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In Memoriam: Colonel Richard Walter Coffman

Colonel Richard Walter Coffman passed unexpectedly on May 23, 2019. A longtime resident of Potomac, MD, Coffman was born in Toledo, OH on August 28, 1941 to Stella and Walter Coffman. “Dick” was the eldest brother in a family of seven, with siblings Kathleen, Beth, Janet, and James. Growing up in Bowling Green and Toledo, Coffman was an altar server, avid athlete-participating in swimming, baseball, and football-and graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School, class of 1959.

Coffman quickly began his commitment to service, matriculating at Marquette University as a Navy ROTC scholar in 1959. He graduated from Marquette with a B.A. in Journalism before commissioning to the Marine Corps in 1963. Coffman served in Vietnam on active duty until 1966 and continued his military career for thirty one years before retiring as a full colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1994. 

Coffman joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1967, where he distinguished himself in service through increasingly important domestic and foreign assignments. 

Beyond federal service, Coffman was an executive director of a graduate school in intelligence and security in Washington, D.C. and chaired a discussion group of former national security leaders and professionals in Langley, V.A. His experience and expertise allowed him to advise U.S. federal agencies on terrorism and 9/11 operations, as well as to form and manage two private sector companies in high-tech applications and maritime security. Coffman also spent time serving as a media commentator and analyst on intelligence, counterterrorism, and security matters. 

Coffman was scheduled to share his expertise on the Vietnam War with the Institute of World Politics Community on May 29 in a lecture entitled “Vietnam Reconsidered: Correction Conventional Wisdom About the War.” Through knowledge accrued through new archival information, Coffman had been planning to speak about the ways in which conventional wisdom regarding the war falls short, specifically in regard to the origins of the Vietnam war, the ideology and politics of the enemy, the ways in which each side fought the war, and whether Vietnam could have been won in any meaningful way. 

Not only a practitioner and teacher, Coffman was also a lifelong student. His passion for military history, especially that of the Civil War, made him a frequent member of battlefield tours. Later in his life, he dedicated himself to earning a Master’s degree in Military History from Norwich University, allowing him to continue to develop his knowledge of the Civil War.

Coffman was beloved by many, including his wife Jean Schell Coffman. The two met at Marquette and were married in 1964. Together, the Coffman’s had one daughter, Lauren, and two sons, Michael and Mark. Over time, their family grew with the arrival of ten grandchildren. Coffman was also a devoted master to his golden retriever, Barkley.

A man of faith, Coffman was a long-time communicant of Saint Raphael Catholic Church in Rockville, MD where he contributed greatly as a sacristan. Coffman rose before dawn several times a week to open the church before mass. His devotion to the community led his priest, Father Mike Salah, to remark: “He was always there, dedicated.” Sharing the legacy of Coffman’s character, Father Salah remembers “When I would compliment him on [his dedication], he’d respond, ‘That’s what a marine would do.’ He was such a good man.”

The Institute of World Politics Executive Vice President, Larry Cosgriff, echoes the sentiments of Father Salah, commenting: “Dick was a wonderful friend and a true American patriot, who served his county in the U.S. Marine Corps and Central Intelligence Agency. He will be sorely missed.”

Coffman will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Donations in his memory may be made to Saint Raphael Catholic Church