Paul Coates

Feb. 6, 1958

I received a phone call last night, sheriff. A man asked me to pass a
message along to you. My caller was Raymond McCafferty of Whittier.

Maybe you remember the name. He’s the father of one of the 48 victims of Saturday’s plane crash in Norwalk.

His only son, Leslie, 21, a crew member of the Navy Neptune plane, received prominent mention in the papers this week.

The stories said that Leslie’s life might have been saved if the crash
area hadn’t become so congested with the morbidly curious. According to
one story, it was two hours before Leslie reached a hospital.

But that’s not why the boy’s father contacted me.

He called to see if I had any "pull" with you; to see if I could get
you to do something about the actions of one of your deputies who was
at the scene.

The deputy’s name is Kermit Kynell.

And McCafferty’s done quite a bit of checking on him in the past few
days. In fact,, he and his wife even drove over to Norwalk Sheriff’s
Station the other day to confer with him personally.

Actually, McCafferty’s first contact with Kynell came through the impersonal medium of television.

It was on the evening of the crash and the McCaffertys had just learned
that their son might have been on one of the involved planes. They
turned on their TV set in hope and in dread.

A deputy–as it turned out later, it was Deputy Kynell–was being interviewed by George Putnam.

"The deputy," McCafferty told me, "had stains like blood or gasoline
all over his uniform. He was telling Putnam about being inside the
wreckage with one of the victims."

"I looked at my wife," McCafferty continued, "and she looked at me. I
don’t know–I can’t remember–which one of us said it, but one of us
said, ‘Oh, my God, he must have been in there with Les.’ " It was the
next day before McCafferty found out for sure that their worst fears
had been correct.

"I talked to anyone, everyone I could find who might know something
about what happened to my boy. Whether he suffered much. Whether it was

"That," the boy’s father told me, "is how I learned so much about Kynell."

The man’s voice choked.

"I learned that the deputy went into the airplane," he continued, "and
helped my boy. He lifted some debris off of him and laid him down, made
him more comfortable.

"He laid down in the mess, right beside him, and he talked to my boy and helped him.

"He got compresses. He applied them. Gasoline was raining down like water and he shielded my boy’s face from it."

Raymond McCafferty paused.

"Mr. Coates," he started again, "that plane could have exploded at any time and that deputy would have been killed.

"That was a pretty wonderful thing for a man to do."

I told Mr. McCafferty that I agreed.

"And another thing," he continued, "when my wife and I talked to the
deputy, he didn’t tell us about what he personally had done.

"He just told us the things we wanted to hear.

"He told us that our boy was in shock most of the time and that he
didn’t suffer much. He told us little bits of the conversation.

"That’s why I want you to call Sheriff Biscailuz. So that the deputy gets a citation. Will you call him?"

"I’ll call him," I promised.

McCaferty thanked me. "One more thing," he added. "The deputy called me today to find out when the funeral was.

"He said he wanted to attend. He said he’d consider it an honor to go to the funeral because my boy died so much like a man."

Again there was a pause.

"I know it’s not much," McCafferty said, finally, "but I’m going to do something for the deputy.

"I’m going to replace the uniform he ruined when he lay there with my son. They have to pay for their own uniforms.

"So I’m going to buy him a new one."


About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Columnists, Paul Coates, Transportation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Paul Coates

  1. eileen says:

    Good story — sad, moving. Reads like a Steve Lopez column.
    –I know…. I’m so pleased to be able to bring Paul Coates to a new generation of readers. I’m always amazed at how prolific these columnists were. Coates had a daily column AND a TV show.


  2. Ernest C. Semmers says:

    I was doing random searches when I saw this article. It brought back to me a flood of memories. Kermit Kynell was once my Stepfather. He was married to my Mom for about 8 years in the 60’s. Kermit told me the story of the plane crash many times. What Coates failed to mention (or perhaps he did not know) was that there was another person who also climbed into the wreckage. The other person was a Catholic Priest. What makes the story even more poignant than it already sounds in Mr. Coates’ story is that Kermit never once alluded to his own bravery, his own service, his own sacrifice: he was the absolute embodiment of humility. But, whenever this story came up, he would go out of his way to talk about a brave man that had climbed into the wreckage of a smoldering plane to give comfort to a dying man. Often he did not even mention that he was there as well. He just talked, with much emotion,
    about the Priest that lay beside a dying man, giving the man comfort as his life ebbed.
    That was the kind of man Kermit Kynell was. God bless him.


  3. Chris says:

    Kermit was married to my aunt. Kermit was at least 6’2″ and weighed at least 190 lbs. I remember him “playing” with my Grandmother (5’tall and maybe 140 lbs.) and breaking her arm. I remember how he admired Hitler. I remember my aunt (5′ tall and less than 100 lbs>) running away from him because of his cruelty. I remember stories about how he treated inmates at the Honor Rancho. He was without question a genius and he could be charming. It’s clear he could do his job well. But, he was a cruel man. How nice that he apparently reformed by the time he knew Ernest. Seems I heard that he committed suicide. I hope that God forgave him because one heroic deed didn’t even things up.


  4. S says:

    No, Kermit Kynell did not reform. I knew him well and he could be charming, but also a liar. He brought great pain to people as a sociopath does. And yes, he adored Hitler….


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