Defense Update Special: All About Mrs. Bea Cohen

This Defense Update is about one person and has only one photo.

But what a person!

We have all heard how our World War II heroes are leaving us at a troubling rate of one thousand each day.

The more reason to appreciate 102-year-old Army Col. Bea Cohen, considered to be California’s oldest living woman veteran.

In the photo above, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno shakes hands with Bea Cohen at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif., yesterday, where Odierno was participating in events to promote the Army’s 237th birthday.

You haven’t heard of Bea Cohen?

This from KCET.org:

Bea Cohen is one of the few people alive who witnessed the beginning of World War I in 1914, when, at age four, she and her brother, sister and mother watched while low- flying airplanes dropped bombs on the factories next to her backyard in Buhusi, Romania.

As World War II veteran, Bea Cohen has spent more than 70 years of her 102-year-old life giving back to the United States and supporting the American military. She collected black widow spiders and sent them to the University of Southern California so that their strong webs could be used in the crosshairs in the sites of submarine periscopes during the Second World War. She also expressed her patriotism by working at Douglas Aircraft Company and becoming a “Rosie the Riveter,” – a national icon during the war as women entered the workforce, and one of the thousands of female factory workers who contributed to the war effort by producing munitions and war supplies.

Ms. Cohen wanted to give more to the country who gave her and her family their newfound freedom. She believes that immigrants have made America what it is today; and veterans are carrying on what immigrants began. So Ms. Cohen left Douglas Aircraft Company and joined the U.S. Army. She traveled all over the United States and was assigned for service overseas.

During her stay in Stone, England, she witnessed history in the making – American planes on their way to invade Normandy.

As Private First Class Abrams assigned in Elveden, England, about 90-miles from London, Ms. Cohen worked in the communications department with top-secret mimeographed documents, kitchen patrol and relieved the stress of being in the military by singing in a choir and playing in an all female baseball team, a sport she loves. She hopes people will remember the service of Women Veterans, who were pilots, doctors, dentists, clerks, nurses and much more. She believes that there isn’t anything a woman cannot do.

After the war, she married Ray Cohen, a former prisoner of war who was imprisoned in Corregidor Island, Philippines for more than three years. Together, they became involved with an Ex-POW group that still meets at Veterans Home of California – West Los Angeles.

She has been instrumental to many philanthropic organizations, including the Jewish War Veterans Auxiliary Post 667, where she became its child welfare chairperson. She has also been involved with the United Cerebral Palsy – Spastic Children’s Foundation for more than 35 years, where she coordinated various outings for the children. She made lap blankets for veterans at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital and continues to offer friendship and kindness to veterans. She also volunteered at the Los Angeles Air Force Base for Family Services, and for the City of Hope.

From 1961 to 2011, Ms. Cohen took upholstery classes, making wheelchair and walker bags for Veterans, as well as robes and blankets and learned how to upholster her own furniture. All she needed help with was a ride to and from her class. If the class had not lost funding, she would still be taking upholstery classes today. She hopes that this class will be made available to veterans to help them learn a trade.

In 1990, Ms. Cohen became legally blind and in 2003, Mr. Cohen passed away. But like a true soldier, Ms. Cohen marches on. She still attends Ex-POW meetings at the Veterans Home of California – West Los Angeles, offers a sense of camaraderie to the ex-soldiers, attends the Blinded Veterans Association of Southern California meetings and continues to touch the lives of America’s heroes. When asked what she would like to accomplish in 2012, she answered, “…to collect clean, white socks for homeless veterans, and to meet First Lady Michelle Obama.”

To the best of my knowledge, Mrs. Cohen has not yet met the First Lady.

On the occasion of her 102nd birthday, Mrs. Cohen did receive a personal birthday greeting from the First Lady which said in part:

Your contributions over the years have helped strengthen the fabric our Nation, and your life represents an important piece of the American story.

Again, congratulations and thank you for your service to our country.

Sincerely,

Michelle Obama

We will see what we can do, Mrs. Cohen, to make your wish to meet the First Lady come true.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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