Louis Edward Coira was born in Bloomsburg, PA, graduated from Lock Haven High School, Lock Haven, PA, in 1933, and, after one year in the engineering school at Notre Dame, won a competitive appointment to West Point. There he enjoyed boxing and track, as well as serving on the Board of Governors and as the sports editor for the Howitzer, graduating in 1938 with a commission in the Field Artillery.
Following graduation, Lou was able to pursue his boyhood dream of becoming a pilot by qualifying to attend the Air Corps Flying Schools at Randolph and Kelly Fields, TX. He received his pilot wings in October 1939 and remained at Kelly as a flight instructor until 1941. Lou then was assigned in the Panama Canal Zone and in early 1942 took command of the 25th Bombardment Squadron when it established operations at Salinas, Ecuador, and became the first Air Corps unit equipped with airborne radar.
It was during his tour at Salinas that he met Ellen Kathleen Holst, and they were married on 28 Nov 1942. Their marriage lasted for more than 63 years, until Ellen’s death in 2006.
Following a stint as commander of the 6th Bombardment Group at Albrook Field, Panama, he returned to the United States with the 40th Bombardment Group and oversaw its adoption of the new B-29 aircraft. He commanded the Group, the first B-29 unit to deploy overseas during the war, in its deployment to India in 1944. He later served as a planning staff officer in the XX Bomber Command Headquarters and at Headquarters, Eighth Air Force, on Okinawa.
Following a brief period as director of training and operations at Stewart Field, NY, near West Point, Lou attended the Air Command and Staff School at Maxwell Field, AL. From 1947 to 1950, he was assigned to the Training Division of Headquarters, U.S. Air Force.
From August 1950 to April 1951, he participated in the establishment of the B-29 Combat Crew School at Randolph Air Force Base and, upon the introduction of B-47 aircraft into the Air Force inventory, was sent to Wichita, KS, to start a similar school for Strategic Air Command B-47 crews. He commanded the 3520th Flying Training Group and the 3520th Flying Training Wing at McConnell Air Force Base during this three-year assignment. Lou then was selected to attend the National War College.
During 1955—58, Lou was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, AK, as commander of the 5039th Air Base Wing and of the 10th Air Division, and as deputy chief of staff for operations of the Alaskan Air Command. His children, Christine, Peter, Paul and Mark, have lasting memories of their Alaska tour.
Lou’s second tour of duty in the Pentagon began in mid 1958 with assignment to the Organization Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, and in September 1959 he assumed duties as deputy director, Manpower Requirements and Utilization, Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Lou was reassigned to Kelly Air Force Base, TX, in mid-1962 as deputy commander of the U.S. Air Force Security Service (USAFSS) and became commander in October 1965. In later years he told his family that his time with USAFSS had been his favorite assignment. In 1969 he was assigned as vice commander, Fifth Air Force, at Fuchu AFB, Japan. Lou retired from active Air Force duty on 1 Jun 1971 with the permanent rank of major general.
Following retirement, Lou settled in San Antonio, TX, where he had first learned to fly, with his wife Ellen. He worked as vice president for military affairs at the Alamo National Bank during 1971—74, following which he led an active life of hunting, fishing, and keeping up with a number of fellow West Pointers from his Class of ’38.
Lou died at home on 11 Oct 2009, surrounded by his family. Interred in San Antonio, TX, he is survived by his four children and six grandchildren.
Well done, Lou. Welcome home.
—Christine Dinwoodie, daughter