving, and model railroading. A Vietnam War scene diorama he made in 1999 is on display at Texas Tech University’s Vietnam War Archive.
Jim is one of the charter members of the Vietnam Tankers Association. One of his missions in life is to do everything he can to help the organization grow and prosper in coming years.