Monday, July 12, 2021

Profiles in Georgia National Guard Leadership: Col. Sheftall Coleman Jr.

 By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


On July 12, 1958, Major Sheftall Coleman Jr., World War II flying ace and second-generation Georgia Guardsman assumed command of the Georgia Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Squadron in Savannah, Ga. The son of Col. Sheftall Coleman Sr. who commanded the 118th Field Artillery Regiment in the years leading up to World War II, Coleman Jr. served in two wars and led the 158th through a critical time in its history.

Col. Sheftall Coleman Sr. Commander, 118th FAR.
Early Life and Father’s Service

Sheftall Coleman Jr. was born Feb. 5, 1922 to Sheftall Sr. and Inez Coleman of Savannah. The younger Sheftall grew up with military service as a constant in his life. The elder Coleman, a 1912 graduate of Oglethorpe Business College had enlisted in the Republican Blues, Company M, 1st Georgia Infantry February 24, 1908 and had risen to the rank of sergeant before commissioning as a second lieutenant June 24, 1916.[1] Lieutenant Coleman mobilized with the 1st Georgia to the Mexican Border in 1916 and upon returning in 1917 was promoted to 1st lieutenant. He served stateside through World War I[2] and upon reorganization of the Georgia National Guard field artillery in 1921 was commissioned a captain in Headquarters Company, 1st Field Artillery. Five years later, he was appointed major and placed in command of the 1st Battalion 118th Field Artillery in Savannah. Promotion to lieutenant colonel followed in 1926. After a stint as executive officer of the 118th Field Artillery Regiment, Coleman was promoted to colonel and placed in command of the 118th May 30, 1931 upon the retirement of Col. Walter R. Neal.[3]

The younger Coleman grew up with his father’s military influence in a multi-generational household that included his grandparents Ernest and Elizabeth Mickler. The extended family provided continuity for the Coleman family as Col. Coleman attended to his military duties. Coleman Jr. attended Sacred Heart elementary School and later Benedictine High School. Tragedy struck the Coleman family when Inez died Dec. 29, 1935.

In 1940, on the eve of World War II, the elder Coleman remained in command of the 118th Field Artillery Regiment and was employed as a senior field deputy with the state unemployment office. The younger Coleman, while still in high school, worked as an excavator for the National Park Service.[4]

World War II

On Sept. 16, 1940, Col. Coleman and the 118th FAR were called to active federal service. The younger Coleman completed one year of college before enlisting in the Army Air Corps April 2, 1942. He completed his flying training at Luke Field, Ariz. and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He was mobilized to the European Theater and flew the P-51 Mustang on fighter escort missions and was severely wounded during an engagement in 1944. Lieutenant Coleman received the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions over enemy territory Aug 25, 1944. The award was presented for:

“Outstanding courage and flying skill in vigorously pressing home an attack upon superior numbers of enemy aircraft. In the face of overwhelming odds, he exhibited remarkable calm and aggressive tactical technique and was successful in the destruction of one of the hostile planes while assisting in the dispersal of the remainder.”

In the course of 120 combat missions, Coleman shot down seven enemy aircraft and assisted in the destruction of an eighth. His victories were reaped against ME 109s, FW 190s He 111s and JU 88s. Coleman left active duty at the end of World War II with the rank of major.

Georgia National Guard Service

Maj. Sheftall Coleman Jr. 
In February 1947, Coleman joined the Georgia National Guard’s 158th Fighter Squadron.[5] He served during the Korean War in a classified assignment and returned to Georgia following the conflict. On June 7, 1952, Coleman and his wife Sara welcomed son Michael Eugene Coleman into the world.[6]

In August 1954, Capt. Coleman was one of five pilots of the 158th brought on active duty for stand-by
service at Travis Field in support of American air defense.[7] He remained on active duty through the remainder of 1954.[8]

Major Coleman was alerted for an unscheduled mission in Sept. 1956. While on runway alert duty at Travis Field, Coleman received the order to launch on an intercept mission. A radio control target aircraft had flown out of the range of its controller on the Fort Stewart antiaircraft range. The controller was unable to get the target aircraft to respond and the 350-pound drone continued flying at 230 miles per hour. Coleman received coordinates for the drone after take-off and directed his F-84 Thunderjet on an intercept course. Coleman was prepared to shoot down the drone to prevent it from crashing in a populated area. For more than an hour Coleman shadowed the drone as it flew erratically through the skies before the drone’s parachute opened and it drifted harmlessly to the ground near Odum southwest of Fort Stewart.[9]

Assuming command of the Savannah-based 158th Fighter Squadron July 12, 1958, Major Coleman guided the squadron through the transition from the F84F Thunderchief to the F-86 Saber Jet. The sun had not yet risen on the first day of 1960 when the 158th was put on alert status and prepared to scramble fighter interceptors at a moment’s notice. The 158th was one of 21 Air National Guard Squadrons across the nation to participate in this readiness exercise which was designed to test the ability of National Guard pilots and aircraft to take to the air in response to the detection of incoming enemy aircraft. Additionally, the alert tested the ability of Air National Guard units to conduct sustained operations against a possible enemy attack.[10]

Maj. Sheftall Coleman Jr. (on ladder) briefs pilots of the 158th Fighter Squadron before a mission in July 1960. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Promoted to lieutenant colonel in September 1960, Coleman led the 158th through another transition as the 165th Fighter Group was redesignated the 165th Air Transport Group April 1, 1962.[11] Coleman witnessed the delivery of the first four-engine C-97 Stratofreighter March 8, 1962 marking a historic change in mission for the 158th which was among the first Air National Guard units in the United States to be issued jet aircraft in 1949. Major Ben Patterson, a future commander of the Ga. Air National Guard succeeded Coleman in command of the 158th Air Transportation Squadron in 1962. Patterson had previously served as operations officer and flight leader in the 158th.[12]

Major Glenn Herd, commander of the 128th Air Transport Squadron shakes hands with Maj. Shaftall Coleman Jr. after delivering the first C-97 Stratofreighter to Travis Field March 8, 1962.
Georgia National Guard Archives.

Coleman completed training on the multi-engine C-97 en route to logging his 5,000th flight hour. In January 1967, Coleman served as co-pilot on a mission to fly life-saving serum to a Savannah child. The aircraft, piloted by Brig. Gen. Paul Stone, commander of the Ga. Air National Guard, was conducting practice approaches at Bush Field in Augusta when radio traffic informed the crew of the medical emergency in Savannah. The aircraft immediately flew to Charleston Air Force Base to pick up the serum and rush it to Travis Field. The serum was delivered 65 minutes after the radio report was received and the child recovered.[13]

Coleman remained with the 165th Air Transport Group and in May 1967, reported to Tinker Air Force Base for ten weeks of training in C-124 aircraft.[14] The 165th ATG replaced its C-97s with C-124s in July 1967.[15]

Coleman retired from the Georgia Air National Guard in 1971 and was promoted to colonel. He continued to work at his civilian job as safety and security director for Chandler Hospital in Savannah. He died February 21, 2003 at the age of 81.


[1] Official Registry of the National Guard, 1939. (Washington DC: War Department, 1939) 318.


[3] Pictorial Review of the National Guard of the State of Georgia, 1939, 160.


[4], 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Retrieved from

[5] “Biography of Maj. Sheftall Coleman Jr.” Georgia National Guard Archives, NP.


[6] City Directory, Savannah, Ga. 168.


[7] “Savannah’s 158th Ftr. Bmr. Sqdn. Alerted for 14-hr., 7 Day Watch.” The Georgia Guardsman. July August 1954, 6.


[8] “Modern Minutemen of the Air National Guard Maintain Daily Guard of Skies Above Savannah.” The Georgia Guardsman, Nov Dec 1954, 6.


[9] “Travis Air N.G. Pilot tracks RCAT by Jet.” The Georgia Guardsman, Sept Oct 1956, 11.


[10] William Carraway “Sixty Years Ago: The Georgia Air National Guard Enters a New Decade on High Alert.” Georgia National Guard History Jan. 2, 2020,


[11] “165th Gets First Stratofreighter.” The Georgia Guardsman, March April 1962, 6.


[12] “Biography of Brig. Gen. Benjamin L. Patterson.” Georgia National Guard Archives, NP.


[13] “B/G Paul S. Stone, Travis Field Airmen Fly Vital Serum to Save Sav. Child.” The Georgia Guardsman, January 1967, 3.


[14] “School Bells.” The Georgia Guardsman, May-Aug 1967, 15.


[15] The Georgia Air National Guard. 165th Tactical Airlift Group, 1946-1984, 23.

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