For Buddy Cohen, 102-year-old Army veteran and member of The Legacy Willow Bend senior living community, Memorial Day brings very personal memories to mind. Cohen had many eye-opening encounters while serving in the military during WWII. He recalls experiencing strong feelings of camaraderie, patriotism, fear and loss.
This Memorial Day, he stresses the importance of pausing to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I was in the Reserves and applied as a dentist,” said Cohen. “I was made first lieutenant in 1936 and was on active duty as of November 1940. I did oral surgery during my service as a noncombatant. I didn’t carry a weapon, but I was attached to a combat unit and traveled and served with them.”
Cohen was part of the 339th Infantry Regiment of the 5th Army’s 85th Division, which freed more than 100 prisoners — men and women throughout Europe who had “defied Hitler” in some way. Among them were the Austrian chancellor Kurt von Shuschnigg, Prime Minister Leon Blum of France, Berlin’s Pastor Niemoller and Hjalmar Schacht who had directed Germany’s Reichsbank.
These renowned individuals, as well as others from 22 different nations, were to be executed, but the 5th Army saved them in time. Cohen considers the opportunity to meet those important people, as well as meet the wife of one of the men who attempted to assassinate Hitler, some of the most meaningful experiences he had during his service.
However, the moment that stood out perhaps the most in his mind occurred on his voyage home.
“I remember spending a lot of time in northern Italy helping soldiers. In fact, I was helping a group that supposedly was headed to Japan from there when we got word that the bomb had been dropped and the war was over,” said Cohen.
Cohen was sent to Switzerland for R&R after that and finally boarded a ship with six or seven other officers from various units going back home to the States. It was such a surreal feeling to him that it took a while to fully comprehend.
“One morning on the ship, I looked around and could only see water and sky in every direction until I noticed a very tiny light about an inch tall,” described Cohen. “It occurred to me that it was the Statue of Liberty, and I don’t know if I stood there two minutes or 20 minutes, but I broke down and cried just looking at that tiny light and realizing that I was going home and was almost there. After two years of hazardous duty overseas, it was a beautiful sight to see.”
Cohen was awarded the Bronze Star for “Meritorious Achievement in Ground Operations Against the Enemy as part of the 339th Infantry Regiment” and recognizes that while he was able to make it home after years of hazardous duty overseas, many were not.
Memorial Day is about paying tribute to those individuals and all members of the military who lost their lives while serving the country.
“We are honored and often in awe at some of the members here at The Legacy Willow Bend community like Buddy,” said Marilyn Israel, executive director of The Legacy Willow Bend. “We should all take more time to listen to their stories and esteem them and the friends they lost on occasions like Memorial Day.”
Submitted by Amy Jones on behalf of the Legacy Willow Bend.