'Music man' touches vets at Portland VA

Taud Coffman provides emotional healing with his piano playing at the VA hospital in Portland.


by Laural Porter and Kurt Austin


Posted on November 29, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 29 at 5:02 PM

PORTLAND -- Soldiers coming home from the Middle East who go to Portland's VA hospital will be greeted in a most extraordinary way now familiar to soldiers who served in earlier wars.

They will hear a piano played by Taud Coffman and see the faces of vets smiling at the memories he brings back for them.

"Playing here is just a front, because I get to meet vets who need help," Coffman told KGW's Laurel Porter.

Coffman has volunteered over 4,000 hours the past eight years playing show tunes at the VA hospital.

He's a Korean War-era vet and the son of a Baptist preacher who wanted his son to preach, too. Coffman instead ran away and joined the Army, serving as a chaplain's assistant in Europe.

After the war, Good Samaritans paid for Coffman to attend the Julliard school of music, and then it was on to the bright lights of Broadway, singing and dancing for 25 years.

He was a dance captain for 'Hello Dolly' and 'The Music Man' as well as 'Fiddler on the Roof.' He worked from morning well into the night and "couldn't wait to go back every morning."

"That's me," he told KGW's Laural Porter, pointing to a picture of himself from the time. "Twenty-eight-inch waist and 132 pounds."

Coffman now calls Oregon home, and his new curtain calls come courtesy of the keyboards at the VA hospital, his music a soothing medicinal sound to lift spirits.

"When you come to a hospital, you're sort of sad," he said, "I see them they step through that door and they start smiling. It makes me feel good."

Milt Preisz was feeling good this day. The 88-year-old served in World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He only now can talk about the experience, saying "war is hell." He's at the hospital after having a driven a friend, a Vietnam vet, from Newport to Portland for cancer treatments.

"I am so pleased to sit here and listen to Taud," he said, "It makes the hours I have to sit here and wait for my friend just go way too fast."

He listens with a smile on his face, his eyes closed with just a hint of tears. Coffman is playing his wife's favorite song, "The Tennessee Waltz."

"I can remember dancing with her so many times," Preisz said.

The keys on the VA hospital piano are worn, but when Coffman plays, they spring to life.

"I don't know what I would do if I couldn't do this," he said, "I'd be here every day if I could."