The former Newsweek correspondent, author of two books and numerous articles in national magazines, said he initially thought Alaimo's story would chronicle important cases the judge has ruled on that have drawn the ire of politicians and the admiration of lawyers since his appointment to the bench in 1971.
"I had no idea how compelling his story is," Coppola said. "I never covered him as a reporter."
Coppola learned there was much more to Alaimo's life story when he first met the judge two years ago.
Dozens of people also learned about Alaimo's story Friday at a book signing at the College of Coastal Georgia's Camden Center.
The son of illiterate Sicilian immigrants, Alaimo shined shoes and cut hair to pay for his college education. He was a World War II bomber pilot whose plane was shot down on his first mission and was captured by German troops.
Alaimo, the only survivor from his crew, escaped from Stalag Luft 3 - after three earlier attempts failed - about two months before the Germans surrendered.
When Coppola approached Alaimo about a book on his life, the judge, now 89, was reluctant.
"He was far from willing," Coppola said. "When I approached him, he said, 'What's the big deal?'"
Like many WWII veterans, Alaimo was reluctant to talk about his war experiences.
"He never told this story to anyone," Coppola said.
The book chronicles how his life as the son of immigrants and a POW shaped his life as a lawyer and Republican county commissioner in Glynn County, at a time when the GOP was unknown in Georgia, and as a federal judge. Alaimo continues to serve as senior judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.
His experience as a POW compelled Alaimo to battle for prison reform in Georgia, where Coppola described conditions as "essentially medieval."
"He said even the worst prisoner has rights," Coppola said. "He was hated in the state. Ironically, the same people who despised him now revere him."
During a reception at the college for Alaimo and Coppola, Vernon Martin, former executive director of the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center, shared stories about his longtime friend, who he described as a "mentor and second father."
He told a story about Alaimo's dry sense of humor when a woman saw him mowing his lawn and asked how much he was paid. Alaimo's response: "The lady of the house lets me sleep with her."
Alaimo downplayed his war experiences, saying "there were many, many others who had worse experiences than me."
When asked when he plans to retire, Alaimo answered, "Who knows?"
After the reception, Alaimo and Coppola returned to autographing copies for a long line of people waiting patiently.
Bo Todd, former Charlton County tax commissioner and commander of the VFW post in Folkston the past 40 years, said he attended the event to pay tribute to a man he considers a hero.
"It's an honor," Todd said. "He knows the price to be paid for freedom."